[From Isle of Man, Cumming 1848]

Appendix K

Mining Operations on the Isle of Man.

Evidences of mining operations carried on at a very early date have been noticed at Brada Head, in the south of the Isle of Man. A level appears to have been driven in just above high-water mark in the north-western face of the headland, reaching about 200 yards. By means of a shaft sunk from above this level about 12 yards higher up and inclining inwards, and also by means of other shafts sunk below the level, a considerable quantity of ore (sulphuret of lead) was obtained. The level was wrought through the vein, which was very irregular, in some parts 40 feet high by 6 feet broad, in others little or no ore appeared. Its quality seems to have been but indifferent. Some wedges of a description in use before the introduction of gunpowder into mining, called feather-wedges, have been found in the mine, and the general appearance of the work bespeaks remote antiquity ; history and even tradition are silent by whom and at what period these operations were commenced. It is stated in Chaloner's `Caledonia' (vol. iii. p. 372) that John Comyn, Earl of Buchan, obtained from Edward I. a license to dig for lead in the Calf of Man to cover eight towers of his Castle of Cruggleton in Galloway. In the course of the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries, the noble family of Stanley appear to have sought for copper in the same neighbourhood: traces of their labours remain. The ore discovered, though not abundant, was rich in quality, producing six pennyweights of copper per ounce of ore. The vitriolic character of some springs of water in that neighbourhood is noted in Sacheverell's 'Account' 150 years ago, and in the Statute-Book of the Isle of Man various notices of mining operations occur under the dates A.D. 1422, 1613, 1618, 1630. See `General View of the Agriculture of the Isle of Man, &c. by Thomas Quayle, Esq., 1812.

The neighbourhood of Laxey seems to have attracted attention about the beginning of the present century. Mr. Wood was the first to draw up any particular account of the mine. Writing in 1811 he says that a level had been begun about thirty years previously, but not regularly worked, being much incommoded with water. The vein wrought consisted of common brown blende, lead glance, and occasionally green carbonate of copper in a matrix chiefly of quartz; small portions of phosphate and of carbonate of lead were interspersed. He also states that his information was, that the galena was so rich in silver as to produce on assay 180 oz. to the ton. The blende was for some time neglected, but latterly more attention has been paid to its working and dressing, and it has obtained a good price in the market. At a later period a second level was driven into the hill about a quarter of a mile further down the stream and about 5 fathoms below the level of the former excavation, for the purpose of drainage. The workings, extending 200 yards into the heart of the mountain, were not at first very productive. The number of hands employed in 1811 was only three at the time of Mr. Wood's visit. A new company having been formed for working the minerals in that neighbourhood on a more extensive scale, has been amply rewarded. When I visited the mine last summer, I obtained the following notes from inspection and information on the spot :__

The mine (situated at a distance of about one and a half mile from the sea up the Laxey valley) consists of the grand day adit driven in the north-eastern face of the hill just above the level of the stream, which flows along the bottom of the valley. This adit runs N. 15E. magnetic 400 fathoms into the heart of the mountain. At 200 fathoms met with productive ore. At this point it is met by the engine shaft at 23 fathoms from the surface. A second shaft meets this adit at about 180 fathoms from its entrance. From this adit downwards various shafts are sunk upon the vein, and connected by galleries at 20, 30, 35, 45, 50, 60, 70, 80, 100, 110, 120, 130 fathoms below it, the last being about the total depth of the then workings below the level of the day adit. At that depth the width of the vein was 16 feet, the vein hading to the east magnetic one foot in a fathom out of the perpendicular; it is pursued on the strike to the north.

The number of men employed was 300, raising 60 tons of lead per month at X20 108. per ton, 200 tons of black jack mixed with the lead worth £2 10s. per ton, and 5 tons of copper averaging £5 per ton.

Both water and steam power is used ; the radius of the waterwheel at the lower shaft is 17 yards.

The Foxdale mining ground has however hitherto proved the most productive on the island, the proximity of the granite of South Barrule having very beneficially affected the mineral riches of that neighbourhood. By analogy we may well conclude that the workings of the Laxey mine are likely to become more valuable as they are carried in the direction of the Dhoon granite. The Foxdale district extended across the northern side of South Barrule, from Glen Rushen nearly eastward, or rather to N. of E., which is the general strike of the productive veins on the island.

The present company was formed in 1823. They purchased from Michael Knott, Esq., who was lessee under the late Duke of Athol.

The chief workings at that time were upon what is generally termed the Foxdale vein to the northward of the great granitic boss, crossed by elvans striking out from the nucleus of the granite. Very little except horse and water power had been employed, though there were at that time two small steamengines also at work, and the depth reached was never more than 40 fathoms. The great workings are now carried on at the eastern and western extremities of the district, at Cornelly or Jones vein in the neighbourhood of Kenna, and at the Beckwith vein hi Glen Rushen. The Cronck Vane (White-hill) mine, more in the centre of the district, on the brow of the hill betwixt Sleauwhallin and South Barrule, a few years ago was worked with very great results. The miners appear to have fallen in with one of those great sops or masses of ore which I have noticed in the body of this work as generally characteristic of limestone districts, but which appears as a peculiar feature of this schistose country also.

At the time of my visit, in company with Professor Ansted, three years ago, the depth attained into the body of ore was 88 fathoms, the width of the vein or mass at its centre being 24 feet, thinning off to the E. and W. to about 4 feet. The length of this body of productive ore was 14 fathoms. The vein had generally a southerly dip, the walls being very clean, and presenting in several places extensive appearances of slickenside. There is very little gossan upon these veins, and not in general any indication of their presence till the workman comes directly upon the body of lead. The prediction of Professor Ansted at that time, respecting the duration of the working at the Cronck Vane mine, seems to have been fully verified, as I found on my last visit to the place the works abandoned.

The number of men and boys employed at the mines of this company in different parts of the district is generally about 350, and the average raising of ore for the last ten years has been about 2400 tons per annum. The product gives about -,0 per cent. for lead, and 9 oz. silver per ton.

The steam power now employed is very extensive and on the newest principle.

The Ellersley mine on the Bishop's Barony is wrought by a different company. It is situated to the eastward of the lastmentioned district, about five miles from Douglas. It appears to have been commenced on a very thin even vein, consisting of a narrow thread of ore in veinstone, the outcrop being visible at the surface in a small burn running from the ridge betwixt Foxdale and Mount Murray. Considering the extremely rapid and extensive variations in thickness and value observable in the continuation of the vein westwards, it was not unreasonable to hope that the result might be favourable in this spot, notwithstanding that the distance from the granite or other apparent change of ground was unsatisfactory.

It appears that, in accordance with the more usual conditions, this latter indication was but too accurate, and the vein which has been pursued from its outcrop upwards of 300 fathoms, at a depth of from 6 to 10 fathoms presents such a striking uniformity as greatly to discourage further working. At one or two points cross courses have been met with, but they do not affect the value of the vein.

Copper does not appear to have been wrought to any great extent on the island. I discovered a small vein about two years ago in the south of the Calf Islet, as also one at Port Erin. There is a Copper Mining Company in Maughold parish, but hitherto they have not succeeded in raising ore for the market. The iron mines however in that parish are of a very promising character. For a long period back small parcels of that ore had been wrought in several places. In the year 1836 a company was formed, and procured a lease from the Crown for twenty-one years. They opened a vein known by the name of the ' Glebe Vein,' not far to the westward of Maughold Church, which proved productive and was partially wrought for a few years. Latterly William Dixon, Esq., of Glasgow having become sole lessee, the mines during the last three years have been more closely followed up, and have produced an average shipment of about 500 tons per month, fetching in the market 16s. per ton when pig iron is £3 per ton. By a return from F. C. Skrimshire, Esq., Agent for the Woods and Forests, I find that in the year 1846 a royalty of £232 was paid from this mine. About seventy men are employed in connection with these works.

The quarries of stone and marble are not wrought extensively on the island. They have paid latterly a royalty averaging not more than £90 per annum. By the insular laws every person standing in need of limestone or building stone may enter on his neighbour's land and dig and carry away what is requisite for his own use, paying the occupier a reasonable satisfaction, which appears to be interpreted merely surface damage.

  Back index next  

Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley, 2011