[from History of IoM, 1900]
THERE is no doubt that, in proportion to its area, the metalliferous wealth of the Isle of Man has been very considerable.
Two of its mines, Laxey and Foxdale, have stood, for a long series of years, in the first rank in the British islands for productiveness of zinc and of silver lead, respectively.
These metals have constituted its principal riches, but copper pyrites and hematite-iron have also been raised in marketable quantities, while only very small amounts of the ores of nickel and antimony have been found.
It is not surprising, seeing that metalliferous veins are conspicuously exposed on the cliffs of the island, : especially at Bradda Head, that there are records of mines existing in it at an early date.
They are first mentioned in 1246, when King Harald granted a charter under which the monks. of Furness Abbey obtained the right to work them.*1 We learn, some fifty years later, that John Comyn, Earl of Buchan, had a licence from Edward I. to dig for lead in the Calf of Man, to cover eight towers of his Castle of Cruggleton in Galloway.*2 In 1406, " mines of lead and iron " are included in the grant of the island to Sir John Stanley by Henry IV.;*3 and, in 1492, it was ordained that the lord's mine should be managed by his " Lieutennant, Receiver and Comptroller." *4 The discovery of workings in which the ore had been extracted by means of "feather-wedges"*5 shows that these mines had been worked before the discovery of gunpowder,*6 but there is no actual record of mining operations till the middle of the seventeenth century, when Captain Edward Christian*7found that the rocks at "mine-trough" (ye. Bradda Head), contained " much silver."*8 The working does not seem to have been persevered with at that time owing to the supposed difficulties caused by the presence of the sea. After the Restoration mining was prosecuted more systematically. Both lead and copper ores were sought, and the lord let his rights in the mines, on condition of receiving one-fifth of the produce. It was on these terms that he granted a lease of all the mines in the island, with leave "to erect a smelting mill, or more than one for the smelting of the oar, mynes [sic] and minerals,"*8and, in the following year, he, "being by good reasons persuaded that there is plenty of coales"*8 in the island, ordered the governor to search for them. In 1679, there is a record of a grant made by Charles II. to the earl " of all mines royal of gold or silver, or holding gold or silver to such a proportion as according to the Laws of the Realm of England doth make the same a mine Royal."*9 In 1699, the lord's fifes part of the lead and copper ore raised amounted to 32 tons, 13 cwt.; and, in 1700, 2271 tons of iron ore were shipped from the mine "att Daunane" (? Drynane) in Maughold.*10 John Murrey, a well known Douglas merchant, had, in 1708," a lease; of all the Manx lead and copper mines from the lord, on condition of paying £3 per ton for all ore raised by him. In 1709, he paid for about 40 tons, ' and, from 1709 to 1713, for about 30 tons yearly. In 1711, he built a new smelting-house, but three years later he surrendered his lease,*11 and we find, consequently, the following notice issued by the lord:- " Forasmuch as our Honourable Lord hath been pleased for the discovery and finding out mines within this Island . . . to send over an order . . . that any person who shall find out any veines of Lead or copper . . . such as shall be thought fitt for working by the Steward or overseer of the said workes . . . shall not only have paid down unto them fourty shillings as a reward but shall have the preference of working the said mines, 3 pounds a ton for every ton they shall get, delivering unto the Steward a fifth part of what care they shall raise after the same is cleansed and made merchantable, provided they begin and prosecute the said work within three months."*13
About this time Bishop Wilson writes as follows about insular mines: " Mines of coal there are none, though several attempts have been made to find them. But of lead, copper, and iron, there are several, and some of them have been wrought to good advantage, particularly the lead; of which ore many hundred tons have of late been smelted and exported. As for the copper and iron ores, they are certainly better than at present they are thought to be, having been often tried and approved of by men skilled in those matters. However, either through the ignorance of the undertakers, or by the unfaithfulness of the workmen, or some other cause, no great matter has as yet been made of them." *14
From this statement it appears that the metals were raised in much the same relative proportions at that time as at present; that the zinc-blende associated with the lead ores, which is now a product of considerable value, was then worth little or nothing; and that the attempts made to work the veins of copper and iron were not any more successful, commercially, than they have been since. In 1724, the mines were evidently being again worked, since the governor reports to Lord Derby that the " prospect " was best in copper ore " of which a considerable quantity is weekly raised," whereas, " Foxdayle hath from the first been worked with the least success "; and, he adds, " I shall be forced to give it up, for the longer we work it the worser it grows."* This report has been entirely falsified by results." The lease from the Crown, to which we have already referred, expired in 1736, but was revived on the petition of John Duke of Atholl in 1780, supported by a statement by Peter John Heywood, deemster, "that he is enabled to declare of his own knowledge and from what he hath heard, that there are not any mines of gold or silver in the said Island; that the only mines which now are or ever were wrought in the said Isle, as he hath heard and believes, are mines of Lead and Copper. Except he hath heard some mines of iron have been worked formerly, and that he hath been informed by persons experienced in the knowledge of mines that there is a proportion of silver in the Lead mines now working, but so small as by no means to answer the expence of assaying and separating."*
According to one authority the mines at Laxey " were opened and wrought by a mining company of Cumberland, about the commencement of the last century,"*but we have no definite knowledge of their having been worked till about 1782.*At the same time, workings were renewed at Foxdale. Laxey was, in 1808, being worked from the banks of the river, and yielded silver-lead, blende, and copper. The small importance of the results obtained may be estimated from the facts that only three miners were employed there in the year referred to and that they did not extract sufficient ore to pay for the expense of working.*This need cause little surprise when we learn that the copper ore and the blonde were " thrown away among the rubbish."*The lead glance (galena) is said to have then been very rich in silver, yielding 180 ounces to the ton. During the same year, the mine at Bradda was again closed, " the miners being engaged in the more profitable employment of the herring fishing." *
Foxdale mines were in the same condition. The rubbish lying there was "almost wholly of fragments of slate, mixed with pieces of brown blende, a little lead glance, and some sparry iron-ore,"*which shows that the granite had not then been penetrated. Laxey was then being worked by two levels from the banks of the river, and yielded silver- lead, blonde, and copper.* In 1819, MacCulloch states that all the mines were abandoned with no prospect of renewal. He speaks of Laxey, Bradda and Foxdale as the three principal mines, but mentions that work had also been carried on at Ballacorkish and Glenchass.*In 1823, the Foxdale mines were re-opened by Michael Knott, of Kendal, * who held it from the Duke of Atholl,*and Laxey ' mines started again in the same year. In 1825, " fine vein of ore "*was discovered at Laxey, and we are told that the " insular mines are doing admirably, particularly Foxdale."*Encouraged by this, Bishop Murray ordered a mine to be: opened in his barony, in Marown, "by following the direction of that rich vein which has been wrought to such great advantage at Little Foxdale."*No success, however, attended this venture. In 1828, Michael Knott's interest in, Foxdale was bought over by what would now be called a syndicate, who divided it into 16 equal shares, which were afterwards reduced to 14.*, During the third and fourth decades of the century there was a great revival in the Manx mining industry, and its development from that time was rapid. In 1830, the Foxdale mines were in a most flourishing condition, a vein a yard square having been then recently discovered there, and, in 1831, their produce during three months only was valued at £14,000. In 1832, the Laxey £100 shares were selling for £500. In 1837, an iron mine was opened in Maughold, which, in 1848, was raising about 500 tons of ore a month. Cumming remarks, in this latter year, that the Foxdale mines had proved the most productive in the island, and he states that the average amount of silver-lead ore raised annually there during the previous ten years had been 2,400 tons, and also that the Laxey mine, which was being worked by a new company, was raising 60 tons of lead, 200 tons of blende mixed with lead, and 5 tons of copper ore, per month.*
In 1852, the Laxey Mining Company's £80 paid shares were selling at from £1,000 to £1,100, and, in 1854, they reached £1,200. In this latter year was erected the great wheel at that mine, which was said to be then the largest in the world. It was designed by a Manxman, Robert Casement.* In 1862, the "Great Laxey Company" was formed. In 1853, the Foxdale Mining Company was brought under the Joint Stock Companies' Act, and was afterwards registered as a limited company. *. We are told that in 1885, the railings of lead ore at the Foxdale mines since 1828 had been, approximately, 120,000 tons, realising £61,850,000, the profits being £400,000.*The great prosperity of these two companies stimulated, between 1850 and 1870, the search for metals in every part of the island. Numerous new companies were formed and mines established on the slenderest prospects, and, consequently, with almost uniform ill-success. In some cases no ore whatever. was obtained; oftener the veins yielded lead, zinc, or i: copper, in quantities too small to be marketed. In a few instances, sufficient ore to be worth selling was found, but it did not pay for the working expenses. Of late years even Laxey and Foxdale have not paid so well as formerly, owing to the reduced price of metals, but, just recently, metals have again risen in price, with the result of increased prosperity to the mines.
We conclude with a brief account of some other economic products of the Isle of Man. The chief source of building stone is the slate series. Thief material is raised in rough slabs along the bedding or cleavage faces, and is used in this condition for. ordinary walling, but, since it can only be very imperfectly squared or " dressed," it has to be supplemented, in most buildings, by bricks, freestone, or hewn limestone.*
The carboniferous limestone of the south of the island affords good building stone, though it is rather dingy in colour. The durability of this stone is proved by the excellent state of preservation of Castle Rushen, which has been principally built of it. The dark, flaggy, argillaceous limestone, which forms the uppermost portion of the carboniferous limestone at Pooylvash, was formerly quarried for steps, tombstones, &c., under the name of "black marble." The steps of St. Paul's Cathedral, in London, so often mentioned in local literature as having been supplied from the Pooylvash quarry, are no longer in existence,
The Peel sandstone was formerly rather extensively quarried for building purposes, but, since it has not been found very durable, it is not much worked at the present day.
The Foxdale granite has also been quarried, but without much success. The Dhoon granite, however, being extremely hard and close in texture, has recently been utilised on a large scale for paving setts. *
Bricks are made in several parts of the island from Bricks. boulder-clay, and, in the Peel district, from decomposed slate. These operations are, as yet, on a limited scale, and the produce is not of the highest quality, though the " Glenfaba " brick has a good reputation.
About the middle of this century very large sums, were expended in opening quarries in the hope of obtaining roofing slate. The Manx slate rocks have, however, been so much crushed and "sheared " that their structure as a whole is unfavourable for the production of good slate, and heavy losses were therefore incurred by the adventurers. A variety of slate was formerly quarried at the foot of the precipices of Spanish Head which could be raised in long tough beams with a somewhat fibrous structure.
It was used for lintels and other purposes of construction.* A floor and ceiling of this material may be seen in Castle Rushen. 4 Quarries on the hill-side south-east of Ballaugh have also supplied similar beams.
The carboniferous, limestone tract of the south of the island, at the present day,*furnishes the sole supply of lime. This valuable product is largely used by Manx farmers.*
Ochre and umber are obtained from decomposed carboniferous limestone in the south and from decomposed vein in the slates of Maughold Head, along the course of a basaltic dyke. Both these sources have been worked intermittently. *
The drift deposits, especially those of the low grounds, usually contain an abundance of sand, which is, for the most part, available for building purposes.
Recent borings in the vicinity of the Point of Ayre have demonstrated the existence of large deposits of salt at a considerable depth below sea-level, which, it is hoped, may prove of economic value. A deposit of fuller's earth has just been discovered in Michael.