[From Manx Quarterly #13 1913]
The enthusiastic Manxman takes a keen delight in telling the stranger about the vast treasure trove which is contained in the 220 square miles of his native land. His eye kindles when he narrates its fascinating history, and a softer, yet if anything a warmer, glow of pride suffuses his face when he tells of its natural beauty and the sturdy independence of the inhabitants. And the stranger will find experience to substantiate the wonders of the [stand. Here he may visit imposing old edifices whose very appearance will quicken within his mind a train of historic and romantic thoughts, and the fancy which he thus weaves is borne out by available records. If he be an astute observer, he, too, will guess the truth that industries now decadent once flourished in our midst. It does not need a guidebook, for instance, to tell him that the village of Laxey was once the hive of a prosperous commercial life.
From the stories in circulation, one concludes that Laxey, about 40 years ago, was a veritable El Dorado for miners. At times when they struck a good vein they made fabulous wages, but as many of them also made fabulous use of their money, the place was saved from being overrun by merchant princes. On pay-day these fine stalwart fellows swarmed into Douglas, and large numbers of them came to have an intimate acquaintance with the police station by reason of their constant carousals. Still, those were the days before the temperance movement had become popular, and the Laxey miners no doubt exhibited the same characteristics of life as the workers in any other centre did.
There were men of aristocratic leanings among these horny-handed sons of toil, and on occasions they experimented in driving tandem triumphantly into the village. Such a driver once had the splendour of his entry damped by landing his conveyance, his party, and himself in the river, much to the amusement of his fellows. This, of course, was in the days before the New Road was built.
A place such as Laxey was in the 'seventies always contains a variety of personalities. The thriftless prodigal element did not dominate the village completely. In the history of Manx Methodism, Laxey takes an honoured place. Laxey Village and the whole parish of Lonan, is still distinctively Methodist; indeed, the spirit of the early followers of John Wesley survives there with a faithfulness which is rarely seen nowadays. Whatever other traits the miners as a whole may have exhibited, they were an active, virile body of men. When not engaged in their occupation in the bowels of the earth, they took to mackerel fishing off the coast, and they were also fond of sport. With the advent of football, a Rugby club was formed in the village in 1884, and the hunt of the leather, both in that code and in the more spectacular twin-game of Association, has been popular there ever since. The whole place is redolent with piquant incidents. A great day in the history of Laxey was the christening of the Big Wheel, the " Lady Isabella." Our twentieth century festal and regatta days take on a very pale hue by the side of the enjoyments of similar days in the past. Competitions for every phase of talent lent attractiveness which was brimful of excitement. There was one contest for the best grinner, in which the prize went to a stranger whose facial contortions were the result of whole-hearted enjoyment of the efforts of the competitors! Another competition, which was undoubtedly a test of skill, consisted in getting and retaining hold of the greased tale of a pig. Those were the " good old days " which some folk talk about with longing remembrances, and while they were more picturesque in some respects than modern modes of living, they contained other features upon which the customs of even these prosaic days are a decided improvement.
This week, a representative of the "Examiner" visited the village to get some information of Laxey as it was. Never before was it so realistically brought home to him how constitutionally cautious the average Manxman is. " Ah, well, the place is all right, man! It's been all right for me, anyway, an' I've known it for a long time," was the gist of the opinions which some of the old worthies would impart. Mr Thomas Faragher, however, of Cronk Ghennal, at once entered into conversation on the subject.
Seated with his pipe in his mouth, he launched out into the past with gusto and enjoyment.
" I was born just outside of Laxey, at Ballamilghyn," he said, " but I remember the mines when well on to a thousand men were employed there. That was in Captain Rowe's time. At that time they used to get between 200 and 300 tons of lead in the month, and an enormous lot of blende, and very rich copper and silver ore. They used to get £22 a ton for ore in my young days. It was dressed by hand, but now it is all machinery. The men were getting £20, and even £30 or £40 a month sometimes."
Mr Faragher has distinct recollections of Glen Roy Mines, and waxed very eulogistic concerning Captain Rowe. " He was a good friend to the miners," he said, " and to the women and children, too. There was work for every man who would work. He was a merciful man, was Capt. Rowe, and there were many instances of his kindness to people in need."
Our friend showed strong Conservative feelings in his condemnation of the strikes at the mines, first in Captain Rowe's and then in Captain Reddicliffe's time. He considered that the miners were dominated by selfish interests. Asked as to whether the men conducted themselves violently, he said: " Well, no; it was against the management they were, but I would not have treated them half so well, because they did not deserve it. They were getting pay that other men would have been more than glad of."
" The mines were doing well then," he continued, " and they would do well still if they developed under some of the brows. The place is rich in lead, and Laxey, too, has got the blonde. It's a pity to see the old industries going, as at Foxdale. I've seen pieces of sulphur up by the streams, and where there's sulphur you are sure to find lead not far off."
" I remember well," he resumed, " the day the Big Wheel, the " Lady Isabella," was christened by Mrs Dumbell. Mr Dumbell was over, and he was going round seeing that the men had plenty to eat. One man had a lot of fat on his plate, and Mr Dumbell said, ' Here, give this man a slice more lean.' I remember him making a speech, and saying to Capt. Rowe, ` Be good to the men.' And then Harry Cubbon, the Wesleyan preacher, made a speech, and said ` We will have to get in under the mountain, and then we will have nothing to do but to take the ore away.' "
Asked as to whether the population had increased, Mr Faragher said. " I daresay the population was as big fifty years ago as it is to-day, but, of course, they lived more in thatched cottages then."
" Were there as many public-houses in the old days?" asked our representative. " There are not half so many of them now as in the old days," he replied. I daresay there used to be twelve. There was one up by the Big Wheel, kept by Tommy Hennery, and another by a man named Kay, up on the Brows. There were four in the old village, and three or four coming up the Glen. Some of them were in little bits of thatched cottages, and there was one little place they called the 'Commercial.' "
" I suppose you remember Parson Caine?"
" Oh, yes. He was a big teetotaller. He used to even run after little boys and girls to see if they were carrying the stuff home."
Asked as to whether there had been many changes about the shore, Mr Faragher said there used to be a bit of fishing, but as a rule the boats went round to Douglas.
" The place has changed considerably," he said, in conclusion. " There has been a lot of emigration for years, and the village has been very much extended."
Mr Ed. Kewley, who lives opposite the Big Wheel, has also many remembrances of Old Laxey. " The mines are not so prosperous now as they were," he said. " The men now only get from 18s to £1 a week, on the whole. I remember well old miners, such as Jim Faragher, Tommy Hogg, Jimmy Brew, George Quayle, and Robert Quine, working there. The women, too, used to be working on the washing floors."
" The village has very much changed in my time," he said; " all round here has been built on, and the old thatched cottages have disappeared."
F. C. S.
What changes in the village and the parish in the past quarter of a century! The physical formation of the glen and some of the old houses in the bottom of it are almost the only things that " stand as erst they etood." Not only have the buildings been renovated and many new ones added, but there are " faces and footsteps and all things strange." It is likely that the mines do not give a comfortable existence to so many working men and their families to-day. A quarter of a century ago there were many living very comfortably on the slopes of the hills. The older men are gone into the other world, and many of their sons have emigrated to "lands far distant." Really, one who was well-known in the village twenty-five years ago is almost an entire stranger now! O the mutations of this changing world!
But although Laxey has suffered much from emigration, there is no appearance of a decadence m the place; quite the opposite. It has a brave show of comfortable prosperity. The business premises are more numerous and more imposing than they were by far. Witness the fine premises of Mr R. Williamson, Mr Halsall's tailoring establishment, Dibb's stores, Mr Jas. Craine's smart drapery store, Mr Bee's jewelery A Co-op, the fine premises of the Isle of Man Bank. I think Parr's branch and other places have come into existence during the quarter of a century. These places cannot exist on air-there must be business for them, such as can only be found in a go-ahead village. The Post Office and the genial postmaster must not be for gotten. Bless you! one doesn't remember where the Post Office was 25 years ago, so insignificant was it. Now you can't. see Laxey without seeing the Post Office.
The Glen Mills existed 25 years ago, but not as to-day. A big lump has been added to the building, and the methods and machinery have been revolutionised. Even a Canadian miller has been given points at Laxey--and it is a clever thing to astonish folk from the Western Continent.
The Gardens-well, one seems to see them steadily grow before his eyes, till now they are a splendid asset and attraction. It is satisfactory to know that the number of public-houses has not increased much. (I think there is just one more licence.) It is certain they are not needed to any appreciable degree by the Laxey people-they might close but for travellers of one kind and another.
But the number of new dwelling-houses in the parish captivates one's fancy! They are standing majestically on the hills that form the glen; they are in commanding position South Cape way, and Baldrine is like some modern Continental hill retreat.
The Electric Railway is the great feature of Laxey to-day. It explains and accounts for a great deal, and Laxey would feel strange without it.
`What new kings there are in Laxey ! The postmaster an Irishman, the Clerk to the Commissioners an Englishman, the Captain of the Mines an Englishman, the Co-op. manager an Englishman, and "foreigners" on all hands. Still, the police-sergeant doesn't find it hard to manage them
There is one figure still much in evidence which connects past and present. " Men may come and men may go," but Mr Robt. Kewley " goes on for ever." It is refreshing to see him still " going to and fro in the earth and walking up and down." His cheery personality is worth a good deal to the parish.
S. W. L.
Any comments, errors or omissions
gratefully received MNB
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2003