A VISIT TO THE MINE
An extract from Dr Bradbury's Guide To Laxey by Egbert Rydings
'The entrance is very difficult, being a narrow path on which the wagons run and which is not very dry in any season, but over this some three or four hundred people have to travel over eighty yards to and from work.
Walking over the rails or in the pump water we eventually reached the end of the level. Then we came to where the descent commences on the ladders. I had put on a pair of old trousers and a greatcoat to cover my white shirt, but then the command was given, 'off with thy coat and waist coat' and from the nature of the entrance to the deep mine, I saw that this was absolutely necessary, for the hole was not more than two feet square. Having lit our candles and stuck them in front of our stiff felt hats we prepared to descend. My guide led the way with repeated injunctions to 'hold fast with your hands' and 'step onto the ladder.' No sooner do our heads pass through the hole than out go the lights and we are left in darkness. Attempts to relight the candles failed until at last the guide had to take a candle in his hand and hold it against his breast to keep the wind from blowing it out. I must confess I felt considerably shaky going down the ladders as straight as the sides of a well and in darkness. I found, too, that some of the spoke were feeling quite loose and many of the iron binding spokes were worn quite thin as to feel like dull knives. And to make matters worse, the spokes were made slippery from the accumulation of clay and wet. We have now got to the bottom of the first set of ladders and, as the draught of air rushing down the shaft is not so strong, the candles can be lit again. I find it much easier now as I can see the ladder and the hands can grasp it more certainly. But let us remark that the light of a candle penetrates such a short distance into the surrounding darkness that you cannot see around you more than four or five yards; and well it is so in climbing these fearful ladders.
We now travel a considerable distance along a level which has the appearance of a cave cut out of the solid rock. It is no wonder that the miners hats are made so stiff and hard because some of the levels are low overhead with sharp and jagged points sticking down.
We now descend a long series of ladders, most of them a hundred and twenty feet long, and when we reach the bottom of each ladder there is a resting place six or seven feet square before starting the next descent. We are now near the 165 fathom level (990 feet) and the unnatural stillness of the place is now disturbed by a most unearthly sound. It is as if 150 h.p. steam engine has been out on the spree! My guide called out, 'come on and have a sight of the pumps,' and we descended to the bottom where we came in sight of the engine shaft down which the pumping machine - worked by the big wheel above - descends and up which the water from the whole mine is drained. This explained the mysterious asthmatic coughing and wheezing I had heard. We descended to the 200 level (1,200 feet) where the pumping rods take a horizontal direction and running along the level, enter the Welsh shaft. From here we went to the 220 level and, as this is undoubtedly the richest ore ground in all the Great Laxey mine, my guide proposed that we should examine it. We went to one of the drivings where the men had left work some hours before, and it was a splendid sight. The end, side and roof were completely sparkling with pure lead and blend, and stuff just shot out consisted almost entirely of metal.
We then examine the sump which leads down to the level, and it was 'rich extraordinary' as the miners say. The whole face of the rock for sixty feet deep was one complete sparkle of metal. My guide took a pick axe and ascended one of the ladders some four or five fathoms and began to fell the loose hanging rocks, when down came piece's of pure solid metal as big as my head. My guide confidently asserted me that three such 'pitches' as this would produce as much lead and blend as the whole of the mine is producing. Here, at the lowest depth yet reached, the mine becomes richer and richer and more productive. We have, as I have said, just come from the driving where the men had been working for about six hours. The place was still, after two hours of ventilation, hanging black with powder smoke. I found great difficulty in breathing, and the perspiration was running down my body in streams owing to the heat of the place and the close atmosphere. We had now got to the lowest level in the mine to date, although the pumping shaft was sunk ten fathoms lower, and feeling tired and exhausted, we took a pipe - miners solace - and a rest, and chatted for a while in the warm atmosphere.
I was not sorry to see my guide affix his candle to soft fresh clay in his hat ready for the return. With dire warnings to 'walk in my footsteps' he led me along the 190 level. the warnings were in respect of slipping in the dark holes on either side which went down 'only twenty yards or so' as my guide casually informed me! I thought it had been hard work going down but it was nothing to the long climb up and feeling thoroughly tired welcomed at last the first glimpse of daylight.'