Author and artist Shane Lucas has brought an era of village history to life with the publication of his book A Day in the Life of a Laxey Miner.
Lucas, also a caving instructor, has been exploring the Laxey mines and surrounding area since 1977.
When he moved to the island in the 1970s, he converted and lived in the abandoned tholtan ‘Joughin’s Cottage’ in Baldhoon Road, and recalls walls held together by clay and a watercourse that would have served as the only water supply, as well a thie-veg (outside toilet) which Lucas initially used as a tool store.
Such authentic surroundings no doubt helped Lucas to conjure up images of the bygone mining era, and he continues the Joughin connection in his illustrative fiction by following the working day of one John Joughin, circa 1880.
The absorbing account is all the while peppered with Lucas’ atmospheric illustrations.
In the book John and his wife Voirrey rise at 4.30am ahead of his 6am shift with the Great Laxey Mining Company, for which Voirrey and two of their children also work, on the washing floors sorting the ore from deads. Two of their other children go to school.
The book describes John making tallow candles by simmering mutton fat over the fire before breakfast.
He spends eight hours underground that day, including six hours labour, and Lucas’ prose paints a picture of the frightening ladder descent, an ‘endless vertical climb on greasy rungs’.
The miners’ team leader meets every week with the mine captain to ‘bargain’ their coming wages, and John expects to soon earn enough to be able to purchase a wedding ring of Laxey silver to replace Voirrey’s wooden one.
One of the book’s nice touches is a lunch scene where a Cornish colleague causes a stir with his mysterious ‘boat shaped pastry parcel’, containing mutton and vegetables in one half and stewed fruit in the other, the pastry acting as a discarded cover as he heard ‘the lead on my hands is not good to eat’.
A few recipes for Cornish pasty were passed on to wives that evening!