A project to conserve one of the Isle of Man’s most treasured landmarks, the Laxey Wheel, is nearing completion after testing of the structure took place last week.

This follows a major conservation project funded by Manx National Heritage and Isle of Man government. This was originally meant to be finished by May following its closure in January of this year following initial work beginning in late 2020. This date was pushed back to the end of July and then August after it was discovered that additional repairs were needed on the iconic structure.

Nevertheless, following a series of ‘wet’ test runs, the world-famous waterwheel turned last week for the first time since September 2020, when MNH began work on the most comprehensive conservation project completed on Lady Isabella since her restoration almost 40 years ago.

Restoration works at the Laxey Wheel - pictured is John-Paul Walker (historic buildings architect, Manx National Heritage) (Dave Kneale/Isle of Man Newspapers)

MNH’s historic buildings architect John Paul Walker said: Testing of the iconic structure commenced last week to ensure its safe operation before regular turning for the public, with reports quickly circulating that the impressive 22.1 metre (72.6 feet) diameter structure was turning.

‘Despite a two-year rest, our engineers reported that the wheel’s mechanism is in good order, with minor additional works required before the wheel returns to normal use once again.

‘This work includes monitoring of the joints where the wheel spokes connect through the buckets as well as the release of a seized cistern valve used to control the flow of water to the iconic waterwheel.’

Shrinkage of the wheel’s timbers as the wheel stood dry are believed to have contributed to a second issue causing loss of water from the wheel buckets.

As water is reintroduced, the wheel’s timbers will swell. Hardwood infill panels are being scribed to the complex junctions within the wheel’s buckets to enable the wheel to retain sufficient water to turn.

As the wheel does not have any brake mechanism, modifications will be carried out incrementally and subsequent testing will be completed in order to manage the risk of the wheel being damaged.

Further tests on the iconic waterwheel will continue to take place prior to the wheel being fully re-commissioned in coming weeks. The wheel will be seen turning intermittently during this time.

Manx National Heritage has said it will announce a date shortly for re-opening following full completion of these final stages of re-commissioning and restoration works.