40 years of supporting the Manx Electric Railway 1973-2013




Great strides, an enormous effort and significant investment has moved the Island's railways in a new and generally positive direction over the last five years, a position long advocated and campaigned for by this Society. But this period of positiveness is under serious threat.

Recently it was finally announced that the historically significant Manx Electric Railway Mercury Arc-Rectifier and equipment housed within the sub-station at Laxey for the last eighty years is to be removed in the hope that it may eventually find a home in another building on the railway. This intriguing piece of electrical kit has fascinated generations and successfully powered the railway until earlier this year, its appearance often being compared to science fiction or something you might find on Doctor Who. Over the last few years the historic significance has been recognised by the Government with the rectifier featuring heavily in railway special events, the sub-station being open to the public, as a sort of working museum, and which has proved extremely popular. Despite this initial recognition the Government has indicated it will evict this irreplaceable piece of Manx and International heritage, missing a golden opportunity to create a unique museum in its original setting and a much needed added attraction for both Laxey village and the Island. Unnecessarily moving the equipment to another building runs the serious risk of irreparable damage and will absorb much needed funding in both removal and re-installation costs. If this Government really cared about, rather than paid lip-service to, the Island and its heritage there should never have been any suggestion to remove the equipment.

But this is just the start towards the ruination of the charm, ambience and character of Laxey MER station. Plans have been approved which will see the introduction of modernistic street furniture and inappropriate paving as part of the regeneration of the area. Laxey station 'The Jewel in the MER Crown' is the last remaining major station on the system that has remained largely unchanged in eighty years and is still recognisable form the early days of the line in the 1890's. It is this charm and old-world appearance that draws to the station, and is appreciated by, many thousands of people from all over the world. By definition this has the knock on effect of greatly increasing tourist foot-fall to Laxey village and the businesses that rely on their pound for survival. The plans, as approved by the Manx Government, put the future of this business in question.

Those who created these plans were given as part of their brief '...which recognises the historic significance of the railway and its immediate surroundings'. It is difficult to understand how stainless steel street furniture, the prolification of modern LED lighting and use of paving materials not previously seen in the area conform to this brief. Even more difficult to comprehend is how those who were responsible for setting the guidelines could accept that the plans met their stipulation. These plans are not only wholly unnecessary and ill-conceived but certain aspects have the potential to be downright dangerous and gives the strong impression of a Government who has no real understanding of tradition or heritage. At a time when revenue driven from the finance sector remains under pressure and the world economy is showing little signs of any significant short-term recovery, the Island needs to nurture that in what it excels. Heritage is a sector that offers potential growth.

The MER Society calls for the DCCL Minster to halt proceedings on both schemes until such time as a full public discussion can be carried out.

Note for editors – see below for more detailed press release and explanation of plans.


1. Welcome to the Sunny Isle of Man. Another bank departs and our superannuated overlords announce that this is all part of the plan and our economy is growing….

2. Well if you do not believe them then you will see that our Island needs our tourist assets. One of them is about to be removed by its custodian; your government. It will be taken away in September. The Mercury Arc Rectifier in Laxey is a show to behold; on exhibition for the very last time during the line’s 120th anniversary celebrations at the start of September, it is a piece of serious electrical engineering from the 1930’s which was installed to convert the (then) new Manx AC power supply to the M.E.R.’s DC current. It is a glorious piece of kit (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yjMZ5qtyCUc). And your Government are about to remove it from the building where it has operated for the last eighty years despite recognising the historic and heritage importance, as highlighted by the numerous occasions that it has been promoted as a significant attraction during railway special event periods. The Manx Electric Railway Society supports the petition against this, (see http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/save-the-laxey-manx-electric-railway-mercury-arc-rectifier-sub-station.html)

3. The dismantling of the contents of Laxey sub-station will remove the final working example of this historically significant and immensely entertaining piece of equipment, anywhere… This appears to be the start of a new species of rot on the M.E.R. As has been seen with the proposals to remove Peggy from her Castletown home for “restoration elsewhere” when Manx craftsmen quite skilled and capable of doing the job for considerably less cost were not consulted, there is a new trend of playing “fast and loose” with our heritage. Laxey Station is next.

4. The significance of the Manx Electric Railway Station in Laxey is immense. This is the only surviving principal station on the line which has remained largely unchanged for over 100 years. The context of Derby Castle Station has effectively been ruined by the development and subsequent destruction of Summerland. Ramsey Station was re-built in the 1960’s and is now proposed (as part of Ramsey Regeneration) to be obliterated utterly. Only Laxey Station remains as the “Jewel in the Crown” of a ride on the MER, a fact that has been recognised for some years by its inclusion within the Laxey Conservation Area.

5. The importance of Laxey station as a tourist attraction cannot be under-estimated. It is the point of change for visitors to Snaefell Mountain and the Laxey wheels and is visited by many thousands of people every year. It is an icon of Manx charm and Manx culture. It is visited by innumerable railway and tramway enthusiasts who use it as an essential backdrop for photography. Laxey is the only location which is relatively unchanged and where the photographer can be sure a tram will have to stop. Enthusiasts come to Laxey in large numbers to photograph 120 year old tram cars in an authentic setting, something which the Conservation Area is there to protect.

6. If the character of Laxey Station is undermined by the Isle of Man Government, the word is likely to go out amongst the enthusiasts all over the world. This is likely to result in adverse publicity which will reduce and undermine our tourist “brand”.

7. The charm of Laxey Station is its timelessness, a charm which has thus far only been superficially undermined by the dumping of a skip by a Government Department, inappropriate parking of road vehicles, the use of excessive modern signage and so-on. The modern intrusions to date are reversible and it was the sincere hope of the Manx Electric Railway Society that the proposed overhaul at Laxey would be seen as an opportunity to restore some of the ambience that has been lost instead of undermining the charm of the station still further.

8. Whilst the Manx people slept their planning committee has approved a shocking and sweeping scheme which is un-necessary, inappropriate and such as to undermine the unique character of the Station. This will be repugnant to anyone who appreciates the timeless charm of the station and amounts to “Gilding the Lily”.

9. The conclusion of the Planning Statement prepared by Dalrymple Associates (Para.9.01) states “The proposals aim to enhance the existing character of this part of the Laxey Conservation Area, while seeking to control pedestrian movement in the Station by the use of texture and surface material in a manner which recognises the historic significance of the railway and its immediate surroundings.” In including “off the peg” ugly utilitarian street furniture of the sort frequently found in modern development in the adjacent Isle the truth of the “enhancement” is plain. The lily is being modernistically gilded. Your planning committee has approved of this, charmingly and traditionally all in 316 grade stainless steel, well set off by refuse bins to match which appear to be the design of a disciple of Mies Van Der Rohe.

10. But it does not stop at the street furniture. In the coming months the full panoply of Disneyland will come to this timeless and historic station;

10.1. Erection of new “power supply poles” (traction poles) with no requirement that they follow traditional appearance or even be painted. The present poles are of ancient design, are painted green and are frequently topped with finials. A number carry light fittings which are derived from the original lighting fitted in the 1900’s.

10.2. Excessive lighting (LED pole mounted and floor lighting and floodlighting, plus LED “arbour mounted” chain lighting, plus strip lighting on the steps to “Town Square”). There is no need for such “improvement” in the lighting in the station. It is rare for electric trams to move in the station at night and when they do the people visiting the station and riding on the electric cars are there precisely to catch the old world atmosphere; this is not Brixton, there is no need for modern security style lighting. The use of such lighting will destroy the night time charm of the station utterly. The clattering of a well lit tram through a Laxey station redolent of the poet Keats’ description of “beechen green and shadows numberless” is the best protection a pedestrian can have. Because trams rarely use the station in the hours of darkness there is no substantial health and safety issue such as to necessitate LED lighting after dark. These proposals will wholly undermine if not destroy the timeless character of the Station and your planning committee has approved them.

10.3. Resurfacing using modernistic paving, including what Dalrymple so charmingly describe as “deterrent paving” with what we would submit to be potential safety risks when the public are not deterred. The permission approves stone paving elsewhere in the station; something wholly out of the historical context of this site in the conservation area. This is a consequence of individuals being appointed to the planning committee for reasons other than their appreciation of Manx tradition and culture.

10.4. The unnecessary insertion of a hatchet shaped pedestrian walkway leading across the tracks to the proposed “Town Square” (a charming concept with a fine view of Laxey petrol station) with consequent loss of trees in the Station. And for what? What vanity is it that drives someone to expend public money on this unnecessary and modernistic scheme whilst leaving Laxey Glen Gardens (a former major destination of visitors to Laxey) in a state of degradation?

11. Laxey Station is to be modernised and effectively all charm destroyed. The consequence will be adverse to the Conservation Area, the capacity of the M.E.R and the Island generally to attract visitors and it will anger the enthusiast community and many passengers who visit the station especially for its timeless charm. Aspects of the proposals appear to be downright dangerous, both to personal safety of station users and (given the power of lighting to attract the unruly) to the security of M.E.R. property at night.

12. The Manx Electric Railway Society calls for the Department of Community, Culture & Leisure Minster to halt proceedings on both the removal of equipment from the Laxey sub-station and the installation of inappropriate and modernistic materials in the Laxey station regeneration project until such time as a full public discussion can be carried out.

13. The Manx people should judge their planning committee and their politicians in the light of this. They have their democratic rights and should remember the destruction of their heritage at Laxey when they vote next time. They should ask themselves whether the M.H.K. for Lonan tried to stop this or was he part of the process?