Swannington Incline Swannington Incline Engine House Swannington Incline

Swannington Incline today

Swannington Incline engine house

L&S Railway approach to top of Incline

Swannington Incline

Mines in Swannington, Coleorton and Peggs Green transferred their coal on a horse drawn railway to the bottom of the Incline. The Swannington Incline was built in 1832 with an engine house at the top and an engine (now on exhibition at York Railway Museum) capable of pulling 3 trucks of coal up the steep slope. At the top of the Incline the coal trucks were attached to locomotives on the Leicester and Swannington Railway.

Swannington Incline

Swannington Incline

Swannington Incline circa 1920's
Swannington Incline today.
The Trust part of the Incline is now a tree lined permissive path (i.e. it is not a legal right of way as in a public footpath). At the top of the Incline the former engine house was excavated, filled in and identified by a brick outline. There is also a stretch of railway track from the former Mantle Lane rail yard in Coalville.
Our volunteers maintain the Incline by mowing the grass, controlling the weeds, trimming the hedges and pruning trees to admit light.
Swannington Incline engine manufactured by The Horsely Coal & Iron Company in 1833

Engine house at the top of the Incline. The footings of the building have been reveiled by the Trust.

Swannington Incline winding drum

Swannington Incline winding drum.

Swannington Incline

View from the top of the Incline looking down.

Swannington Incline

View from the bottom of the Incline looking up past Cattle Arch Bridge towards Church Lane Bridge.

Trespass on the Incline didn’t pay

Ever since the Trust purchased the Incline and commenced recovering its features we have ben told by a number of villagers that Swannington people could legally walk the incline unless it was in use. We established at an early stage that this was a false claim since the Railway companies always limited the walking permits to a few favoured individuals and detailed the conditions applying to this facility.

The official permits were issued on a Pass, an example of which is shown.

Swannington Incline Pass

On the reverse of the walking pass the conditions were spelt out:

1. This pass is by to be used by the person in whose name it is issued.

2. It is to be shown on demand to Servants of the Railway Company, whether in uniform or not.

3. The holder must not walk on or between the rails, damage the fences or tread down the edges of the ballast,
but walk on the right hand side of the lines so that the trains, coming in the opposite direction, will pass him
on the left hand.

4. He must enter upon the railway only where he may do so without damage to the fences.

5. He must not hinder railway men in their work or loiter on the Company’s Line or premises.

6. Dogs are not allowed on the railway except under the control of Gamekeepers.

7. The holder is responsible for any damage he may do to the Company’s Property

Many local people chanced their luck but the Coalville Times of November 9 1906 showed that some were caught and punished.

“Gerorge Barkby and Thomas Hall of Coleorton; George Kilby, Arthur Bradley, Ernest Bird, Thomas Curtis and Thomas Wilton of Peggs Green; Fred Francis, Horace Woodward, Thomas Leeson, Fred Richards and Horace Richards of Gelsmoor and George Earp of Griffydam were caught trespassing on the incline on October 9th and appeared at Coalville Magistrates court for trial. All except Curtis and Leeson, both under 16, were fined 2/6d with 9/-d costs or seven days hard labour. The youngsters were fined 2/6d with 2/6d costs.”
Click to read more about:-

Operation of the Incline

Closure of the Incline 1948

Excavation of the Engine House

Restoration of the Incline

Restoration of Potato Lane Bridge

Restoration of Church Lane Bridge

Restoration of Cattle Arch Bridge

The Leicester to Swannington Railway 1832

Passenger Journeys On The Leicester To Swannington Railway

Operation of the Incline

The incline was constructed in 1832 to enable coal from the mines in the Swannington valley to be hauled up a 1 in 17 slope to the upper level of the Railway for onward transmission to Leicester by means of a stationary winding engine. This was brought into use in 1833.

The engine at the top provided the power to wind a tail-rope capable of either raising three loaded wagons or lowering six empties. The engine, made by the Horsely Iron and Coal Co. and with subsequent improvements, continued to operate until 1947. For the last 70 years of operation it lowered coal down from the mines in Coalville to feed the boilers of the Calcutta pumping engine, which drained the whole of the district's mines.


Swannington Incline with tracks in place

Tunnel House, still standing off Jeffcoats Lane served as the weighbridge for the loaded coal waggons as they passed through towards the foot of the incline.

Coal was delivered to the base of the incline by means of three horse-drawn tram-roads from the mines in the village and from others further north. These mines, leased from the Wyggeston Hospital Trust, suffered from ingress of water held up in earlier mining operations and when the mineral leases began to run out the lessees reduced their operation and the incline became less used.

Finally, in about 1870, the mines closed and surface equipment, including pumps, was removed.
Water held underground in mines which had been worked over several centuries began to build up and started to find its way down the slope of the coal seams into the mines which operated at a lower level in Coalville. As flooding problems began to increase pumps were re-installed at some of the abandoned sites and it was decided to form a Joint Pumping Company with the aim of removing this water.

Swannington Incline engine manufactured by The Horsely Coal & Iron Company in 1833

Swannington Incline engine manufactured by The Horsely Coal & Iron Company in 1833
In 1877 a huge engine was installed at the former Swannington No.1 (Calcutta) mine to drain the whole area. The Company was jointly funded by the Swannington, Coleorton, Snibston and Whitwick Colliery Companies. It erected the two cylinder, tandem, compound engine supplied by the Robert Stephenson Co., which was able to raise approximately 3,000 gallons of water per minute from the old workings.

The cessation of coal mining in Swannington should have led to the closure of Swannington Incline but, in order to fuel the five boilers which fed the huge pumping engine at Calcutta, coal had to be let down the incline from the mines in Coalville. Thus the incline survived in operation, being used in the opposite direction to that originally intended, until 1947 when electrically operated pumps were installed at Calcutta.
The last wagons descended the incline on 20th. September 1947 and the incline was closed early in 1948.

  The incline was dismantled by 1952 and the winding engine was removed to the National Railway Museum in York for conservation.

Swannington Incline engine, York Railway Museum.

Closure of the Incline 1948

Following the closure of the Incline:-

The Incline winding Engine was moved to the British Railway Museum in York.

The engine house and adjacent cottages were demolished.

The platform of a cart bridge located at Potato Lane was removed and the badly corroded abutments were buried in mine shale.

A road bridge at Church Lane had been damaged by mine subsidence and so this was both stowed with and encapsulated in mine shale.

A farm accommodation bridge, built attractively in local sandstone, was also damaged by subsidence and was partially demolished by explosive.

A local demolition contractor who began to fill the cutting purchased the site of the Incline from British Rail. The local District Council prohibited this work and the site was virtually abandoned to nature.

Excavation of the engine house

In 1985 a Manpower Services Commission team carried out a clearance of the masonry mound over the site of the Engine house and cottages. Under the Trust’s supervision the foundations of the buildings and the various pits for engine components were excavated. These revealed the details of the:-

pit in which the winding drum was mounted;

pit over which the engine was mounted;

pit in which the flywheel and band brake were located;

well in which the condenser was located.

Clearance of the boiler house floor revealed the:-

boiler mounting frame;

stoking hole;

flue plate;

base of the chimney.

This excavation was carefully recorded both photographically and by measurements of the remains in an attempt to interpret the layout of the engine winding mechanism. During the excavation a length of Leicester and Swannington fish-belly type rail was recovered together with nuts from the engine's holding-down bolts and the spanner, which was used to tighten them. The nuts had been flame-cut to release the engine from its bed. The foot pedal and ratchet, a rope support roller, a rail shoe and an uncoupling hook were also recovered.

Swannington Incline Engine House Excavation   Swannington Incline Engine House Excavation

The foundations of the cottages provided details of their ground floor layout and the blue-brick footings of the control-man's hut identified its position on the site. A control rod between the hut and the drum-pit was also found.

In 1996 the Trust won the National Award for Environmental Action of the Age Resource organisation and we used the £1000 award to help us refill most of the excavations.

Pits, which contained steam valves and the condenser arrangement, were sealed using weld-mesh covers so that these features can be still examined. A sacrificial layer of bricks was laid to protect the foundations and clearly show the layout of buildings. This made the whole site tidier, more manageable and more vandal resistant.

Restoration of the Incline

The first task was to clear and make a basic track the length of the Incline. Trust volunteers set to work with a will to clear the cutting and embankment of the incline of the detritus of thirty years. Steps were provided over the mounds encapsulating both Potato Lane and Church Lane bridges and the footpath over the remains of the Cattle Arch was made safe.

The next task was to clear the shale and rubbish that filled the site. Volunteer were encouraged and helped when a local business man loaned the Trust the use of a "Hymac" machine with driver and a lorry to remove deposited waste masonry from the top 15 yards of the Incline in order to re-establish the slope, which was cleared of debris and scrub down to Potato Lane bridge. Rubbish was removed from the embankment, enabling an examination of the site of the safety-end.

Swannington Incline Restoration at Potato Lane Bridge   As the Trust worked down the Incline, Potato Lane bridge, Church Lane bridge and Cattle Arch bridge were rebuilt.

The whole of the Swannington Inclined Plane site owned by the Trust has been recovered. Unfortunately there is not access at the bottom (northern) end of the site.

Swannington Incline restoration at Potato Lane bridge


Although the Incline is the private property of the Trust, walkers and students of both railway history and wildlife are encouraged to visit. The site is closed one day a year to emphasise that it is a permissive path and not a public right of way. Interpretation boards have been installed at significant positions on the Incline.

Restoration of Potato Lane bridge

Swannington Incline Potato Lane Bridge

The original bridge circa early 1950's.

Potato Lane is a local name for part of a cart track that provided access to three fields for the carriage of midden waste, i.e. food and human waste from the village middens which was ploughed into the fields each spring.

Potato Lane bridge had been buried in mine shale when the incline was dismantled and in 1984 half of this mound which encapsulated the abutments was removed. These were found to be in a very damaged state but we were able to recover bridge-plate No.2.

The excavation revealed that the bridge abutments were originally constructed in red brick. There was evidence that, when later they had begun to collapse, attempts had been made to stabilise the structure by insertion of steel rods, grouted into the bedded sandstone and fitted with iron cross plates to clamp the brickwork.

Potato Lane Bridge

Potato Lane bridge with the tracks still in situ.

It is reported that, in 1908 the Midland Railway Co. found it necessary to stabilise the damaged walls by surrounding them with a structure of engineering blue bricks which still survive.

Swannington Incline Potato Lane Bridge Swannington Incline Potato Lane Bridge

The rebuilt bridge
Wire mesh covered stone gabions.
In 1996 the remaining structure was made more stable by the installation of stone gabions and a wooden platform footbridge was assembled over the incline. This work was jointly funded by the Trust and by Leicestershire County Council.

Restoration of Church Lane bridge

Swannington had a tradition of non-conformist worship and the village Church of England church was not built until 1825. Church Lane was thus an essential thoroughfare to the nearest church at Whitwick. Church Lane continues to be a well used local road, so the restoration of the bridge was vital.

The banks of the cutting between Potato Lane bridge and Church Lane bridge were cleared in 1987 by a Manpower services team. But work to remove the mine-shale which encapsulated both sides of Church Lane Bridge had to wait until 1994 when the County Council raised the necessary funds to carry out a complete reconstruction.

Swannington incline

Church Lane bridge circa 1940's
Rebuilding the bridge, 1994.
The bridge over the incline carried a highway and, since the structure had been severely damaged by mine subsidence, it was necessary to make it strong enough for traffic. The whole of the existing damaged sandstone structure was therefore removed and a steel-reinforced concrete bridge was built and was finally faced in brick.

Below Church Lane bridge the incline moves on to an embankment and the undergrowth on this was cleared to make a footpath for the Festival in 1982. Various artefacts were found on this section including a length of steel winding rope and a rope support roller.

The finished bridge.

Restoration of Cattle Arch bridge

The original Cattle Arch bridge was included as part of the building of the Incline, so that the farmer could move his cattle between fields that were separated by the Incline’s construction.

The embankment carries the track bed down to Cattle Arch bridge, which spanned a cart road under the track. The former elegant sandstone structure was badly affected by mine subsidence in the 1940s and the National Coal Board had blown down the damaged structure in the 1950s to remove the hazard, leaving a pile of rubble on the site. The bridge was superbly rebuilt for the Trust by local mineworkers in 1986, prior to the closure of the last mines in nearby Coalville.
Cattle Arch Bridge   The original bridge was in the form of a Norman arch but the new bridge was formed by use of standard mine-roadway arches.

Near to Cattle Arch bridge is a culvert which carries the village stream under the incline embankment. This was also damaged by mine subsidence and it was necessary to carry out repairs to this in 1987 to avoid erosion of the embankment.

Cattle Arch bridge circa 1940's

Cattle Arch Bridge

Cattle Arch bridge today.

Leicester and Swannington Railway 180th

There were about 30 attendees at the Leicester and Swannington Railway 180th Anniversary event at Snibston to listen to talks by David Lyne (Leicestershire Industrial History Society), Denis Baker (Swannington Heritage Trust) and Nick Pell (Snibston) on the origins and operation of the railway. These were followed by a guided tour of the Incline.


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