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Find out about our guided tours of the Swannington Incline.

See the Hello Heritage video of the Swannington Incline with description by one of our committee members.

See Steven Picker’s wonderful Swannington Incline video with lots of explanation on its use.

De Montfort University’s Swannington Incline Steam Engine and Cable Railway video is a digital reconstruction that shows how the engine worked.

Ashley Day’s Swannington Incline pumphouse drone video set to music.

JLS Aerial Scenes’ Swannington rail incline video set to music

The Need For An Inclined Plane

After the Leicester and Swannington Railway crossed to the northern side of Spring Lane it reached the Thringstone Fault and the land dropped away very steeply.  The solution was an Inclined Plane with a 1:17 slope for about 750 yards (700 metres).  A coal powered steam driven engine at the top operated a cable drum that could raise three trucks of coal (18 tons) or lower six empty trucks.

Operator's hut, workers' cottages and winding engine house
Winding engine house with track, cable drum and attaching hook
Boiler house with engine house behind it and chimney
Swannington Incline winding engine during operation

Incline Usage

The Incline was built in 1833 but the early months were plagued by mechanical failures, it was not fully operational until 1834.  By 1877 the coal mines in Coleorton and the north of Swannington had closed.  The former Calcutta mine was converted into a pumping station that could pump out 54,000 gallons of water an hour.  The headstock is still present in Talbot Lane and Roshal Space Consultants operate from the premises.


Fatal Accident 1938

Coal was delivered to the Calcutta pumping station twice a week.   As the trucks neared the bottom the cable was released and their momentum took the trucks around the bend onto the Calcutta spur.  The contractor followed with a team of horses to pull the coal trucks the rest of the way to the pumping station.   The railway was on private land which was closed to the public, so there was neither a warning system nor a process to check that there were not trespassers on the line.

As coal trucks went around the bend onto the Calcutta spur a few lumps of coal often fell off.   Following the 1929-30 economic depression there was mass unemployment in the UK (and other countries).  In May 1938 Horace Horrobin was not working because South Leicestershire Colliery was idle.  To  help eek out their limited money, Elsie May Horrobin and her three youngest children went to the Calcutta spur to scavenge for the scattered lumps of coal.  They only heard the trucks when it was too late, read the newspaper account Swannington Rail Tragedy Mother And Baby Killed

Coalville Times 27th May 1938 - see pdf for full text
1923 map - site of 1938 incident

Incline Closure

The operation of the Incline was thus reversed as coal then went down the Incline to the Calcutta pumping station.  This continued until Calcutta was fitted with an electric submersible pump in the autumn of 1947.  The empty trucks were hauled up at the start of 1948 and the Incline closed.  British Railways took the winding engine to the National Railway Museum in York.

Swannington winding engine at National Railway Museum, York
The engine is long and thin with a large flywheel

Swannington Heritage Trust And The Restoration Of The Incline

In the 1960’s the Incline was sold and the bridges were supported with mining waste.  The Trust History Page describes how the celebration of 150 years of the LSR led to the formation of Swannington Heritage Trust and the purchase of the Incline in 1984.  A Manpower Services Commission project for unemployed young people was used to do much of the restoration work.

Today the Trust owns most of the Swannington Incline and these photos give an idea of how it looks now.  We would like to thank Ashley Day for his drone video of the top of the Incline it gives a new perspective of the winding engine house, Incline cottages and Calcutta pumping rods inspection engine.

The bridges had been supported by mining waste which had to be removed
At the site of Potato Lane Bridge steps were hewed out of the steep banks so the footpath could be used
Cattle Arch Bridge was the only bridge on the railway where the track went over the bridge
View of Potato Lane Bridge looking up the Incline
View from Church Lane Bridge up the Incline towards Potato Lane Bridge
Track from Mantle Lane goods yard was laid near Spring Lane

Calcutta Pumping Rods Inspection Engine

The Calcutta Pumping Rods Inspection Engine confuses many visitors as it has nothing to do with the Incline.

The Swannington No1 coal mine was known as Calcutta.  By the mid 1870’s the coal mines in Coleorton and the north of Swannington had closed.  The mines had filled with water that was seeping through the coal seams and affecting the Snibston and Whitwick pits.  The pumping engines at the closed pits were ineffective.

The solution was to turn the Calcutta site into a pumping station.  The engine installed in 1877 could pump out 54,000 gallons of water an hour.  (The swimming pool at the Hermitage Leisure Centre holds 75,000 gallons.)  The engine powered pumping rods, which were oak beams, that needed to be inspected periodically, so a pumping rods inspection engine was installed.

When the mines closed in 1986, the pumping station was no longer needed and the engine was donated to the Trust.

Trust volunteers have spent many hours removing the rust and painting the engine.  Moving parts were painted red, static parts green and the teeth, nuts and bolts black.  The Easton and Tattersall lettering is in gold.

Calcutta pumping rods inspection engine - the chain guard on the left was removed
Volunteers have to keep removing vegetation from the engine area each year
It took many hours with wire brushes to rub down the engine prior to painting
The hot summer of 1998 reduced grass growth, less mowing gave time to paint the engine
Two coats of paint were applied to protect the engine
Directions to Swannington Incline