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Swannington Incline Operators


Smith Family – Operating the winding engine 1833-1947

The Leicester Evening Mail of Friday 30th November 1951 reported:

Coalville Loses A Railway Relic

The Robert Stephenson winding machine at the old Swannington incline, one of the principal railway relics in Leicestershire, is to be moved this weekend to York.

After 120 years in the Coalville district – the cradle of steam traction in the Midlands – the veteran machine is to be given a place of honour in the York Railway Museum.

Today a sad spectator at the dismantling of the machine was 70-year-old Mr. Sidney Smith of Ashby-road, Coalville


Until his retirement four years ago, he had controlled the steam monster as it hauled wagons by cable up and down the threequarters of a mile, one-in-15 incline, carrying coal to the furnaces of the Calcutta pump, an NCB mine drainage machine.

There has never been a time when a Smith was not serving in the incline.  His grandfather Jeremiah, started the tradition in 1832.  His father followed, then his brother William Daniel, whom Mr. Smith succeeded in 1926.


“Few men could master the machine” Mr. Smith told The Evening Mail.  “The railway authorities thought there was some family secret we were keeping.  We were hiding nothing.  We just grew up with the engine and knew its peculiar ways.”

“There were no brakes and no reversing gear.  It was all done by cushions of steam.”

Smith family tree - Incline engine operators and child coal miners