was asked to become the engineer for the line, but the request only
brought forth the same reply as at first given to Mr. Ellis "No;
I have thirty-one miles of railway to make, and the Liverpool directors
think that that is enough for any man at a time." "That being so,"
said Mr. Ellis, "is there any person thou canst recommend? " "Well,
I think my son Robert is competent to undertake the thing/' "But
wilt thou be answerable for him ? " asked Mr. Ellis, to which Stephenson
replied, " Oh, yes, certainly."
Robert Stephenson, who was then about twenty-seven years of age,
was at once appointed as engineer, and instructions were given that
he should prepare the necessary plans and documents for Parliament
without delay. One gentleman asked if a narrow gauge of about
3 feet would not be cheaper than the 4 feet 8 inches guage which
Mr. Stephenson proposed. The very suggestion of a " break of gauge "
was more than "Old George" could stand. "This won't do," he
remarked. * I tell you the Stockton and Darlington, the Liverpool
and Manchester, the Canterbury and Whitstable, and the Leicester
and Swannington must all be 4 feet 8J inches. Make them of the
same width ; though they may be a long way apart now, depend upon
it, they will be joined together some day." This reply met with general
applause, and the gauge question was finally settled for this railway,
not another word being said upon the subject. This important
meeting lasted for fully four hours, and it will be seen that before
it concluded Mr. Ellis and his friends had succeeded in placing the
scheme upon a sound basis. Therefore the Bell Hotel is without
doubt the birthplace of the Leicester and Swannington Railway
Mr. George Stephenson returned to Liverpool, and in a very short
time the "sheet" was sent back, he having obtained the names of
persons willing to provide one-third of the total capital of the Company,
the list including many of the leading Liverpool merchants. These
gentlemen afterwards became generally known as "The Liverpool
party," and they had very great influence in this and many other
Mr. Robert Stephenson accordingly immediately made the necessary
survey, and the plans were duly completed. Practically he followed the
route suggested by Mr. Stenson, but as far as possible he improved
the gradients. At Bagworth the nature of the ground necessitated
a very considerable rise, and no less than five alternative schemes
were prepared, in order, if possible, to obtain a line over which
locomotives could run; but even the best of these plans required
://^W^, ,*/.,< a
ct ?//icaal l/ttn ml , fla/tru/
A Jctcoffa <*</ .//, -, .
FIRST REGISTER OF PROPRIETORS
(Now preserved at the Leicester Museum).
A COMPANY SANCTIONED
that a gradient of i in 66 should be constructed, an incline which
was out of the question for locomotives in 1830. It was therefore
necessary to fall back upon
the original idea of a "self-
acting rope incline." Robert
Stephenson regretted this,
for he wrote to his father,
"I am most anxious to avoid
this rope business."
The Company's Act re-
ceived the Royal Assent on
May 29th, 1830, being one of
the very earliest, if not the
earliest, railways to be sanc-
tioned on the first applica-
tion. Clause XIX. provided
" That the said Company of THE SEAL (full size).
Proprietors shall meet to-
gether at the Bell Hotel in Leicester, or at some other convenient
place in Leicester aforesaid, within two calendar months next after the
passing of this Act."
This meeting was held on June 25th, 1830, when the Directors were
appointed as follows :
Clement Winstanley (Chairman)
Isaac Hodgson (Deputy-Chairman) .
Robert Birkley . . .
John Ellis . .
Charles James Packe
At a Special General Meeting of the proprietors held at the Bell
Hotel, Leicester, September 6th, 1830, 1,639 shares were issued, Nos. i
to 1,639, f s each; the register of proprietors being sealed and
signed "Clement Winstanley, Chairman."
The Company's Act gave power to construct a railway from the
navigable part of the River Soar, near the West Bridge, Leicester,
12 THE HISTORY OF THE MIDLAND RAILWAY
to the Hinckley and Melbourne Road at the northward end of the
village of Swannington, together with four branches, extending to
the Bag worth, Ibstock, and Whitwick collieries, and from the ancient
Fosse Road to the North Bridge, Leicester. The three former branches
were constructed at the expense of the owners of those collieries, but
the North Bridge branch was never made, another branch to Soar
Lane 'being afterwards constructed in lieu thereof. The main line
(exclusive of branches) was 16 miles 5 chains in length to the junction
with the proposed Coleorton Railway, and 16 miles 12 chains if the
coalyard at Swannington be included.
No sooner did Robert Stephenson commence the work of the
railway than he formed the opinion that there was coal at Snibston,
and requested his father to come over. "Old George" was of the
same opinion ; he therefore induced his Liverpool friends, Joseph
Sanders and Sir Joshua Walmesley, to join him, and in 1831 they
purchased land and commenced to make the Snibston collieries.
The better to look after this important work George Stephenson, in
1833, left Liverpool and came to reside at Alton Grange, Leicestershire,
and to this fact may be traced several of the railways in the Midlands
The line from Leicester to Swannington was commenced in October,
1830. A large slate slab, forming the doorstep of the railway offices
and directors' board room at West Bridge, Leicester, was used as
the starting point for measuring distances. Its position on the ground
was calculated to be 180 feet above the mean water-level at Liverpool,
and hence it was used as the datum for the heights in the construction
of the line. Ordinance datum marks are now recorded on buildings
all over the country; but at the period when this railway was made
they did not exist, and the engineers had accordingly to provide their
own datum line from which to work. This datum forms the base-line,
and although it is an imaginary one, yet on the contour or profile
it forms the horizontal line from which all the vertical heights are
Leaving the West Bridge Station, Leicester, the railway runs past
Glenfield, the Groby branch junction, Ratby, Desford, Merry Lees,
Thornton Lane, to the old Bagworth Station, thence up a self-acting
incline to the incline house and station, then continuing past the
junction of the Bagworth Colliery branch, and the Ibstock Junction
to the summit at the Staunton-under-Bardon road-crossing, now known
as Ellistown. The gradients were severe, but this was of little
importance, as they were in favour of the loaded coal trains, the
line having risen no less than 391 feet in a distance of n miles
A DIFFICULT TUNNEL 15
55 chains. Leaving the summit level, the railway passes Ashby Road
Station (now known as Bardon Hill), the junctions of the Whitwick
and Snibston No. 2 Colliery lines, the Long Lane Hotel and Station
(now Coalville), and the Snibston No. i Colliery, to the fixed engine
at the commencement of the Swannington incline, thence down the
incline of i in 17 to the junction with the Coleorton Company's line
and to the Swannington coalyard. The gradients from the summit
to Swannington were so unfavourable that a portion had to be worked
by a fixed engine and rope, and the other portion required the most
powerful locomotives in existence at that period.
GLEN FIELD TUNNEL
(Opened July ijth, 1832).
The principal work on the line was the Glenfield Tunnel, which
commenced at a distance of a mile and fifty chains from Leicester.
This tunnel is i mile and 36 yards in length, straight, level, built of
brick, and has a single line of rails passing through it.
The course of this tunnel for more than 500 yards, near the Glen-
field end, lay through loose running sand, the presence of which
rendered it necessary for Mr. Robert Stephenson to construct a wooden
tunnel to Support the sand while the brickwork was being erected.
So heavy did this work prove that the contractor was ruined, and
he was unable to complete it. A second contractor declined to
i6 THE HISTORY OF THE MIDLAND RAILWAY
continue the work, which the Company
had themselves to complete at a largely
The line was single throughout, except
at stations and upon the Bagworth incline,
and the gauge was 4 feet 8J inches, this
being one of the few early railways which
had the gauge limited outside, the clause
in the Act being as follows :
" LIII. And be it further enacted, that
the distance between the inside edges of
the rails of the said railway shall not be
less than four feet eight inches, and the
distance between the outside edges of
the rails of the said railway shall not be
more than five feet and one inch "
The rails were of wrought iron, of the
elliptical, or more generally known as the
"fish-bellied" pattern, nominally 15 feet
in length, and when new weighed 35 Ibs.
per yard. They had a single head only,
2\ inches in width, but the most peculiar
feature was that the under side of the
rail was curved, as shown in the accom-
The extreme depth of the rail between
the chairs (at C) was 3^ inches, tapering
away in a semi-elliptic curve to 2\ inches
at the chairs (D). At that time fish-plates
were unknown, the rail joints being made
in a chair. On the one side of the rail
a lateral swell was rolled and continued
throughout the whole length of the rail ;
but on the other side it terminated (at E]
before reaching the chair.
The chairs were of cast iron, a cavity
being formed in each corresponding to
the lateral projection on the rail. On the
opposite side a similar cavity was cast for
the purpose of receiving a long, thin,
wrought-iron key (-H), which pressed the projection on the rail into
the cavity in the chair, thus preventing the rail from rising upwards.
STONE BLOCK SLEEPERS 17
For 7j miles upon embankments the chairs were spiked to cross-
sleepers (A), these being of oak of half-round section, bound at
each end with an iron hoop. In cuttings for 7^ miles the chairs were
supported on stone blocks, 20 inches square and 10 inches thick,
and through the Glenfield Tunnel the chairs were fastened to longi-
tudinal timbers, held to gauge by cross-ties. It is an interesting fact
that fully a mile of "longitudinal timber" road was here in use in
the year 1832, or several years before the opening of the Great
Western Railway in June, 1838 a fact which demonstrates that
longitudinal timbers were first introduced by Stephenson and not
by Brunei, as has been claimed.
PLAN OF STONE BLOCKS.
It was soon found in practice that the stone blocks "required
constant attention lifting, packing, and keeping to gauge " ; also
that the riding over them was " harder than on the wooden sleepers."
However, some of the stone-block road remained in use on the main
line for a period of nearly forty years, and some even exists in sidings
at the Swannington end of the line at the present day. The points
were all of the old " slide " pattern.
The Bagworth incline was self-acting, the loaded waggons descending
by gravity, pulling up the empty ones by means of a rope passing
round a wheel at the top. This incline was 43 chains in length,
and the gradient i in 29, and commenced at a distance of about 10
miles from West Bridge Station. A grooved wheel, 6 feet in diameter,
was fixed horizontally in a square space under the rails at the top, round
i8 THE HISTORY OF THE MIDLAND RAILWAY
which a hempen rope, 1,000 yards in length, passed. This rope
weighed 2 tons, was 5 inches in circumference, and cost ^60. The
speed of the two sets of waggons upon the incline was regulated by
a man riding on each train, and a brake could also be applied to
the large wheel at the top. In the middle of the incline there was
a loop, or passing place, and from this loop to the top there were
three rails, the centre one being common to both up and down traffic.
The object of this was to account for the width of the wheel and
THE "COMET" OPENED THE LEICESTER AND SWANNINGTON RAILWAY.
position of the rope ; also to save the cost of a fourth rail, and yet
not to have facing points.
The first locomotive engine for this railway was named "Comet,"
and was built by Messrs. Robert Stephenson and Co., of Newcastle-
upon-Tyne. It was shipped by sea from Newcastle to Hull, thence by
canal, and as the embankment close to Leicester was not completed,
the engine was put upon the rails at the Fosse Road siding, and on
the morning of Saturday, May 5th, 1832, handed over to the Company
"in steam." To see the starting of the first locomotive which had ever
run in the Midland Counties of England was a great event. Mr. John
Ellis remarked to his son on that morning, "Edward, thou shalt go
down with me and see the new engine get up its steam." Ten
STEPHENSON HANDS OVER THE "COMET" 19
Directors, the Secretary, Treasurer, Manager, Solicitor, and Mr. Robert
Stephenson, Engineer and the maker of the engine, were also present.
Several satisfactory runs as far as the tunnel and back having been
made, Mr. Stephenson formally handed over the engine with the remark
that it was larger and more powerful than any he had previously built.
The Chairman of the Company, Mr. Winstanley, himself then took
hold of the " regulator," and ran the party up to the tunnel and back.
He then handed the engine over to Mr. Henry Cabry, the Company's
"Engine Superintendent," and appointed Robert Weatherburn, an
experienced driver, who had come from the Liverpool and Manchester
Railway, as the driver of the " Comet."
THE '' COMET" (front view).
OPENING OF THE LEICESTER AND SWANNINGTON RAILWAY.
THE preliminary official announcement of the opening of the line
was given in the following rather quaint advertisement which
appeared in the Leicester newspapers of July i4th, 1832 :
" Leicester and Swannington
THE OPENING of the RAILWAY will take place on TUESDAY
NEXT, the I7th instant. The Locomotive Engine, with a train of
Carriages, will start from the Augustin Friars at 10 o'clock, and proceed
to Bagworth ; and the Proprietors may be supplied with Tickets on appli-
cation at the Directors' Room in the Friar-lane, between the hours of 10
and 12 this day.
It will be absolutely necessary that the Line of Railway should be kept
clear, and the public are warned that any persons venturing upon it will
expose themselves to imminent danger, as well as become liable to the
Penalty imposed by the Act, which the Directors, with a view to prevent
accidents, will strictly enforce against all trespassers.
By order of the Directors."
The line was opened amid great rejoicing, ringing of church bells,
and the firing of cannon, on Tuesday, July iyth, 1832. The first train
drawn by the " Comet " was driven by George Stephenson, assisted by
his son Robert and Driver Weatherburn (whose son, by the way, is
the Midland Company's present district superintendent at Kentish
Town), and ran from West Bridge to the old Bagworth Station, situated
at the foot of the self-acting incline known as the " lower end " of the
The Company's "open carriage," as illustrated, with the exception
of a special covered vehicle provided for the use of the directors, and
in which the chairs from the board room were temporarily placed,
was the only passenger vehicle. The carriage " for the use of directors
only" was attached next to the tender, and was followed by the open
vehicle and ten new coal wagons, across which planks of wood were
laid as seats, covered with green cloth.
AN INTERESTING OPENING
The train was about sixty yards in length, and was decorated with
flags bearing the following inscriptions : " Success to the Leicester and
Swannington Railway" ; "Cheap coal and granite" ; "Warm hearths and
good roads"; "We wish our efforts to promote the prosperity of all";
and " May the triumph of science prove the blessing of the people."
One of the vehicles carried a band of music, and the last vehicle of
all had a small cannon, which was fired at starting and on approaching
each station, and this was the signal for the church bells to be rung at
each village on the route.
All the directors of the Company, officials, and about four hundred
ladies and gentlemen " who had applied for tickets to enable them
to participate in the festivities of the occasion," rode in the train,
and it should be specially mentioned that Mr. William Jessop and
OPEN RAILWAY CARRIAGE, 1832.
Mr. James Oakes, who had come to watch the results, and also two or
three canal directors, were also present.
The Chairman of the Company having given the hand-signal
" Right away," George Stephenson opened the regulator, and there
was a general shout, " See, the puffing monster moves ! " The band
struck up " God Save the King," and the cannon fired. All went
well until reaching the middle of the tunnel, when a sudden shock
was felt. The train almost came to a stop, and the band instantly
ceased to play. " Keep your seats," was the message passed down
the train from vehicle to vehicle, "it's only the engine chimney that
has caught the top of the tunnel, that is all." The cause of this
mishap was that the platelayers had been lifting a low place in the
road and had raised it too high, with the result that the engine
chimney was knocked down, and the occupants of the open vehicles
were for what seemed to them a considerable time kept in the dark
in a moist, smoky atmosphere. But upon emerging from the tunnel
22 THE HISTORY OF THE MIDLAND RAILWAY
a sudden transformation in the appearance of the directors and
passengers was strikingly apparent. Owing to the combined effect
of the steam and dense smoke, the light bonnets, veils, and dresses
of the ladies, and the shirt fronts and faces of the gentlemen, were
thickly covered with black spots. Further on a special stop was
made at the Glenfield Brook to repair the damaged chimney and
to enable the passengers to wash their faces in the stream, which
they did, using their pocket handkerchiefs as towels.
On arrival at the foot of the Bagworth incline, which was reached
in an hour, the locomotive engine was detached and the train
connected to the rope. Loaded wagons having been brought to
the top of the incline, they were attached to the other end of this
rope, and their greater weight pulled the train up to the "incline
The passengers, however, remained at Bagworth at the foot of
the incline in order to partake of a cold collation and champagne,
provided by the directors of the Company " free of all charge."
The return train started at two o'clock, the passengers having been
summoned by bugle call to take their places, the engine conveying
not only the train as it started in the morning, but in addition " two
wagons filled with coal, and two with stone, sometimes at the rate of
more than twenty miles an hour ! " The newspapers of the period
also add that the train got back to Leicester at three o'clock " without
any accident except a woman being ridden over alongside the railway
by a cavalier who was trying to keep up with the train."
Except for the one little mishap in the tunnel, a very pleasant trip
was made, and the passengers were delighted to know that they had
travelled twenty miles behind an engine and brought the first coal to
Leicester by rail.
On arrival at three o'clock a horse and cart was in readiness, coal was
unloaded at once, and the band, headed by flags, followed by the
cart of coal and the visitors, marched from the West Bridge Station
to the " Bell," where " there was a grand dinner."
Throughout the day there was a very downcast look upon the faces
of the Erewash Valley gentlemen and the canal directors present,
so much so that some of the party playfully remarked, "Jessop,
don't look so down, old man." " Oakes, what in the world is the
matter with you?"
The engine and carriages conveying ordinary passengers made a
second trip to Bagworth later in the afternoon, starting at 4.30 p.m.,
and returned with a dozen wagons of coal, which were attached
to the rear of the passenger train.
BRASS TICKETS 23
A paragraph in the Leicester Chronicle of the period, and merely
headed " Railways," says : " Since the public opening on Tuesday an
additional carriage for passengers has been added to the train, and
numbers of respectable parties have availed themselves of the
opportunity to visit Bagworth and its neighbourhood. On Wednesday
upwards of 200 passengers went by the conveyance, who speak in
high terms of the treat which they experienced." Further, the same
paper says : "We are glad to find that the directors have commenced
with a moderate rate of fares, which, we understand, is as follows :
To Glenfield 4^., to Ratby 6^/., Desford Lane 8^/., Mary Lees io</.,
Thornton and Bagworth is." The Leicester Chronicle, July 28th, "under-
stands that these fares permit of return also." "Nearly 400 [passengers]
went at different times on Wednesday " (25th). "About half-past six
last evening the train consisted of 17 carriages, 5 of which were loaded
with coal, 4 with granite, and 8 with
passengers. Owing to the great demand yJL,
for coal the train again set out for / I
Bagworth at half-past seven o'clock."
"Bagworth coal could be got in Leicester
at los. per ton in consequence of the
At the date of the opening there were
three empty wagon trains a day leaving
Leicester at 8 a.m., i p.m., and 4.30 p m.,
to which a passenger carriage was attached, BRASS TICKET
returning behind the coal trains. The (i n use ^-^e).
passenger fares charged were \\d. per
mile. There was one class only, and passengers stood up in an open
carriage, generally known as a tub. It was nothing better than a high-
sided goods wagon, and had neither top, seats, nor spring buffers.
The tickets issued to the various stations were of brass, of octagon
form, as shown in the accompanying illustration. The guard of the
train carried a leather bag, something in the form of a collecting-box,
having eight separate divisions one for each station. At the end of
each passenger's journey the ticket was placed in the bag by the guard,
to be returned, recorded in the books, and used again. These brass
tickets remained in use for the "open carriage passengers" from 1832
Immediately after the opening of the line it became apparent that
" one class " was not sufficient, and orders were at once given for the
construction of a first-class carriage. This was built at the West Bridge
wagon shop by the Company's men. It had three compartments,
24 THE HISTORY OF THE MIDLAND RAILWAY
weighed two and a half tons empty, and the length of the frame was
17 feet. The first-class fare for riding in this vehicle was 2\d. per mile,
and the tickets for which were of paper, the name of the station and the
name of the passenger being filled in by the booking-clerk. The first-
class passengers were also allowed to book their seats some days in
advance. This system of booking was many years ago abolished, but
to this day, when we go to a station to get a " ticket," we say we are
going to the " booking-office."
The system of signalling was of a primitive character, hand-signals,
flags, and hand-lamps being employed. At each intermediate station,
and also at the Stag and Castle Inn, Thornton, a pole was erected,
upon which a red flag or red lamp was hoisted whenever it was neces-
sary to stop a train to pick up passengers or to attach wagons, and the
FIRST-CLASS CARRIAGE, 1832.
absence of the " stop signal " was an intimation to the driver to proceed
on his journey.
It may be wondered why a signal-pole was put up at the Stag and
Castle Inn, that not being one of the Company's stations. The explana-
tion is a very simple one. The passengers having complained that they
could get no refreshments at the Bagworth Station, they were therefore
allowed to walk down to the inn, and by order of the manager the train
would stop to pick up passengers when the innkeeper pulled up the