EMIAC 79: Swanning around Swannington

Swannington, 22nd May 2010

Conference Details


Swannington is a special village with an industrial history. Set in the heart of of the National Forest, it was once the centre for all the early coal mining activities of North West Leicestershire. The first manorial rights were granted in 1278 to Sir John Talbot, who controlled the 13th century coal workings. In 1520 the manor passed to William Wyggeston, a prominent Leicester business man, who eventually set up various trusts in order to preserve Swannington’s village status.

Expansion of Swannington began in the early 1700s when new deep coal seams were worked, leading to an influx of miners and their families from Shropshire. A map published in 1779 clearly indicates the working of 37 mines in the Swannington district. In addition several abattoirs and tanyards operated in the village. Shoemaking was a thriving separate industry.

Swannington achieved prominence in 1829/32 with the opening of the Leicester & Swannington Railway which was promoted by local mine owners William Stenson and John Ellis in conjunction with George Stephenson.


Organised by Leicestershire Industrial Society and held on the 22nd May 2010 in Swannington.

Conference programme:

09:30 Registration with tea/coffee

09:50 Welcome to Swannington

10:00 Leicester & Swannington Railway

10:45 Refurbishment of Swannington Hough Mill

11:30 break

11:45 Landscape evidence of Coalmining in the Coleorton Coalfield

12:30 Any Questions ...

12:45 EMIAC Meeting for Notices

13:00 Lunch

14:00 Site visiting in and around Swannington. Stout footwear is advised.

16:30 Close of conference.

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Hough Mill
Hough Mill.

Image courtesy David Lyne, LIHS Archives.

Conference Report

This conference covered aspects of industrial archaeology in the locality on sites owned by the Swannington Heritage Trust. In the morning there were three excellent talks, the first on the history of the Leicester & Swannington Railway, one of the first railways England, built in 1831 to convey coal from pits in the vicinity of Swannington to a wharf on the River Soar at Leicester. The second talk described work to renovate Hough Windmill at Swannington, an 18th century tower mill, which was completely ruinous at the end of the 20th century but has been restored and with a bit of further effort should soon be working again.

The final talk described how the landscape in the area had changed over the past thousand years or so due to mining for coal. In the first place coal was quarried where it outcropped at the surface. Later in the medieval period, bell pits were used to access coal seams just below the surface. Finally, the advent of animal and steam power meant it was possible to access and ventilate deeper shafts in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Visits in the afternoon included the renovated Hough Windmill and the remains of Swannington incline on the Leicester & Swannington Railway. Here, coal delivered from local mines to the bottom of the incline was hauled up in wagons by a steam winding engine located at the top. The site of the engine house has been excavated and bridges carrying roads and tracks across the incline have been reinstated.

In an area called the Gorse Field are the remnants of centuries of coal mining. There are many depressions in the ground here caused by the remains of medieval bell pits. A horse gin has been recreated on a site where one was used to draw up coal from a pit in the 18th century, while in another part of the site, LIHS has been excavating on the site of Califat Mine, one of the deep mines worked for coal in the 19th century. Here they have found a range of brick structures and culverts, thought to be associated with drainage and ventilation of the colliery.

On one of the hottest EMIAC Heritage Days ever, it was difficult to reconcile this idyllic green rolling countryside with the history of industry in this area over the past few centuries.

Peter Perkins

Additional material

The following websites provide additional background to the papers presented:

Please note: Although checked at the time of writing, NIAG cannot be held responsible for the validity of these links or the integrity of these sites.

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Images taken during the visit

The incline showing the Potato Lane bridge
The incline showing the Potato Lane bridge.
Winding gear seen at the top of the incline
Winding gear seen at the top of the incline.

Images courtesy of Terry and Jane Waterfield taken during the visit.

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