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West Somerset Mineral Railway Project go to homepagelink to heritage lottery fund website

Construction of the Incline

Built between 1857 and 1861 the incline provided the vital link between the iron mines on the Brendons with the railway coming up from Watchet Harbour to Comberow.  At a length of 1010 metres, rising 245 metres in height at an even gradient of 1 in 4 it is a remarkable example of Victorian engineering. 


The initial surveyor employed by Brown, William Doyne, was dismissed in 1853 before he had completed a workable plan.  He was replaced by Rice Hopkins, a Welshman with experience of railway design, who had previously worked on railway schemes in Mid Wales.   

Drawing of the drums being erected in the incline winding house
An artist's impression of the winding drums being erected. Drawing by Mike Jones
 Having designed the incline he died in December 1857 before the completion of the line to Comberow. 
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Looking south west up the incline from Comberow 1862
Looking south west up the incline from Comberow 1862


 The concept of the Incline was not new but had been in use since the mid eighteenth century. 


It is the specific combination of this design, in length, height, gradient and operation that no other standard gauge incline in England compares with the elegance, the precision or the perfection of the twin track incline at Brendon Hill. 


Contractors started in 1857 at the bottom by building underbridge 13 and the associated retaining walls. 


 A dry stone wall between underbridges 13 and 14 was built to minimise infill required.  The  stationary steam winding engine brought over from South Wales to take rock uphill proved inadequate for the task and had to be replaced.  The formation of an embankment was achieved gradually by blasting out over 25,000 cubic metres of rock to form four cuttings.   


Morgan Morgans, Hopkins' successor imported more infill to improve the embankments, and diverted the stream down the east side of the Incline, constructing three weirs to reduce its flow.  It was culverted under the Incline and discharged through a hole in the retaining wall.  


Given the terrain and the scale of construction, it is not surprising that the Incline was by far the most expensive element of the West Somerset Mineral Railway.  Building costs for the lower six mile section of the railway were £2,700 per mile and £4,400 per mile for the upper six miles.  The mile which includes the Incline cost £44,800 to build, over £2 million today.   

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Underbridge 13 & the lower section of the Incline
Underbridge 13 & the lower section of the Incline

See also

More about William Doyne and Rice Hopkins


Go to Incline drawings
The Incline retaining wall: west elevation
Go to Incline in pictures
The incline from Comberow circa 1870