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How did the Incline work?

The Incline was gravity-operated with double tracks at standard gauge.  The Winding House contained two massive cast iron drums (1 metre wide and 5.2 metres in diameter).  The drums wound cables which lowered the trucks of ore down the slope on one track, while simultaneously raising a lighter truck loaded with of coal, lime or even passengers “at their own risk” to the top.   

 

The winding drums were mounted on a single axle, and so turned together.  The axle was supported by four plummer blocks bolted to wrought iron trusses, which rested on timber blocks sunk into the Winding House floor and were anchored down by 16 wrought iron bolts, 15 of which can still be seen in the ground today. 

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The only known photograph of the incline winding drums (1890s)
The only known photograph of the incline winding drums (1890s)

 

The two cables were wound round each drum separately.  One cable passed over the top of the west drum and along a duct between the rails, to emerge close to the brakehouse at the top of the Incline.  

 

The other cable came on the bottom of the eastern drum and through the arched opening in the wall to emerge close to the brake house.  Each cable was over 1000 metres (3280ft) long and weighed 3.2 tonnes. 

 

 

The railway ran along the Brendon Hills connecting to the mines via spurs.  The 13 ton locomotives took the ore-loaded wagon from the mines sidings to the top of the Incline were it stopped near the brakehouse at  the top of the Incline to be hooked up to the winding cables. 

 

Semaphore signals were used to communicate between the top and the bottom of the Incline.  The banksman at Comberow attached the cable to the ascending wagon by means of three short lengths of chain, and by pulling a lever, raised the signal at the top of the Incline.  The brakesman at the top coupled the descending wagon to the other cable, raised the semaphore at Comberow and released the stop block across the rail.

 

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An artist's reconstruction of the Incline and Winding House.  Drawing by Anne Leaver
An artist's reconstruction of the Incline and Winding House. Drawing by Anne Leaver

 

The weight of the wagon on the slope tightened the cable and put the winding drums into motion.  As one cable wound down the other wound up.  It took 12 minutes for a wagon to reach the bottom, with the winding drums turning at a rate of five revolutions per minute. 

 

There were brake bands around each drum, and the brakesman put the brakes on as the wagon came over the brow of the Incline about 30 metres north of the winding house.  The stop block was lowered, the wagon brake applied, and one of the Neilson locomotives passed over the roof of the Winding House to be coupled to the wagon.  At the foot of the Incline, the descending wagon was uncoupled and shunted into a siding by horse.   

 

Incline and Winding House after 1883

When the mines closed in 1883 the weight of the ore had to be replaced with a semi portable Robey steam engine that was installed in the west side of the Winding House to operate the winding drums. 

  

When the railway finally closed in 1898, the winding drum cables were greased and coiled around the drums. 

 

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A truck arrives at the top of the incline 1907
A truck arrives at the top of the incline 1907

 

The winding drums were dynamited in 1917, which destroyed the east and west walls of the Winding House. 

 

They were rebuilt and second-hand windows put in during the Second World War as part of a scheme to convert the building to agricultural use. 

Nine years later, when the Incline was re-opened by the Somerset Mineral Syndicate, it took a week to free the cables from the solidified grease and to unwind it back into position to the foot of the Incline.

 

In 1907 the Raleigh's Cross mines and buildings (situated south west of the Incline) were blown up, and the rubble was used to fill descending wagons, thereby hauling the empties up. 

 

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The winding house at the top of the incline in 1938
The winding house at the top of the incline in 1938

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Go to Incline Winding House drawings
Conjectural Restoration of the Incline Winding House before 1883. Cross Section
Go to Winding House in June 2009
The repaired Winding House in June 2009