Scheduled Monument: The Incline, lying between Brendon Hill and Comberow, and the remains of Combe Row Station
Department for Culture, Media and Sport
03 September 2004
Date last amended
The monument includes the remains of the Incline, a cable operated section of the West Somerset Mineral Railway, the ruins of the cable winding house which stands at the top of the incline, and the ruins of Combe Row station which lie at its base. The West Somerset Mineral Railway (WSMR) was constructed between 1856 and 1864 to carry iron ore from the Brendon Hills to the port of Watchet for onward shipment to the South Wales smelting furnaces. The WSMR was a standard gauge line 18.5km long designed by the engineer Rice Hopkins. The iron ore mines were 380m above sea level and to reach them from Watchet the line followed the course of the Washford river valley to Combe Row (now Comberow) where a 1030m long double track gravity operated incline was constructed at a gradient of 1:4. At the top of the incline the railway reverted to a locomotive line and turned to the west before terminating at Gupworthy mine. The trackbed of the incline is virtually intact for its entire length of over 1km. It survives as a combination of embanked earthwork and cutting with an average width of 30m, although this varies depending upon the terrain. At two places the trackbed is supported across gaps by means of stone bridges known as underbridges. One of these carries the incline over the road into Comberow; the other is about 200m higher up to the south west and it crosses over an old track. Both underbridges are constructed of local stone cut into ashlar blocks for the arches, with roughcast stone providing the body of the bridge and its abutments. A number of contemporary features were constructed to support the effective operation of the incline and some of these survive. They include buttressed retaining walls, a stone-built culvert to take a drainage adit stream beneath the incline, three weirs to control the flow of the stream to prevent undermining of the embankment, and a stone-cut dipping well to provide water for lubricating the wheels of the wagons which ran up and down the incline. The self-acting operation of the incline was effected by means of two massive cast iron drums each 5.48m in diameter which were mounted on a single axle supported by four cast iron frames bolted to the floor of the winding house which stood at the top of the incline. Two iron wire ropes of equal length were taken, one from the top of the northern drum, and one from the bottom of the southern, so that as one cable was unwound by the descent of the loaded ore wagon; the other cable, attached to an empty or lightly loaded wagon, was drawn up the incline by the cable winding round the second drum; drum brakes allowed fine tuning of the speed of descent if necessary. The bolt fittings which anchored the drum frames to the winding house floor survive as do the stone-lined ducts for the cables which extend about 45m downslope from the winding house. The duct for the lower cable was tunnelled through the rock so that the cable could be correctly positioned at the base of the southern drum whilst its companion, the upper cable, entered the winding house at roof height and connected to the top of the northern drum. The accommodation for the winding house engineer (known as Drum Cottage) is incorporated into the east side of the winding house and some floor surfaces, plastered walls, and a fireplace survive, as do the window apertures in the east wall. The walls of the winding house, constructed of local stone, survive to a height of 5.25m although they have been partly restored at higher levels in 1942 and again in 2002; the roof is missing. The winding house has dimensions, including the Drum Cottage accommodation, of 14m x 8.5m. At the base of the incline, where the railway meets more level ground, are the ruins of Combe Row station. Surviving are the remains of the station platform which is 25m long, 6m wide, and 0.7m high and the revetment wall of the station building which stood upon it and served as waiting rooms and a booking office for the passenger section of the line which ran between Combe Row and Watchet and, unofficially, between Combe Row and Gupworthy. Also surviving are the remains of a stone structure for supporting a locomotive water tank and the buried remains of a culvert. The Incline operated on a self-acting basis from 1861 until the mines closed in 1883. The winding house machinery was subsequently converted to steam haulage and the line continued in use for a further 15 years until 1898 providing a mine salvage, light goods, and passenger service between Watchet and Gupworthy, although passengers were carried in open trucks on the incline at their own risk. After a short period of closure the line was reopened in 1907 when the mines were thought still to be workable for iron ore but the venture had collapsed by 1909 and the rails were removed in 1916-17 for the war effort. The winding house drums were dismantled by being blown up and it was this operation which led to the subsequent need for restoration of the partly demolished walls damaged in the explosion. Much of the information obtained for this scheduling is derived from the published work of Mike Jones a member of the Exmoor Mines Research Group who has also produced detailed plans of the incline. All access steps, fixed information boards, telegraph poles, fencing, gates and gateposts are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath all these features is included.
Reasons for Designation
In the West Country, Brunel's broad gauge railway reached Exeter St Davidsin 1844 whilst the standard gauge of the London and South Western Railway opened to Exeter Queen Street in 1860. The West Somerset Mineral Railway, constructed in 1856, stands therefore as an early example of railway engineering in the region and the incorporation of the Incline, the special self-acting cable section on the steep slope between Brendon Hill and Combe Row, was considered in the mid-19th century to be an outstanding piece of technology that attracted many photographers of the time, and photographic records survive. The remains of The Incline, including those of the winding house and Combe Row station at its base, serve as a visible reminder of the industrial heritage of the Brendon Hills and the part played by the new technologies which were being made readily available as part of the Industrial Revolution. The restoration of the winding house by Exmoor National Park is viewed as part of the eventual presentation of the incline as a publicly accessible educational resource within a heritage trail by the West Somerset Mineral Railway Heritage Project.
MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
Book Reference - Author: M Atkinson (ed) - Title: Exmoor's Industrial Archaeology - Date: 1997 - Page References: 150-2 - Type: DESC TEXT - Description: Railways by J Bentley
Book Reference - Author: M Atkinson (ed) - Title: Exmoor's Industrial Archaeology - Date: 1997 - Page References: 150-2 - Type: DESC TEXT - Description: Railways by John Bentley
Book Reference - Author: R Sellick - Title: The WSM Railway and the story of the Brendon Hills Iron Mines - Date: 1970 - Type: DESC TEXT