Stephenson Lift Bridge

Leicester City Council, Leicestershire Industrial History Society and the Mountsorrel and Rothley Community Heritage Centre are extremely excited to announce a new project to restore Victorian engineer Robert Stephenson’s historic Leicester Lift Bridge!

In 1830 George Stephenson won the contract to build the Leicester & Swannington Railway, which was built primarily to allow the easier movement of coal from the west Leicestershire coal fields. George was still working on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway at the time so sent his son Robert to Leicestershire to oversee the project.

Robert Stephenson went on to become one of the greatest engineers of the Victorian era, building over a third of the entire UK rail network and solving many breath-taking engineering challenges, such as his tubular bridge over the Menai Straits in North Wales. In 1830 he was still a young engineer, having just designed and built the legendary locomotive Rocket.

Robert Stephenson Lift BridgeOne of his early challenges when building the Leicester & Swannington Railway was to design and build a timber lifting bridge, which would carry the railway over the Grand Union Canal, but still be able to rise to allow the passage of barges underneath.

Although simple and small by the standards of his later engineering marvels, the bridge is an important example of his early work. So much so that when the railway closed at the West Bridge site in Leicester in the 1960s, the bridge was moved and rebuilt as a part of the Riverside Walk adjacent to the Abbey Pumping Station (Leicester Museum of Technology). In 1992 it was moved and rebuilt for display at the new Snibston Discovery Park at Coalville.

When Snibston closed in 2016 the extensive cast and wrought iron works of the bridge were placed into storage by Leicester City Museum Services. Sadly the timber structure of the bridge couldn’t be saved.

After lengthy discussions surrounding the bridge’s future, Leicester City Council have agreed to donate the bridge to the Mountsorrel And Rothley Community Heritage Centre, which is situated on the outskirts of the villages of Mountsorrel and Rothley, just north of Leicester. This community volunteer project started in 2007 with the restoration of the Mountsorrel Railway and went on to create the Heritage Centre.

The aims of the not for profit Heritage Centre is to raise awareness and understanding of our local heritage and the wildlife around us. The free to visit 8.3 acre Heritage Centre site opened to the public in 2016 and now receives almost 140,000 visitors a year. Last month the Heritage Centre was awarded the prestigious Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, in recognition of the community benefit the volunteers at the Centre have created.

Heritage Centre Managing Director Steve Cramp explains

The Stephenson Lift Bridge is such an important part of Leicester’s industrial heritage. It was sad to see the loss of Snibston and an uncertain future for the bridge. Here at the Heritage Centre our volunteers saw the potential that the site could offer as a new home for the bridge. At both Abbey Pumping Station and Snibston the bridge was on display as an isolated structure. Here at the Heritage Centre the bridge would be rail connected allowing for demonstrations of coal wagons passing over it again.

Restoring the bridge is going to be a massive undertaking for our group of community volunteers, particularly as none of the timbers survive, but it is no greater challenge than any of the other projects we’ve taken on and completed at the Heritage Centre!

Leicester Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby welcomes the Leicester & Swannington Railway Lift Bridge being installed and made accessible to the public at the Mountsorrel and Rothley Community Heritage centre.

Leicestershire Industrial History Society will be working alongside the Heritage Centre team, providing a wealth of essential and detailed information about the bridge that the society has researched and amassed over the years. LIHS Chairman Chris Hossack commented

It’s wonderful and exciting to be working with the Heritage Centre team to bring the bridge back to life. Our members have spent a great deal of time researching and lobbying to save the bridge. We can’t wait to see it rebuilt and restored at its new home.

The bridge components will move to the Heritage Centre site in the summer where work will start to assess all the items and formulate costings and a detailed plan for restoration and reconstruction. Funding for the project and planning permission will then be sought with the aim of having the bridge completed by 2022.