This browser is not fully supported by Historic England. Please update your browser to the latest version so that you get the best from our website.


List Entry Summary

This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.


List entry Number: 1342073



The building may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Greater London Authority

District: Camden

District Type: London Borough


National Park: Not applicable to this List entry.

Grade: II*

Date first listed: 18-Jun-1990

Date of most recent amendment: Not applicable to this List entry.

Legacy System Information

The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System: LBS

UID: 477225

Asset Groupings

This list entry does not comprise part of an Asset Grouping. Asset Groupings are not part of the official record but are added later for information.

List entry Description

Summary of Building

Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

Reasons for Designation

Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.




Winding engine house, now railway vaults. 1837. By Robert Stephenson for the London and Birmingham Railway.

DESCRIPTION: The engine house, built of brick to a symmetrical plan, consists of four parallel vaulted underground chambers beneath the railway track, each approximately 35m long by 4.5m wide and 7m high, with a 2m wide central passage between the two inner vaults with seven arched openings into the main chambers with groined vaulting. At the north-west end the parallel vaults connect two transverse vaults. The larger, approximately 23m long by 9m wide and 5.5m high, housed the twin 60 horse power condensing engines and 20 foot diameter drive wheel. Directly to the south-east, the smaller transverse vault originally housed parts of the winding mechanism consisting of two pulley wheels (of 20 and 12 foot diameter) with the drive rope emerging via the south-east vault and re-entering through the north-east. The engine chamber is flanked by two boiler chambers with workshops attached to the south-east and the bases of the demolished chimneys to the north-west. The boilers appear to have originally been housed in unvaulted pits (contemporary colliery boilers were often housed in the open for greater ventilation), surrounded on the surface by tall walls and either open to the sky or, possibly, with a flat roofed covering. The boiler chamber vaults probably date from the closure of the engine house and the vault to the north-eastern boiler chamber has partially collapsed.

The two central parallel vaults housed the rope tightening mechanism; they have wells at the south-east end for the counterweights which kept the ropes taught (now filled with debris) and a line of four circular openings in the crown of each vault, possibly to provide ventilation when the vaults were sealed in 1849. The outer vaults contained chambered coal stores. These have ten cast-iron beams across the vault, approximately 3m above floor level, and cast-iron brackets of unknown purpose fixed along the walls. All machinery has been removed.

The vaults were reached from track level by spiral stone stairs to the engine room, which have been damaged and infilled with rubble. These originally emerged in a small hut used by the operator who signalled for the engines to start on receipt of a pneumatic signal from Euston. There are also smaller extant spiral stairs to each boiler room. Coal was taken from the canal through a tunnel to the engine room (which was subsequently blocked off).

HISTORY: The London and Birmingham Railway (L&BR) was the first truly long distance passenger railway in the world, following the successful experiment of the shorter Liverpool and Manchester Railway in 1830, on which locomotive traction for passenger and goods traffic was demonstrated to be feasible. Engineered by Robert Stevenson (1803-1859), the L&BR received its first Act in 1833 with a terminus at Camden station. Subsequently, a site became available in Euston Square, and the company obtained an additional Act in July 1835 to extend the railway to the New Road, with Camden Depot subsequently used for goods traffic, including livestock. The first section of railway was opened from Euston to Boxmoor, near Hemel Hempstead, on 20 July 1837 and in October that year it was operational as far as Tring. The whole line from London to Birmingham was opened on 17th September 1838, becoming the first main line trunk railway with a London terminus.

Hilly terrain to the north of London posed an obstacle, and major excavations were required to bring the line through it, especially Primrose Hill tunnel and Primrose Hill cutting. Despite these works, the last mile of the line had to descend to Euston on an average gradient of 1 in 85. There is debate about the reason for the construction of the steam-powered winding engine to haul trains up the incline. It was either thought necessary over fears that it was too severe a gradient for railway's early locomotives to tackle, although they were used on similar gradients on the earlier Bolton and Leigh and Warrington and Newton railways, or alternatively it was due to opposition to locomotives from local interests.

Cable haulage using fixed engines had been used as early as 1803 on the otherwise horse-drawn Preston and Walton Tramway, prior to the invention of the locomotive. Subsequently, the majority of early steam railways used fixed-engine cable haulage for steep gradients including the Stockton and Darlington (1825); Springwell Colliery Railway (Bowes Railway - 1825); Canterbury to Whitstable (1830); at Edge Hill on the Liverpool and Manchester; and the Cromford and High Peak (1831). The alternative reason for the use of rope haulage at Camden was given by Peter Lecount, an assistant L&BR engineer, in his 'History of the Railway connecting London and Birmingham' (1839) - "It is not because locomotives cannot draw a train of carriages up this incline that a fixed engine and endless rope are used, for they can and have done so, but because the Company are restricted, by their Act of Parliament, from running locomotive engines nearer London than Camden Town". The clause in the Act is thought to have been introduced by Lord Southampton, an important local landowner, who feared that smoke-belching locomotives would reduce property values. However, an accommodation was clearly soon reached as locomotives were in use on the incline from its opening in July 1837 until the winding engine came into operation in October of that year, and thereafter when the winding engine was out of action.

The steam-powered winding engine apparatus, hauling an endless rope to draw trains out of Euston, was established at the top of the incline, at Camden station, close to the Regents Canal. The engines were placed underground in a barrel-vaulted chamber. These consisted of two 60hp engines and associated boilers and winding machinery, supplied by the firm of Maudsley's of Westminster Bridge Road. Two chimneys, over 132ft (40m) tall, stood adjacent to the engine chambers, flanking the railway on either side. The rope was 3744 yards (3423.5m) long (claimed to be the longest unspliced rope on record), of 7 inches in circumference and weighed 11.5 tons; to keep it taught it was passed round a pulley on a moveable counterweighted carriage before emerging on the surface between the rails. The engines were supplied with coal via a tunnel which ran from the vaults to a dock on the Regent's Canal. Trains of up to 12 carriages were hauled up from Euston to Camden station (at a speed of between 15 and 20 miles per hour), where locomotives waited to take the trains onwards.

The construction of the London and Birmingham Railway was depicted by the artist John Cooke Bourne and published as lithographs in 1839. They include a view of the construction of the stationary engine house as it appeared in April 1837, with the walls partially completed and centering being erected for the vaults. This print has often been referred to as illustrative of the energy and large-scale enterprise of the early railway age.

The winding engine operation ceased in July 1844, after a debate in 1843 between the Company and Robert Stephenson as to their continuing viability. The Company decided that savings in time and money could be made by using larger locomotives on the incline, albeit with two locomotives usually required. Stephenson argued that the savings were minimal but he lost the argument and in 1847 the winding engines were sold and removed with the chimneys being demolished in 1849. The vaulted chambers survive underneath the modern electrified railway trackbed, and were listed at Grade II in 1990.

SOURCES Camden Railway Heritage Trust, Camden Railway Heritage Trail - Primrose Hill to Camden Lock and Chalk Farm (2009) Morriss, R, The Archaeology of Railways, Tempus (2003) Simmons, J and Biddle, G, The Oxford Companion to British Railway History (2003) Smith, D, Civil Engineering Heritage: London and the Thames Valley, London (2001) Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England - Historic Building Report on the Camden Incline Winding Engine House (1995)

REASONS FOR DESIGNATION: The Camden Incline Winding Engine House is designated at Grade II* for the following principal reasons: * Historical and technological Interest: as a remarkable survival of international importance, of a notable engineering feature of the London and Birmingham Railway, the first of all modern main line railways to London (1833-8). The winding engine vaults represent, as one of the very last uses of rope haulage on a public railway, a relatively brief transitional stage in the technological development of railway transportation; * Architectural interest: for the grand scale and unique design of their underground brick construction; * Group value: with the nearby and associated London to Birmingham Railway structures of Primrose Hill tunnel and the Roundhouse, both listed at high grades.

Selected Sources

Books and journals
Simmons, , Biddle, , The Oxford Companion to British Railway History, (1997)

National Grid Reference: TQ 28370 84035


© Crown Copyright and database right 2017. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
© British Crown and SeaZone Solutions Limited 2017. All rights reserved. Licence number 102006.006.
Use of this data is subject to Terms and Conditions.

The above map is for quick reference purposes only and may not be to scale. For a copy of the full scale map, please see the attached PDF - 1342073 .pdf

The PDF will be generated from our live systems and may take a few minutes to download depending on how busy our servers are. We apologise for this delay.

This copy shows the entry on 21-Oct-2017 at 09:19:28.

End of official listing