Hydraulic accumulator tower, engine house, boiler house and ancillary building


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Statutory Address:
21 Samuel Street, Leicester, Leicester, LE1 1RU


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Statutory Address:
21 Samuel Street, Leicester, Leicester, LE1 1RU

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

City of Leicester (Unitary Authority)
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:


A late C19 Midland Railway hydraulic accumulator tower and attached engine and boiler house with detached ancillary building.

Reasons for Designation

The hydraulic accumulator tower with attached, engine house, boiler house and detached ancillary building at 21 Samuel Street, Leicester is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* the building is of an unusual form incorporating a tower and double-height single-storey building with industrial detailing indicating that its function was to house large machinery; * the tower is a striking structure, designed in Italianate style, and the decorative elements of the building are in the house style of the Midland Railway. The machinery contained was very expensive, and an ambitious design promoting the railway is reflective of the importance of the building.

Historic interest:

* the building is a rare survival of an industrial hydraulic energy production site, illustrating the use of this type of power in the context of allowing the intensification of commerce through moving of high volumes of goods via rail in the late-C19; * it is very similar to another Midland Railway hydraulic power station designed and with its construction overseen by the notable MR engineer John Underwood. If he was not the designer himself, it is very likely that Underwood had input into the Leicester building.

Group value:

* with the other nearby Victorian railway infrastructure including arches, the Swain Street viaduct, Leicester Station and former L and NWR warehouses.


The Midland Railway (MR) was established in 1844, with its headquarters in Derby; a town strategically important in the emerging railway network for its three way junction at the point that both east and west coast routes to Scotland from London crossed. At its height, the MR ran trains to Swansea, Bristol, Liverpool, Lancaster, Carlisle, York, Lincoln, Lowestoft, Cambridge and Shoeburyness. St Pancras was the London terminus. It was one of the largest of the multiple railway companies prior to their 1923 grouping into four regional companies; at the grouping the MR was amalgamated into the London, Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS).

Leicester Railway Station is on the London St Pancras to Sheffield main line. The first station on the site opened in 1840 and was constructed by the Midland Counties Railway (which subsequently merged with others to form the MR in 1844). This station could only accommodate two platforms. In the later C19 hosiery, textile and shoe-making drove the industrial expansion in Leicester. These and other industries required a means to transport their produce, and this was largely fulfilled by the railway. As the number of routes and traffic through Leicester increased the 1840 station was demolished and in 1892 replaced by a larger one. Only a gate survives from the first station, it is listed at Grade II; National Heritage List for England (NHLE), entry 1361036. The façade and covered entrance lobby of the 1892 building survives and is also listed at Grade II (NHLE entry 1300217).

The development of hydraulic power from around 1850 allowed the efficient use of multi-storey warehouses where railway goods wagons could be maneuvered around for storage and despatch. The great weight of the loaded wagons was managed via ropes attached to rotating capstans and turntables allowing the direction of the wagons to be altered. Hoists, cranes and lifts could transport goods between floors. The power for these machines was delivered by a system of pipes carrying pressurised water delivered from hydraulic power houses.

The hydraulic power house on Samuel Street consists of a tower which housed an accumulator (or possibly two accumulators) with adjacent steam engine and boiler houses. The boilers generated steam for the engine which pumped water to the accumulator. The accumulator stored water under pressure in a cylindrical drum. The pressure was applied from weight applied to a piston at the top of the cylinder. Pressurised water when released for use would cause the weighted piston to descend and open the steam valve which allowed more water to be pumped in by the engine to the bottom of the cylinder, raising the piston again and maintaining the volume of pressurised water in the cylinder.

The date of the building is uncertain, but due to the novelty of the technology it is unlikely to have been built before 1860. It is very similar in design to the MR hydraulic power house for the coal depot and dock on the Thames at Blackwall. This London example was constructed in 1881 to 1882 under the supervision of John Underwood (1814-1893). He was engineer to the MR from 1858-1889 and responsible for some of the most advanced railway infrastructure in the world, including the vast works at St Pancras. The Leicester building appears on the 1886 1:500 Ordnance Survey town plan where it is labelled ‘hydraulic machine house’, so a date of around 1880-1885 seems likely. The date is significant, as it was only for a few decades at the end of the C19 that hydraulics saw widespread industrial use; the technology was supplanted by electricity by the beginning of the C20. The 1892 Goad fire insurance plan shows four separate steam boilers in the boiler house, an 80 horse power steam engine in the engine house and a detached chimney block to the north-east end. The chimney appears on early C20 mapping, but by 1961 it had been demolished and replaced with a single-storey office building. To the south-east is a smaller, rectangular building which may have served some ancillary function to the power house or warehouses. Some historic mapping labels it as having a tank or ‘tank above’, so part of its function may have been to house the water supply for the hydraulic machinery and boilers. Historic mapping shows that the ancillary building was extended to the south-east at the very end of the C19. This building had a dead-end railway track immediately to its south-east, branching off from the main track running south-west to Leicester station.

The hydraulic power house is most likely to have provided power to the (now demolished) large MR goods shed across the track to the east. Formerly there was access to this shed under the tracks via a now blocked brick-arched road tunnel. The entrance to this tunnel is immediately north-east of the north end of the ancillary building. Although many of the nearby goods sheds and warehouses have been lost, there are other notable physical reminders of the Victorian railway heritage of Leicester in the vicinity: the railway arches on the south side of Bell Lane and the 1898 former London and North Western Railway (L and NWR) goods shed and warehouse on Sussex Street are around 150m north; the gate to the 1840 Leicester Station and the 1892 Leicester station frontage are around 500m to the south-west; and the Swain Street viaduct over the railway lines is 275m south.


A late-C19 Midland Railway hydraulic accumulator tower and attached engine and boiler house with detached ancillary building. Possibly to designs by John Underwood.

MATERIALS: brick walls, slate roof, cast iron windows, timber doors.

PLAN: rectangular, aligned north-east / south-west, facing Samuel Street to the north-west. The building is double-height single-storey except for the north-east end which is a single-storey office extension. This extension replaced the detached chimney in the mid-C20. The north-east end of the double-height single-storey section of the building was the boiler house, the central section the engine house and the south-west end was the accumulator tower. The tower is stepped back from the Samuel Street elevation by a few metres. A narrower and lower detached building on the same orientation runs parallel, 2m south-east. Both buildings are approximately 39m long. The power house is approximately 12m wide and the ancillary building 5m wide.

EXTERIOR: double-height single-storey building under a pitched roof with raised ventilators and a tower under a shallow hipped roof to its south-west end. The ancillary building is long and narrow with a flat roof to its northern end and pitched roof to its southern end. Walls are red brick in English bond, with cream brick to the five courses under the eaves and the segmental arched lintels over window openings. Cills to the windows are in stone. This use of cream bricks is typical of the Midland Railway house style. The top three courses of the eaves detail project by half a brick from the lower two, and the fourth course has alternate brick headers projecting to form a dentil pattern.

The north-west elevation to Samuel Street has seven tall round-arched window openings at what appears to be first floor level but is in fact the upper part of the double-height single-storey building. The windows have iron frames with a combination of curved, horizontal, vertical and diagonal glazing bars. The fourth (central) opening is blocked. A central blocked single door way is aligned beneath this central blocked window. A single doorway with later C20 timber door has been inserted beneath the window to the south-west of the centre, and a double doorway with metal roller door and concrete lintel has been inserted beneath the two south-westernmost windows. A course of angled bricks acts as a string course at low level, beneath which the brick courses project from the main body of the wall by around half a brick’s depth. The elevation is continued to the north-east by the flat roofed mid-C20 single storey brick extension which has a single 12 light timber window with concrete cill and lintel. At the south-western end the tower is stepped back from the line of the engine house. The low level string course re-starts here. There is a tall recessed panel in the brick in which there are two blind round arched windows. Above these, there are scroll shaped blue brick dentils at the top of the recessed panel. Beneath the projecting eaves of the shallow hipped roof to the tower is a course of cream scroll shaped bricks which continues around all sides of the tower.

The north-east facing elevation to William Street shows the gable end of the boiler house with the addition of the mid-C20 extension, and the side of the tower which looks over the engine and boiler house to its rear. The gable has kneelers supported by scrolled stone brackets. There is a tall round-arched window opening to its south-east end, and a central arched double opening to the ground level, both are blocked, and the doorway partially obscured by the single storey extension. A new double doorway has been inserted below the window. The mid-C20 extension has a single doorway. The tower has a recessed brick panel containing three tall blind round headed windows, and is decorated with blue brick dentils to the top of the recess. Cream scroll shaped bricks decorate the eaves under the projecting roof.

The south-east facing elevation is largely obscured by the ancillary building, though an internal photograph shows a very large double door under an arch flanked by round-arched windows as on the north-west facing elevation. This elevation of the tower has a large recessed panel with two tall round-arched windows within, and blue brick dentils to the top. However, unlike the other elevations of the tower, these windows are open and have metal glazing bars dividing them into eight lights. The cream brick eaves detail continues.

The south-west elevation is the front of the tower, which has a lean-to corrugated metal sheet roof attached at first floor level. Below this is a centrally placed round-arched single doorway. There is another large recessed panel with three blind round-arched windows and blue brick dentils to the top, though here the panel is broken at its bottom by a large, blind, round-arched opening, directly above the door. The cream scroll shaped brick course continues under the eaves. There is a slight return from the engine house to the tower in which a modern opening has been filled with concrete blocks. This return carries the gable end of the roof which has a kneeler supported by a cream scrolled corbel.

The ancillary building to the south east of the power house is flat roofed to its single storey north-eastern end, with a pitched roof to its taller south-western gable end. The south-west gable has a central round-arched window with metal glazing bars dividing the window into rectangular lights and a decorative course of blue bricks at the level of the top of the window. The pediment of the gable has a stepped brick design.

INTERIOR: not inspected, but available sources indicate a tall single-storey space open to a steel framed roof.


Books and journals
Minnis, J, Hickman, S, The Railway Goods Shed and Warehouse in England, (2016)
Biography of John Underwood on STEAMINDEX website, accessed 14 October 2020 from https://www.steamindex.com/people/civils.htm#underwood
Midland Railway Society website, accessed 6 Ocotber 2020 from http://midlandrailway.org.uk/
Survey of London vols 43-4: Former Hydraulic Pumping Station, Duthie Street and Blackwall Way. On British History Online website, accessed 14 October 2020 from https://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vols43-4/pp624-634#h3-0003
Goad Fire Insurance Plans, Leicester (2) - Central Leicester, 1892 and 1961


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

End of official listing

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