top of page

 ARCHIVES: Desford Railway 

The Leicester and Swannington Railway

The Leicester and Swannington Railway was officially opened on the 17th July 1832 to transport coal from the pits in West Leicestershire to Leicester. The original stop was Desford Lane but renamed by April 1833 to Desford. 


Robert Stephenson was the engineer, assisted by Thomas Miles, while his father George raised much of the capital for the building of the Leicester and Swannington Railway. When the first part of the line was opened in 1832 the train was pulled by “Comet” driven by George Stephenson. The train left West Bridge at 10am reaching Bagworth at 11am and consisted of an open wagon specially covered in for the use of the Directors together with 10 new coal wagons, with improvised seating, conveying about 400 passengers.

 On that day there was a slight delay after Comet’s chimney struck the roof of the Glenfield tunnel. This was caused because platelayers had temporarily raised the track to pack a “low” place. The chimney was later reduced in height by 6 inches. It is said that the train stopped so the passengers could wash off the soot in the nearby Rothley Brook.

In 1832 a tiny booking office was erected by Henry Chamberlain, a member of a wealthy Desford family. Henry Chamberlain supervised the working of the station and gates.  On the 1st September 1833 a boy was employed to open the crossing gates for 4/- (20p) per week.  A shed for passengers was added in 1833 at a cost of £25.

Photo 1       The Comet Engine, Wikimedia Common.jpg

 The "Comet"

Photo 2    1832 Booking Office.jpg

 The  Booking Office 

Photo 6 Railway Tokens.  Credit to Swannington Heritage Trust..jpg

 Passenger Token 

There were no platforms at the original stations. Passengers had to enter the carriages from ground level, using steps and handrail provided on each vehicle. This continued until 1876 when the Midland Railway erected platforms.

The Station Master’s house and new booking office were built in 1848 and the old original booking office was eventually demolished in 1941. 

Later still a platform was provided on the other side of the line. Both platforms were lengthened westwards and the up one raised in 1857. The height of the extended end only was increased as it was not practical to raise the sections in front of the main buildings because of obstructing doorways etc. This gave the platform a very unusual split-level appearance which lasted until closure.  A waiting shelter was erected in 1862 with doors and a fireplace added in 1869. 

Enlargements were made in 1904 to both storeys on the west side of the Station Master’s house and a much larger waiting shelter provided on the opposite platform. 

The Leicester & Swannington official distance table dated July 1832 clearly show a deviation made to a stop named “Prior’s Barn”.  It is understood that Mr. Prior, a wealthy landowner in Desford used his influence as a shareholder of the Railway Co. to enable him to have a private stopping place in the fields, close to his home at The Priory in Main Street, Desford. 

A train at that time usually consisted of 24 wagons of 32 cwt each. The demand came for passengers to travel by rail and a carriage was hastily built. Very soon about 60 passengers a day were using the line. Each passenger received a metal token marked with their destination which was handed in to the guard and reused.

Desford station was closed together with the passenger service on the 7th September 1964 but still remains open for freight traffic.  Shortly after this date a section at the eastern end of the main building was removed for road widening. The remainder of the building survives today for domestic use. 

The Leicester and Swannington Railway was the first railway in the Midlands and the third railway in the country.  It was opened 5 years before Birmingham possessed a railway at all and 6 years before Birmingham was rail-connected to London. 


Further information:



Leicestershire Archaeological History Society Transactions Volume 30, 1964, article by C.R.Clinker

DDLHS archives

bottom of page