Moira Furnace

Explore the heritage of North West Leicestershire

In the heart of North West Leicestershire and parts of South Derbyshire, there are hundreds of years of industrial and social history just waiting to be explored. In  villages and towns in this part of the world there are many sites you can still see the remains of some of the country’s major industries.

From the coalmining industry in the aptly named Coalville to the tramways in Ticknall, there is plenty to explore. Take a tour with an ex-miner around Snibston’s old colliery buildings, visit a restored mill at Hough Hill, Swannington, search for the houses built from giant bricks at Measham, or find the framework knitters’ cottages with long narrow windows in Melbourne. But don't misbehave or you might find yourself shut in one of the area's lock-ups.

Hello Heritage is a celebration of the heritage and rich culture within and across both North West Leicestershire and South Derbyshire. Each year heritage sites and groups come together to provide a varied collection of opportunities for you to visit, see, and experience. 

Click here to see a timeline of Coalville which meanders through 200 years of the town’s history.

Come and explore the villages where your ancestors lived and worked.



The Leicester and Swannington Railway reached Coalville in 1833. Heavy coal traffic encouraged the construction of further railways linking Coalville to Nuneaton and Loughborough. The Derby and Ashby de la Zouch Railway, was completed from Derby to Melbourne in 1867, but not to Ashby until June 1869.


Snibston Colliery Railway was constructed by Robert Stephenson between 1833 and 1836 to connect the colliery to the Leicester & Swannington Railway.

The section from Snibston to the centre of Coalville is restored and now part of the visitor experience at Snibston.

Swannington Inclined Plane


The Leicester and Swannington Railway reached Swannington in 1833 and gave an enormous boost to the coal mining industry in and around the village.

An incline was constructed in Swannington in 1832 to enable coal from the mines in Swannington to be hauled up to the upper level of the Leicester & Swannington Railway. The route of the plane has been recovered and, although private property of the Swannington Heritage Trust, is accessible to walkers.

The Swannington Heritage Trust is an entirely volunteer run organisation maintaining 14 acres of former industrial heritage sites that are now managed as woodlands and grass heathland for the benefit of the community.  Take a look at the Trust's website for more information and details on guided walks.

Ashby Canal Depot

Ashby de la Zouch

In Ashby de la Zouch there is an impressive neo-classical styled station still to be seen, now in private ownership.

The station was partially built on the remains of the Ticknall tramway, and tram lines for the Burton & Ashby Light Railway are still visible in the forecourt.

Thringstone Viaduct


The disused Grace Dieu viaduct was on the Charnwood Forest Railway in Thringstone. It is now part of a Sustrans footpath and cycle way that runs from Grace Dieu Road partly along the track bed of the former Coalville to Loughborough railway line.


Since 1987, Whitwick Historical Group has been based at the Old Station close to the village centre. This unique Victorian station is the last remaining building linked to the former Charnwood Forest Railway. It was built ready for the railway to open in April 1883. The outside features of the Station at street level remain much as they were when constructed by the LNWR. At track bed level, waiting rooms and other facilities have been demolished although remains of the platform can be seen. 

Measham Station


The 3.5 mile Ashby Woulds Heritage Trail runs along the disused Ashby and Nuneaton Joint Railway Line that was closed in 1981.

It runs from Measham station which is home to the local Measham Museum which houses items from the industrial heritage of the area, to Moira Furnace, Donisthorpe Woodland Park and Measham. The stone-surfaced trail is suitable for cyclists, pedestrians and horse riders. Wheelchair users would need assistance in places.

Cloud Trail


The Cloud Trail is a 13mile cycle route that follows the former Midland Railway Derby to Ashby line.

It is part of the National Cycle Network route running from Derby as far as Worthington. Old railway buildings, track, bridges and milestones can be seen along the route.

The local canal network

The canal network developed in this area to enable local coal and limestone to be transported in bulk. As time passed, parts of it suffered abandonment owing to mine subsidence and pit closure and by the arrival of railways.


Charnwood Forest Canal


The Charnwood Forest Canal, also known as the ‘Forest Line of the Leicester Navigation’ was opened in 1796 but was closed after just three years.

There is a permissive footpath to Grace Dieu Priory ruins that follows the former bed of the Charnwood Forest Canal within Grace Dieu Woods at Thringstone under a later railway viaduct. The canal bed can be followed to Osgathorpe where it can still be clearly seen.

Ashby Canal

Ashby Canal

The Ashby Canal was completed in 1804. The canal was built to connect the Coventry Canal with coal mines around the Ashby Woulds. It suffered from mining subsidence during the first half of the 20th century, and was progressively closed to the current terminus at Snarestone in 1966.

So far the northern section of the canal has been restored from Moira to Donisthorpe and links Conkers, Moira Furnace and Donisthorpe Country Park. Restoration is focused on extending the current terminus of the canal from Snarestone northwards to a new canal wharf at Measham. The first phase of construction, the Snarestone connection has been completed. It is proposed to extend the canal from Measham to the restored canal at Donisthorpe.

The canal is very popular with visitors throughout the year and hosts the annual Moira Canal Festival every May.

Shardlow Heritage Centre


Shardlow developed greatly with the opening of the Trent and Mersey Canal in 1770. The 18th century canal port has survived and changed, with many of the old warehouses changing use, like the oldest salt warehouse that houses the Shardlow Heritage Centre.

Inside there are a number of displays about the history of industries surrounding the canal and includes a full size replica of a narrowboat back cabin which has been named Swift after one of the Shardlow Boat Company's craft. It displays signwriting by Tony Lewery, roses and castles by Jan Deuchar and water cans lent by the family of Ike Argent.

Framework Knitting

Framework knitting was once one of the most important industries in the East Midlands. It started in Nottinghamshire when William Lee of Calverton invented the stocking frame in 1589. After a patent was refused by Elizabeth I, Lee took his invention to France in 1608 where he later died. His brother brought the machines back to London but the industry gradually moved back to Nottinghamshire and spread to Leicestershire and Derbyshire until by the end of the 18th century, these three counties contained over 85% of all the frames in the UK. The industry began to decline after 1810 and in the second half of the 19th century, steam powered knitting machines allowed the industry to progress into factories.
Framework Knitters


Melbourne lies on the western fringe of the East Midlands framework knitting area. One factory can still be seen near the White Swan Inn on Castle Square.

Numbers 43-57 Blanch Croft are a particularly good example of a row of knitters' houses, built by the Melbourne Sick Club in 1795. Each of the houses has the characteristic workshop window located on the first floor.

Diseworth & Long Whatton

In Diseworth, knitting was always undertaken in the home, and sadly architectural traces of the industry have disappeared. Most knitters were on Clements Gate and here you can still see the cottages. Visit Diseworth Heritage Centre to see a Griswold machine and imagine one being used in your kitchen today. Behind the Falcon Inn in nearby Long Whatton is a building now used for hotel accommodation, which used to be a stocking factory.

Framework Knitters


Some stockingers’ shops still exist (e g behind the Britannia) and can be recognised by the long rows of windows on the first floor. Queen Victoria and the Prince of Wales were once customers of the stockingers of Kegworth.

Castle Donington

During the early 19th century, framework knitting was a major industry in Castle Donington. An example of a framework knitter's cottage, with the long upper window, is to be found in Delven Lane, next door to the lace factory and its manager's house which put the cottage industry out of business. A silk mill of 1870 can also be seen on Station Road.

Whitwick Framework Knitters


In 1844, there were 423 knitting frames in the village of Whitwick. A few framework knitters' cottages can still be seen - look for the blue plaques on homes in Parsonwood Hill.

Lime Works and Brick Manufacturing

There are many sites in the area that show evidence of brick manufacturing and industrial lime works.

Calke Tunnel


The Ticknall tramway (circa 1800) was part of a complex of tramways constructed to link the brickyards, lime quarries and yards of Ticknall and Calke to the Ashby Canal.

One main feature is a bridge in Ticknall village, known as the Arch, another is a tunnel within Calke Park, which is 122m in length, under the main drive to Calke Abbey. This cut and cover tunnel, with an arch like a canal bridge, is one of the world's oldest railway arches. The tunnel has been restored to allow visitors to walk through it.

Dimminsdale lime works


Limestone and lead mining took place at what is now Dimminsdale Nature Reserve for 200 years up to the end of the 19th century.

A branch of the Ashby to Ticknall tramway was opened in 1830 to carry the burnt lime off-site. Remains of the line can be seen.

The varied geology has resulted in a good mix of habitats - scrub, damp woodland, open water and glades. Each Spring, the reserve is carpeted with a spectacular display of snowdrops.

Breedon Quarry

Breedon on the Hill

Breedon is most noticeable for its carboniferous limestone hill which rises above a generally flat landscape.

A large portion of the hill has been cut away by Breedon Quarry which is an active quarry, but the existence of the Saxon church within remains of an Iron Age hill fort has saved the rest of it.

Moira Lime Kilns


Moira Furnace was a coke-fuelled, steam-engine blown blast furnace for the smelting of iron from local iron ore, with an attached foundry for the manufacture of cast-iron goods.

Seven lime kilns, which used to burn local lime at the furnace, can be seen along the path through the woodland next to the furnace.

Joseph Wilkes Gobs


Many buildings in Measham were built with bricks manufactured by Joseph Wilkes, some being Jumb or Gob bricks.

These double sized bricks were made between 1784 and 1803 and were intended to lessen the burden of the brick tax, which was levied on every thousand bricks used. A few buildings exhibiting Wilkes' signature recessed arches and his oversized bricks can still be seen today including those on a hardware store in the town's main street and also on a row of cottages on Bosworth Road that were once brick drying sheds reputedly on the site of a brickyard belonging to Joseph Wilkes.


Lock-ups, also known as round houses, watch houses, blind houses and clinks, were temporary holding places for offenders being brought before the magistrate, although some were used simply to let louts or drunks 'cool off'.

Lock-ups were usually small square, rectangular, octagonal or circular stone or brick buildings. Most were windowless with a single door.

Less than 300 lock-ups or round houses are currently recorded nationally, mostly grouped in clusters such as in Essex, West Yorkshire and Derbyshire with the highest concentration in Wiltshire and Somerset.

Lock ups or round houses located in our area are at Packington, Smisby, Worthington, Breedon on the Hill and Ticknall.

Breedon on the Hill

Breedon on the Hill Lock up


Worthington Lock-up


Packington Lock Up

More sources of information about heritage in the area

Coalville Heritage Society

Whitwick Historical Group

Ashby de la Zouch Museum

Kegworth Heritage Centre

Castle Donington Museum

Swannington Heritage Trust