Early canal inclined planes in Silesia

Technology transfer in 19th century Europe

Gliwice is 728 feet above sea level on the Klodnitz River in Upper Silesia, and was part of Prussia in the 18th and 19th centuries. The region is rich in coal and metal ores, so Count Fryderyk von Reden, financial advisor to Frederick the Great, decided to construct an iron works using British technology. He would have had access to the results of the visit, in 1778-1780, of Oberbergrat Waltz, von Eschen and B├╝ckling to see industry in England, Sweden and France. It is possible that he met Smeaton during his own visit to England in 1789 as he wrote to ask him to recommend an English engineer to set up the iron works. Smeaton suggested, John Baildon, still in his early twenties. Baildon's father was employed at the Carron iron works in Scotland, though his name suggests a Yorkshire connection.

John Baildon arrived in Gliwice in 1794 to begin construction of a coke-fired iron works. The works, designed by Baildon and the Prussian, John Wedding, opened in 1796, with coal for coking coming from the Queen Louisa coal mine in Zabrze, almost three miles to the east of Gliwice. Coal was first brought by road, but in 1806 a canal was opened between the mine and the iron works. Coal, loaded into containers at the coal face, had been brought out of the mines by boat since 1791. It was carried by underground tramroad to the canal where cranes transferred the containers to boats which carried them out of the mine. The boats were unloaded close to the mine entrance. The system was similar to that at Worsley, and a series of drawings, now in the Muzeum Gornictwa Weglowego (Coal Mining Museum) in Zabrze, depict the methods used.

One of the drawings of the mine.

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Here is an mp4 about the underground canal. This shows a visit to the canal by Polish miners c1950, and a more recent visit by mining and caving enthusiasts.

The canal to the iron works in Gliwice was an extension of this mine or Stollen canal at Zabrze, and was built to carry the small mine boats. They were originally 6.2 metres by 2 metres, but with the extension of the system to the iron works, were enlarged to 11.8 metres by 2.6 metres with draught of about 0.9 metres. The new canal had to overcome the variation in level of 16.5 metres between the mine at Zabrze and the canal at Gliwice. Two inclined planes were built, the upper with a fall of 11.5 metres, the lower of 5 metres. Important technical improvements to the design of these inclined planes were made during their construction.

Von Reden and JohnWedding had met William Reynolds and inspected the Shropshire Canal when they visited England, and we know that Smeaton had advised William Reynolds on the design of the inclined planes used on that canal, so it is no surprise that the original design for the Gliwice inclines was similar. A plan and section of the original scheme shows that the boats would have been raised out of the water on a short incline at the upper level before being lowered down the longer incline to the lower level. This is the same type of incline as is found on the Shropshire Canal and, in Germany, was also proposed for use on the Unstrutt Navigation, a tributary of the Saale.

An early design for the incline from an old map of the scheme.

An incline where boats have to pass over a summit is really only suitable for small boats. For boats 11.8 metres long it would have been difficult to ensure clearance for the carriage as it passed over the summit. Shortening the wheel-base could make for instability or encourage distortion of the boat when it was resting on the carriage. This problem must have been in the mind of John Gilbert when he designed the underground incline on the Worsley mines canal system in 1797, and to overcome it he built locks at the top of the incline. The boats sailed into a lock, the upper gates were closed and the water drained off to allow the boat to settle onto the carriage platform. The lower gate could then be opened to allow the boat and carriage to descend. At the lower end, the boat would enter the water as with the earlier design.

Perhaps Count von Reden, Baildon and Wedding had kept in touch with developments in England, or perhaps they came to their own solutions for the design of the inclines on the Klodnitz Canal. Whatever happened, the original design was altered and a system using locks at the top of the incline constructed. We are certainly fortunate that drawings of the new design, probably dating from 1810-1815, have been discovered recently. They can be found in the Coal Mining Museum in Zabrze (drwg. nos. 2713 and 2714), and show longtitudinal cross-sections of the lock at the top of the plane and the chamber at the bottom. There are two scales on both drawings, giving measurements in both Prussian and English dimensions. Other archival drawings for the iron works have similar scales, suggesting that Baildon continued to work in English units, even though he soon acquired a good command of the German language.

The upper lock was built of stone or brick on a foundation of wooden piles with a central dividing wall, in effect a lock for each track of the incline. This would reduce the water usage, though, as the canal also acted as the drain for the mine, this would not seem to have been too important. The upper gate is not shown in detail, but may have been of the type which folds downwards, similar to those still used on the drydocks at Worsley. The track within the lock had a slope of 1:16, and the carriage had its lower pair of wheels larger than the upper to allow the platform, on which the boat settled as the lock was emptied, to remain horizontal. On either side, the carriage had an iron bar, one end of which was fixed to the centre of the carriage and with a vertical stay at the upper end. To this was fitted the rope used for controlling movement of the carriage up and down the incline.

The upper end of the incline showing the lifting gate and the carriage with boat.

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The lock's lower gate was of the guillotine type. The track of the incline would have caused problems with making a water-tight seal, so the short section over the sill was hinged. By raising this, the gate could sit directly onto the sill, ensuring a good seal. After the water had been drained from the lock and the gate raised, this section of track had to be lowered before the carriage could start its ascent or descent. After leaving the lock, the slope of the track increased to 1:4.5 for the main descent. The track was fitted on raised transverse beams, so that the water from the lock could flow down to the lower level underneath. This would have facilitated maintenance and ensured that the track did not become covered with silt. In the bottom chamber the angle of the track decreased, though not sufficiently for the carriage to become horizontal, making it easier for the boat to be floated onto or off the carriage. There was a sill at the end of the bottom chamber, so a gate could have been fitted which would have allowed the water to be drained off for maintenance.

Both upper and lower inclines were in use from 1806 until 1828, but by then there were problems with the supply of coal. The reserves close to the canal adit were not as great as anticipated, and underground fires also caused problems. A long heading was driven towards Chorzow, but the cost of hauling the coal underground to the canal made this uneconomic.

Instead a new road was built from Chorzow to Gliwice for the transport of coal. A railway was also tried, using a Blenkinsop type steam locomotive. Two Prussian mining engineers, Krigar and Eckhart, had visited England in 1814 and taken details of Blenkinsop's engines in Leeds. On their return to in Berlin they constructed two engines, one being demonstrated there in June 1816. The first was sent to the mine at Chorzow and the other to a mine in the Saarland. The Chorzow engine was not a success and it has been suggested that it was quickly converted into a winding engine. The Saarland engine lasted much longer, not being scrapped until the 1840s, though from the correspondance it seems to have had many problems as well. Interestingly, on one occasion John Cockerill, an English engineer whose father set up engineering works in Liege, was called in to advise. The problems with these German Blenkinsop-type engines must have led to the decision to use road transport between Chorzow and Gliwice.

A pdf about the Blenkinsop engines in Prussia.

For more details contact:  Mike Clarke, 8 Green Bank, BARNOLDSWICK, BB18 6HX

tel: +44 (0)1282 850430
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last revised: 27 March 2014