BACK TO BARROW HILL
Last issue, David Wilcock recalled sneaking into Old Oak Common depot. Here NICK BRODRICK revisits a shed that you can bunk in without fear of trespass: a revitalised Barrow Hill Roundhouse.
Alot can happen in 28 years. For Mervyn Allcock it really is a ‘rags to riches’ story. One that over the past three decades has seen the rescue of a humble Midland Railway roundhouse; now ‘completed’ with a major £1.5 million redevelopment and reopening with no less than Flying Scotsman. Barrow Hill Roundhouse - the Grade II-listed shed that so nearly fell to the ground - is now almost ready to welcome the first visitors to see its sparkling new refit. Not all sparkling, though, because as much of the gritty atmosphere of the 24-road roundhouse has been protected as is possible to achieve in an increasingly sanitised world; and that’s in spite of other major structural repairs and a repaint. Where there is plenty of glitter is in the new annex that now acts as a proper, 21st century-standard, welcome to weekend visitors, who expect much better than waiting in a cold, damp, cramped room for a cup of tea, or find the toilets somewhat lacking. The Heritage Lottery Fund’s £1.2m grant aid has put paid to that - and the glass walls that encase the new café, toilets and welcome area (which doubles-up as a function room) provide a much more welcoming, museum-style environment. It’s a style that won’t please everybody; it’s a juxtaposition of old and new that is in vogue with the marriage of Victorian and modern that has been accomplished at much bigger railway emblems such as St Pancras. Yet Mervyn believes that it is important for Barrow Hill: “It’s
IT’S LIKE HAVING A HOUSE FOR A LONG TIME AND FINALLY DECIDING TO DO IT UP PROPERLY MERVYN ALLCOCK, PROJECT MANAGER
like having a house for a long time and finally deciding to do it up properly, instead of patching and faffing about with it.” Pass through this swanky creation and you’ll quickly fall back into the industrial environs that befits a faithful presentation of this rare, 1870s survivor. You might think that the installation of underfloor heating within the red brick confines of the upgraded shop and lecture rooms would destroy any lasting vestiges of the shed atmosphere. But not a bit of it. The original blue-brick hard standing was delicately removed and replaced, en route to a recreated foreman’s office with traditionally crafted window frames. Three coal fires have also been returned to use. Turn left and you’ll find yourself in a climate-controlled research and archive room; turn right and you’re getting close to the anticipated sight that you’ve most likely come to see.
But pause for a moment and immerse yourself in the walls of the original signing-on point, which will house interpretative material on the industrial entrepreneur Richard Barrow and a timeline of the shed’s 147-year history. The next door opens into that now rarest of sights: the steamera roundhouse. This Narnia-esque entrance can only be truly appreciated the first time you do it; or have done since the Sixties. The aroused senses are heightened further with the addition of live steam inside the box walls of the one-time 41E, adding the wonderful ingredients of smell, heat and noise, afforded by the occasional events that Barrow Hill hosts. Even ‘cold’, the shed boasts a particular atmosphere unmatched by most preservation venues. Refashioned skeletal smoke hoods (albeit a little on the skinny side compared to the originals!) preside over the chimneys of a clutch of unique engines spread around the 54ft 8½in turntable, including, most appropriately, two machines of Midland Railway parentage: Johnson-Deeley 4-4-0 ‘Compound’ No. 1000 and Johnson 0-6-0T ‘Half Cab’ No. 41708.
The ex-main line contingent is supported by Great Eastern ‘J17’ 0-6-0 No. 8217, Great Central ‘Improved Director’ 4-4-0 No. 506 Butler-Henderson and GWR ‘Large Prairie’ No. 5164. With the exception of the MR and GWR tank engines, all are provided on loan by the National Railway Museum (NRM). “I believe the relationship with the NRM will continue,” says Mervyn, with the loan deals for the trio currently due to expire within two years. A handful of smaller industrial locomotives, diesels and electrics are also housed here. But an important distinction from the previous incarnation of the roundhouse is that there will be fewer exhibits crammed inside, to help visitor circulation, while major repairs to locomotives are being stopped, so that it resembles a proper engine shed with ready-to-display exhibits – not halffinished projects. “The roundhouse is not a workshop: it’s intended as a display, interpretation, light maintenance, event space and safe storage facility,” Mervyn adds. The impressive building has undergone significant structural work, including plenty of barely noticeable features. One of these is the roof. “When BR cut off the original brick apex - which is the greatest shame about this building - they ‘lintled’ it, so water was getting inside the walls of the roundhouse. We’ve nipped that in the bud by putting Z-shaped metal purlins that surround the building.
“We’ve done what we set out to do and that’s protect the building.” In time, major repairs and overhauls will be carried out in a new purpose-built two-road shed that’s planned to be built in the hollow ‘behind’ the coaling stage. One of Mervyn’s further aspirations is that one of those to go ‘through’ that new facility will be the shed mascot No. 41708 - but only if and when a longrunning dispute over who owns the ‘Half Cab’ is resolved. Until then, the ‘1F’ will continue to slumber in the safe environs of the roundhouse; a place that the former Staveley Ironworks donkey can truly call ‘home’.
The retention of engineering skills is an important component of many HLF projects and this is no different. To that end, the old forge has been emptied of decades’ worth of clutter and is being equipped with a full complement of tools and machines. Although the bulk of the Lottery cash has been spent on the fabric of the roundhouse, there are other areas of the site that have benefited from it. The old toilet block - once a not-very-pleasant-place to spend a penny - has been totally refurbished, while a new mezzanine floor has been installed within the original water tower, which will provide storage for event props, while the ground floor will house a joiner’s shop. Finally, a new permanent safety fence has been installed along the length of the coaling stage embankment viewing gallery and footpath to the accessible signal box, once sited at Pinxton. Plastic meshing was previously used to protect visitors from tumbling down the grassy ledge. The long-demolished coal stage is one of the final pieces on the depot jigsaw that Mervyn would like to add. “I’d like to fund the restoration shed and the coal stage before it comes to my time to move on. I’m 52 now, so hopefully there’s a few more years for me to do that.” In the meantime, go and see the new Barrow Hill roundhouse for yourself and immerse yourself in the surroundings of a half-forgotten world.
…and replaced by a modern facility.
Inside the new facility.
The BR-era canteen, adjacent to the main visitor entrance, which was demolished last winter…
Resident Midland machines Nos. 1000 and 41708 help convey the steam-era engine shed atmosphere at Barrow Hill on March 22 2017.
An unusually empty roundhouse, with most exhibits removed in order to safely access the roof for repairs.
Pure Midland: newly refurbished walls and windows.
New Z-shaped purlins are added to the ‘lintled’ exterior wall.