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.

Steam Railway (UK) - - Contents -

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


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.

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