To this day, when trains north from Chesterfield turn right towards Barrow Hill and Beighton, rather than take the direct route via Dronfield into Sheffield, railway staff call it the “Old Road”, because it’s the line of the North Midland Railway which opened in 1840. The newer route was opened thirty years later, so has now been new for nearly 150 years.
At the same time that the Midland Railway opened its direct route north into Sheffield, the Barrow Hill locomotive shed was constructed. It has survived to become a unique piece of railway archaeology – the only surviving operational roundhouse locomotive depot in the UK.
There are other British roundhouses, of course: the Roundhouse at Camden Town, in north London is now a celebrated arts venue [Visiting the Roundhouse | Roundhouse], the Derby Roundhouse is a multipurpose conference venue [Derby Roundhouse | Mike Higginbottom Interesting Times] and the main hall of the National Railway Museum is built around one of the two turntables of the former York North motive-power depot in Britain.
But only at Barrow Hill can you sense, smell, almost taste the atmosphere of coal and oil and grime that characterised the age of the steam locomotive.
And there, within the roundhouse itself and in the surrounding buildings, the graft of maintaining steam and diesel locomotives continues, thanks to the vision of a group of enthusiasts who realised that when the place closed to operational use by British Rail in 1991 an important piece of railway heritage was in danger.
The Barrow Hill roundhouse is home to a variety of preservation projects, including the Deltic Preservation Society and the Brighton Belle project [http://www.brightonbelle.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=frontpage&Itemid=200113].
This is a workaday place. Visitors are welcome, but there’s a healthy preoccupation with getting jobs done. Contemplate the hours of graft that bring back the neglected railway heritage; ask questions and show an interest. It’s places like Barrow Hill that keep the antique wheels on the modern rails.
Didcot Railway Centre has something of the same atmosphere, but is more fully developed as a tourist site.
For details of opening-times and special events at Barrow Hill, see Barrow Hill Roundhouse Museum – Britain’s last surviving working Roundhouse.
The 60-page, A4 handbook for the 2018 ‘Waterways and Railways of the East Midlands’ tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list features the Barrow Hill Roundhouse and is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing. To order a copy, please click here or, if you prefer, send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.