While the architect Francis Thompson was designing the Trijunct Station in Derby and all the other stations up the North Midland line to Normanton in the late 1830s, the engineer Robert Stephenson was laying out repair and storage facilities alongside.
This was the beginning of the “Works”, where locomotives were built and maintained, and the “Carriage & Wagon Works” (1873-76) on Litchurch Lane, a complex of which vestiges survive under the aegis of the rolling-stock manufacturer Bombardier Transportation.
The singular monument of the Works is the Derby Roundhouse, a sixteen-sided locomotive shed built around a turntable within a prestige building by Francis Thompson. (There were other roundhouse buildings at the Works, all now demolished.)
Francis Whishaw, in The Railways of Great Britain and Ireland practically described and illustrated (2nd ed, 1840), gave this description:
The engine-house is a polygon of sixteen sides, and 190 feet in diameter, lighted from a dome-shaped roof, of the height of 50 feet. It contains sixteen lines of rails, radiating from a single turn-table in the centre: the engines, on their arrival, are taken in there, placed upon the turn-table, and wheeled into any stall that may be vacant. Each of the sixteen stalls will hold two, or perhaps more, engines.
This innovative structure served its original purpose past the age of steam, but eventually became derelict and was threatened with demolition until Derby City Council acquired it in 1994. Its Grade II listing dating from 1977 didn’t reflect its importance as the oldest surviving locomotive roundhouse in Britain. It was subsequently regraded to Grade II*.
Maber Architects skilfully refurbished the Roundhouse as part of a flagship campus for Derby College, preserving the track layout, the elegant supporting columns and the complex roof structure.
Opened in 2009, it now forms a well-used facility for students and conferences, referencing the significance of the rail industry in Derby’s nineteenth- and twentieth-century growth.
The earliest locomotive roundhouse is thought to have been at Curzon Street, Birmingham, dated 1837; the better-known Camden Roundhouse in north London dates from 1847. The Barrow Hill Roundhouse (1870), north of Chesterfield, continues to function as a heritage operation where locomotives and rolling stock are stored and repaired.