Barrow Hill Roundhouse (or Engine Shed) is the only remaining working railway roundhouse in the United Kingdom, but despite its name, it’s not very round.
It was constructed in the standard Midland Railway rectangular form popularized during the 19th century. With its central turntable, the roundhouse was built in 1870 and was originally used for the daily maintenance of steam locomotives serving the nearby Staveley Iron Works. When British Railways abandoned steam, the building gained a second life for the maintenance of diesel locomotives that served the local coalfields.
It’s now the central feature of a fantastic railway heritage center and is still used for maintenance. Inside is an amazing display of locomotives and rolling stock.
The locomotives displayed inside are ever-changing, so repeated visits are very worthwhile. Visitors can also catch a glimpse of trains in the middle of the restoration process, making for a unique experience.
Also on-site is a unique portable lifting system known as a set of sheerlegs which, when combined with a pulley system and reducing gears, was capable of lifting a steam locomotive using only human effort. This allowed for wheels in the front or back to be changed with relative ease. These are believed to be the only examples of timber sheer legs left in the UK (unfortunately, no longer safe to use and the winding mechanism has been removed). The turntable inside is not the original, but a replacement constructed in 1931. The original turntable had to be rotated by hand.
When British Rail decided to close the roundhouse in 1991, it was quickly highlighted for preservation. The roundhouse was already very well-known among train enthusiasts for its annual events. During its working life, the tracks leading into the depot were popular among rail enthusiasts armed with notebooks and cameras.
After a few years of neglect, a campaign was initiated to preserve the building. In 1996, the Chesterfield Borough Council became the owners of the roundhouse. The Barrow Hill Engine Shed Society was granted a maintenance lease and began refurbishing the building.
The building itself features typical 19th century railway architecture. The center has a working signal box and it’s own length of track for the locomotives. Among the several special events the roundhouse host, the annual “Rail Ale Beer and Music Festival,” which takes place over three days in May is one of the most popular events the roundhouse host.
Know Before You Go
Adult admission is only £3, but there are additional charges for special events such as Rail Ale. Check the website for opening times.