Enthusiasts who set out to save Britain’s last rail-connected roundhouse were told it was a futile exercise as Barrow Hill roundhouse, which was closed by British Rail in 1991 after 120 years of use, was deemed a complete non-starter by many preservationists.
It was said that it could not compete with a ‘normal’ heritage railway with a significant running line to offer rides behind steam, and who would pay to see a shed full of static locomotives when they could go to the National Railway Museum instead?
But Mervyn Allcock, founder of the Barrow Hill Engine Shed Society, clung to his vision regardless, in the conviction that the former Staveley Midland shed could become a significant tourist destination, and subsequent events proved him right.
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Lobbying of the local council brought the roundhouse Grade II listing protection in 1991, and Chesterfield Borough Council became the new owner five days before Christmas 1996, buying it from British Rail and leasing it to the society.
Barrow Hill did not fall at the first hurdle, as sceptics predicted. It became the base for several rail-oriented firms, including the Harry Needle Railroad Company.
The roundhouse also took off as the perfect place for owners to store out-of-ticket locomotives; smoke hoods were eventually replaced, creating a now-unique cameo scene straight from the steam era.
And yes, it has its own running line, in the form of the Springwell branch shunting spur, over which the public can ride behind steam locomotives, as well as the main line connection for incoming charters.
In 2016, the roundhouse was awarded £1.2 million by the Heritage Lottery Fund for the society’s £1.4 million Moving Forward project, which involved the provision of new visitor facilities including an entrance, cafe and shop while renovating the historic features.
Read more in Issue 234 of HR – on sale now!