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Camden Roundhouse
Chalk Farm Road, Camden, London, UK
associated engineer
Robert Stephenson
Robert Benson Dockray
date  1846 - 1847
era  Victorian  |  category  Building  |  reference  TQ281843
ICE reference number  HEW 238
Most people know Camden Roundhouse as a music and arts venue, perhaps wondering about the reason for its unusual shape. It was constructed in 1847 as an engine shed for steam locomotives by the London & North Western Railway and was an integral part of Camden Station's freight depot. Twenty-three train berths radiated around a central engine turntable, with the entrance track making the twenty-fourth set of rails.
Since 1839, Camden Station and its freight depot had been part of the London & Birmingham Railway. However, a July 1846 Act of Parliament paved the way for the formation of the London & North Western Railway through the amalgamation of the London & Birmingham, the Grand Junction and the Manchester & Birmingham railways.
The London & North Western Railway Company was formed at a time when passenger and freight rail transport was increasing — along with the speed of trains. The existing train sheds at Camden couldn't accommodate the larger, more powerful steam locomotives being built. The company decided to construct two new engine houses on opposite sides of the station, one for passenger and one for goods locomotives.
Robert Stephenson (1803-1859) was consulting engineer for the London & Birmingham Railway, and then the London & North Western Railway, from 1842-51. Robert Dockray (1811-1871) was the company engineer.
The rectangular engine house for passenger locomotives was located on the south side of the tracks (TQ281841), along with its coking shed, coke store, offices, stores and a fitters’ shop. It measured 122m by just over 27m. Steam engines powered the workshop machinery and pumped water from a well. This engine shed was demolished in 1966.
For the freight locomotives, the 48.8m diameter brick Roundhouse was constructed north of the tracks, along with a coking shed, offices, stores and a workshop. Inside, its 12.5m diameter turntable enable the huge steam locomotives to be manoeuvred into their births. Engines entered along one set of tracks, proceeded onto the turntable, then stayed stationery while the turntable moved around to get the engine facing in the appropriate direction (not all engines could reverse).
Around the rim of the turntable, a slotted cast iron curb rail ensured that engines could only proceed when the slots aligned with one of the sets of outer berth rails. Each berth could accommodate an engine and its tender.
The substructure of the circular building consists of brick vaulting supporting the floor and its rails, which were in 'pits' at lower than 'platform' level. The Suffolk brick perimeter wall is buttressed on the outside and topped by a cast iron curb. On this curb rest the principal timber rafters of the conical slate roof, which rises to 20.4m above rail level.
To support the huge span of the roof, a ring of equally-spaced 24 cast iron columns, set on a diameter of 24.4m from the centre of the building, supports the cast and wrought iron roof framing The columns are 6.6m high and linked to together at the top with straight members, making a 24-sided polygon.
Natural light was admitted by a 3m band of glazing in the roof, located about halfway down the cone. In the centre of the roof is a 9m diameter lantern, once fitted with louvres for smoke and steam dispersal but now with fitted clerestory glazing.
In the 1860s, the Roundhouse went out of use, possibly because locomotives were getting too long ti use the turntable, or because engine sheds in other locations suited the railway company better. Either way, the Camden Roundhouse was leased out as bonded warehouse, to W. & A. Gilbey Ltd, who used it to store gin right up to the mid 20th century. The building was given Grade II* listing in June 1954.
It fell into disrepair and was acquired in the 1960s by playwright Arnold Wesker (b.1932, knighted 2006). In 1964, he established it as an arts and theatre venue called "Centre 42 at the Roundhouse". This closed in 1983 through lack of funding. In 1996, local businessman and philanthropist Torquil Norman (b.1933, knighted 2007) purchased it and it used for the performing arts while money was raised. The venue closed for refurbishment in 2004.
Work included adding seven layers of soundproofing to the roof (supported on a new steel frame), reinstatment of the glazed roof lights, restoration of other original features, the installation of seating and the creation of a usable space in the vaulted undercroft. A new steel and glass three-storey extension to the north houses new venue facilities. The Camden Roundhouse re-opened on 1st June 2006.
Resident engineer: Robert Benson Dockray
Contractor: Branson & Gwyther, Birmingham
Turntable: Lloyds, Foster & Co
Architect (2004-6): John McAslan + Partners
Contractor (2004-6): Tolent Construction Ltd
Acoustics (2004-6): Paul Gillieron Acoustic Design
Research: ECPK
reference sources   CEH LondBDCE2

Camden Roundhouse