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Roundhouse, Derby Railway Works
Roundhouse Road, Derby, Derbyshire, UK
associated engineer
Francis Thompson
Robert Stephenson
date  1839
UK era  Victorian  |  category  Building  |  reference  SK362356
ICE reference number  HEW 1293
The Roundhouse at Derby is part of the earliest railway works in Britain, and remains substantially intact. It is thought to be the world's oldest surviving railway roundhouse, and is Grade II* listed. Now restored, and sometimes known as the Round Shed, it forms part of the Derby College campus.
The railway works site at Derby formed a ‘tri-junct station’ where the lines of the Midland Counties Railway, the North Midland Railway and the Birmingham & Derby Junction Railway met. The North Midland, which built the station, was engineered by George Stephenson (1781-1848) and Frederick Swanwick (1810-85). Its line from Derby, through Masborough in Rotherham to Leeds opened in 1840. Robert Stephenson (1803-59) was responsible for the station complex.
Steam locomotives of the day could only travel forwards, and though reverse operation was soon introduced it was not as efficient as forward motion. Some of the wagons and train carriages were also configured for moving in only one direction. Consequently, turntables were used to rotate locomotives and rolling stock, and these were housed in 'roundhouses'.
The Roundhouse at Derby was constructed in 1839. It was designed by architect Francis Thompson (1808-95), together with an adjoining two-storey carriage workshop that sits at an angle to the north of the Roundhouse. The combined cost was £62,000.
In plan, the Roundhouse is polygonal, with 16 equal sides. It is approximately 42.7m in diameter. The walls are of red brick, 4.6m high to the eaves. The conical roof, originally clad in slate, rises to about 13.7m high in the centre. It included a ring of chimneys about two-thirds up (now gone) and a continuous strip of skylights about one third up (now differently positioned). At the centre was a lantern (now reinstated).
Inside, the complex system of timber radial trusses (European redwood) supporting the roof rest on the brick outer wall and an inner polygonal ring of circular cast iron columns. Two pairs of columns straddle what was the line of the main track into the building, supporting a massive strong-beam with travelling lifting-equipment, which spans the central area and supports part of the truss network. The columns in the ring are linked by cast iron beams. The bases of the columns are 406mm in diameter.
The floor was laid with 16 lines of rail track, radiating from a 12m diameter central turntable. Locomotives travelled into the shed and were turned ready for the return journey or diverted into a vacant bay. Excluding the entrance and adjoining access to the workshop, 14 bays were used for maintenance and repair works. Each had an inspection pit.
About 1840, a two storey brick office building was constructed on the west side of the Roundhouse, consisting of two wings angled from a central clock tower. In 1859-60 and 1893, the Midland Railway extended this building to three storeys.
In 1963, the last steam engine repair was carried out inside the Roundhouse. After that, the building was used for the maintenance of diesel engines. In 1968, extensive repair work was required to correct a twist in the timber trusses and the roof cladding was renewed in timber board and slate.
In February 1977, Derby Roundhouse was Grade II* listed. In 1988, it closed, subsequently falling into disrepair. In February 1994, the adjoining former carriage workshop was also Grade II* listed.
Restoration works began in 2008 and the building was adapted for use by Derby College. The works were completed in September 2009 and cost around £48m. Two new structures were added: the stand-alone Stephenson Building and the Kirtley Building connecting the existing listed buildings.
Two decades of water ingress had weakened the timber truss roof, with about half of the members close to collapse. Sound members have been strengthened with steel plates, elsewhere decayed timber was cut out and replaced with new European redwood.
Original features retained in the Roundhouse include the rail tracks, columns, control panels and engine turntable, which is still operational. A viewing panel allows visitors to see into the inspection pits. New self-contained freestanding pods were installed inside the carriage shop for teaching spaces. The restoration scheme won many industry awards.
In October 2010, the Princess Royal officially re-opened the refurbished Roundhouse and its campus, and unveiled a commemorative plaque.
Architect: Francis Thompson
Architect (2008-9): Maber Architects
Structural engineer (2008-9): BWB Consulting
Contractor: Thomas Jackson, Pimlico
Contractor (2008-9): Bowmer & Kirkland
Research: ECPK
"Derby in 50 Buildings" by Gerry van Tonder, Amberley Publishing Limited, 2016
reference sources   CEH E&C

Roundhouse, Derby Railway Works