Derby Roundhouse


Derby Roundhouse dates back to 1839. It is at SK364356, just to the east of the railway station. It is now the HQ of Derby College, and there are regular guided tours, for the princely sum of £6 – book through this website. I went on Saturday 8 October. The College website has a page about the Roundhouse here, and there are rather amazing Christmas parties at this website.

The railway came to Derby that year, with a line from the London and Birmingham at Rugby north to Chesterfield, the old route east of Sheffield, up towards York. Robert Stephenson, engineer to the North Midland Railway, worked with Francis Thompson on the Roundhouse design. Thompson was the railway architect, and designed 26 stations between Derby and Leeds.

The Roundhouse is basically a railway shed around a turntable, and it could store sixteen locos. Around the Roundhouse other sheds were open and here Matthew Kirtley built his fleet of engines, carriages were built here, and there was a clock workshop (apparently reached by what is now the spiral staircase in the librarian’s office. By 1900 the Loco Works employed 4,500 people. In WW1 500 women were employed in the manufacture of parts for Howitzer guns, shells, vehicle components and aeronautical supplies. In WW2 they built aeroplane wings, fuselages and field guns. In the 1950s a thousand diesel locos were built here, but the engine production ceased in 1966 and everything had closed by 1980 (second picture is 1978).


The early 80s saw most of the Loco Works demolished, leaving only the Roundhouse, offices, carriage shop, engine shop and stores. The whole area stood derelict for a couple of decades, until 2008 when, with several million from HLF, it was restored for Derby College. The project, which included the new Kirtley building in the middle, was designed by Maber – website.


I got there early so went to the station for a coffee – and photoed the class 31.

dsc04655Apparently this was the pedestrian entrance to the works, reached by a footbridge that had crossed the tracks – at some point I need to explore the railway quarter on the west side of the track. The engines entered here.dsc04660



dsc04661Lovely the way the Roundhouse is reflected in the new building.

dsc04664dsc04667dsc04668PP is the parish of St Peter and St Paul in Derby, L the parish of Litchurch – the city parish did not want the railway, so it went outside.


There were about a dozen of us on the tour, and we started in the Stephenson building – photo walls of dots, and a letter from George himself. A beautiful wooden door into the first railway shed. The College has filled the interior with pods, so they have not interfered with the structure of the building.


The Engine Shed restaurant is the training restaurant – website – it looks rather good (though we were told it gets better as the year progresses and the students get more experience). There is a nice story that all the windows have the same pattern of leads, except for one. Apparently the smith was having an affair. His wife found out and destroyed his patterns so he had to start again. Our guide commented that, if she had access to his forge and a lot of hot metal, he would probably have paid for his sins in a different way.


On the wall are some lovely engineering drawings, all signed off by Mr Stanier himself. There is also a display about Matthew Kirtley, the manager, with a letter from his workmen. I did wonder what Kirtley would make of the posters telling students where to collect free condoms.


The Library is a lovely building, with a picture of the directors and engineering team – Kirtley is the chap painted yellow (“he visited the paint shop every morning”).


The Roundhouse is an excellent building, though I wonder when the crane was inserted into the wooden roof structure.



It is a shame that they have grotty tape under the projector screens and ropes to ensure you don’t trip over. It needed a bit of a tidy too – students can be messy young people! We ended with coffee. It had been a good tour, and it would be totally accessible for Julie in her wheelchair. I highly recommend it – they have done an excellent job.



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