‘You Can Smell the History’

Alexa Stott and the Barrow Hill Roundhouse


Last summer Barrow Hill Roundhouse opened it’s doors after £1.5M of funding, £1.2M from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and £300k from Barrow Hill themselves.

I recently met with Alexa Stott who is responsible for marketing, to talk about the Roundhouse’s history and upcoming events.


It’s 1991 and Barrow Hill Depot was just 48 hours from being sold, destined for demolition, when a preservation order was placed, thanks to the efforts of one young man, Mervyn Allcock.


Mervyn was a train enthusiast as a young lad, passionate about the ‘rolling stock’ or trains to the lay-man. He loved everything about Barrow Hill, and his love of trains taught him in great detail about maths, history, engineering and geography.

The depot was originally built to service the locomotives at Staveley works. Steam locos can go forwards and backwards, but prefer to go forwards – it’s better for the operator as smoke and fumes can fill the cab as they reverse!
Turntables enable you to turn a locomotive around whilst going forwards, making things much easier, they are also good for storage. Imagine Barrow Hill as a large train garage where you store locos, service and maintain the stock. The tracks that lead from the turntable at each point (‘roads’) are different lengths to allow storage of more engines. So, slightly disappointingly for me, Barrow Hill isn’t actually round – not making the building round also saves money – it’s more expensive to build a round building.


In steam’s hey day there were around 400 roundhouses, today just seven remain, mostly turned into diesel sheds. The six that remain include Derby, Camden, Carnforth, Market Wellingborough, Leeds and Barrow Hill … and none of those remaining house a turntable except Barrow Hill.


The Barrow Hill site closed in 1991 and the preservation order resulted in a grade II listing. The saviour of the site, Mervyn, established the Barrow Hill Engine Sheds Society, a charity with the aim of purchasing the site from the British Railways Property Board. Finally, after several years, an agreement was made to sell the site to Chesterfield Borough Council, who now leases the site to the Society.

The Barrow Hill Engine Shed Society led by Mervyn took over management of the site. It had been heavily vandalised and was in a poor state of repair. They obtained £300k of funding to replace the roof, install a rainwater harvesting syetsm and to get the clean-up underway. Next was to establish the site as an operating business and museum to create an income stream. Many locos are privately owned, and Barrow Hill was able to offer storage and service facilities. Since then, two heavy engineering workshops have been built to use for modern rail maintenance, repair and modiication.

The depot is rail connected to the national rail network and is accessible 24/7. Current customers include Network Rail, DB Schenker Cargo, DRS, Freightliner, GBRF, Colas, West Coast Railways and VSOE (Orient Express).
Mervyn is still very much involved, and manages Barrow Hill, overseeing the running of the depot and the refurbishment project.

Thanks to the Heritage Lottery Fund, Barrow Hill has a new café and reception area, refurbished rooms, an area to display items from the museum collection which were previously in storage (displayed in museum rooms). The scheme has funded a project manager and a learning and education officer. The recruitment of these roles has allowed Barrow Hill to support school visits during the week, these are often planned around the curriculum in the visiting school.

Did you know: Steam locomotives are better suited to harvested rain water as it’s natural and reduces build up of limescale deposits in boilers. Barrow Hill harvests rainwater specifically for this purpose… and to flush the toilets.
The project has been a huge success and has been highly commended by the HLF, not bad for a depot that was due to be demolished.



Alongside the rail infrastructure and history, the depot has also become a destination for events.

The Rail Ale Festival, has become a well known feature on the events calendar – this year’s festival over the weekend of Thursday 17 to Saturday 19 May will see 350 real ales, ciders, craft and world beers together with Prosecco bar and Gin Palace taking centre stage.

On Saturday 26 May Jools Holland and his Rhythm & Blues Orchestra, supported by Marc Almond, will perform at the site for the second time. Jools contacted the Roundhouse to ask if he could return, after being so impressed on his last visit (a few tickets are still available if you’re interested in seeing Jools).


These two events between them will bring in excess of 10,000 people to the Roundhouse, many of the attendees visiting the site for the first time.


Rick Wakeman and Paul Carrack have also performed at the depot in the past and the Roundhouse also hosts many smaller events throughout the year.

A Father’s Day event will see an 80s band play, an archaeological week will take place in July looking to find evidence of terrace houses from the Long Row which stood on the site of the present car park. Science days & garden days are planned to entertain and educate the younger generations, plus a number of seasonal activities are planned.

Barrow Hill brings history to life, it’s one of the must visit destinations Chesterfield has to offer. We should all know its importance in helping shape the industrial heritage of our county.

I have to admit… I see myself as an ambassador for Chesterfield and all it has to offer, yet I haven’t yet visited with the family. I wonder how many other local people have missed this gem – and at only £8 for a family it’s great value.

Barrow Hill is open between March to December (the shed is far too cold over the winter). Prices are £8 for a family, £3 adult, £2 child (age 5 to 15) and under 5s go free.