12C – A Metamorphosis


Towards the end of 1979 – almost 40 years ago now – all locomotive inspection, maintenance, and fuelling operations ceased to be carried out at the former British Railways locomotive depot at Barrow-in-Furness. The shed itself had remained largely derelict for some time, and had only been used as a fuelling point.  This facility was provided from 1979 at the north end of Barrow station, in what had been the coach storage sidings for many years. Thus, what had been a 10-road motive power depot, along with all its facilities, from repair workshops and offices, had been reduced to a single road fuelling and inspection point, with a bare minimum of capability for minor repairs and maintenance.

Barrow MPD 1970s - Andy Ham Facebook

Barrow shed in its final days in the 1970s – still no roof and only diesels around. This view gives some impression of the large size of the site. The remains of the coaling stage and water tank are still on site. Photo Courtesy: George Mason

Barrow F&I Point 2_March 1980 copy

In March 1980 this was the new depot for servicing and fuelling locos and multiple units. Photo Courtesy: RPB

The final demise of the former steam era shed was actually the third building on a site that had been associated with stabling, repairs and maintenance since the 1840s.  Writing about this in an article – “The Furness Railway: Its Attractions, Facilities, Resources and Services” – for the “Furness Railway Magazine” in 1913, W.T. Perkins describes this as “the new running shed”.  This new depot was constructed on the expanded locomotive, carriage and wagon works of the Furness Railway, located close to the Buccleugh Dock, and the later, even bigger Cavendish Dock, and occupying some 30 acres in total. The town and its huge industry and docks demanded an improved locomotive depot for its railway.

FR Original engine shed - Allan Hartley Facebook

The original Furness Railway Works Boiler Shop east end gable. To the north of this were smithys and other iron working forges, whilst attached to it on the south side, roughly where the red post can be seen was the company’s erecting shop, that had previously been the company’s second engine shed. The building – still in use over 120 years later for light industrial and commercial units. This image taken a few years ago clearly shows the substantial stone built construction.  Photo Courtesy: Alan Hartley

Furness Railway Works Barrow

This photo stated to be taken in January 1923, and shows the east facing view of the Furness Railway Company’s works in Barrow.   As seen in the preceding image, the remains of some of the walls, and foundations could still be found in 2018.   Photo Courtesy: Paul Sankey

The first running shed on the site was combined with a locomotive fitting shop, but expansion of the Furness Railway and its works in particular demanded the construction of a larger, second running shed.  The first shed became a machine shop, with lathes, planing, drilling, slotting and other machines, whilst the second shed eventually became the erecting shop, complete with overhead cranes.  Between the original running shed and the second running shed/erecting shop were sandwiched the smiths shop and boiler shop, despite these extensive facilities no locomotives were actually built at the Furness’ Barrow Works.  The major part of the expansion of the facilities was carried out under the supervision of the railway company’s Locomotive Superintendent – Richard Mason.

Furness Rly Works - Steve Cook Facebook

This was the impressive entrance to the Furness Railway’s carriage and wagon works, on the same 30-acre site as the loco shed. Photo Courtesy: Steve Scott

The second shed was originally a low roof building, with three bays, each 50ft wide and 160ft long, but no overhead crane, so wheels were removed and replaced using wheel drops. One of the bays did have its roof raised – another example of the rapid expansion of bot the railway and its works – and an overhead crane was provided. These three bays had a total of six tracks, and were able to store 4 locomotives on each track. Bearing in mind the small size of locomotives at that time, a total of 24 engines would be easily accommodated.

The extract from the 1873 OS Map clearly shows the location of the early main station and the second engine shed, and the lower left corner of this map shows part of the original Timber Pond and the land where the final Barrow MPD would be built.  At the extreme right of the map, bordering ‘Salthouse Road’ the municipal tramway depot and a housing estate would be built some years later.  All of the land to the north of Salthouse Road would become housing, as the town of Barrow-in-Furness grew rapidly, and the railway company’s works would continue expanding until around the turn of the century.

1873 OS Map

“Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland”

The image below shows the massively expanded steam shed, which filled much of the blank space shown on the 1873 map.

Barrow shed - Alexander Macdonald Facebook

This view is of Barrow Shed in its BR steam days – around or just after nationalisation of the railways. All steam on site. Photo Courtesy: Alexander Macdonald

W.F. Pettigrew succeeded Richard Mason in 1897. The railway’s growth continued, with like ever-expanding mineral and goods traffic, and increased building and repair of passenger and goods vehicles. The need for a new locomotive running shed became more obvious. By 1913, the second running shed had been converted into the Erecting Shop, though not without some difficulty, and a new 10-road stone built shed had been completed. The difficulties of operating from the second running shed as an Erecting Shop did stem from its low roof, which prevented the use of an overhead crane. Removal and replacement of wheels was carried out by use of the “dropping pits”, rather than by lifting the locomotive by crane. Although, in later years of its running shed use, one of the bays had had its roof raised and an overhead crane installed, and by this time the first running shed had become the Machine Shop.

The “new running shed”, or at least that which survived to become 11B and later 12C in British Railways days, measured 310ft long and 150ft wide, as built, with accommodation for 60 locomotives. Essential increase in size, to cope with the heavier and much larger steam locomotives used in the 20th Century. The new shed was built almost entirely of the local red sandstone, as were many of the Furness Railway buildings, from offices to station waiting rooms and lineside structures such as signalboxes.

Of the 10 roads provided, Nos. 1 and 2 were through roads, and Nos. 3 to 10 were dead ends. Inspection pits were provided on all roads – the sides and bottoms of which were fully bricked. The areas between the roads were also paved with brick, with quite a sharp camber to allow for drainage – but by 1946, the LMS had begun work on replacing this with concrete.

Adjacent to No.1 road, on the inside of the north facing wall a row of personal lockers was provided for shed – mainly footplate staff. Additional buildings attached to the west end wall were a Store, Mess Room, Shift, and Running Shed Foreman’s offices, along with the Drivers’ lobby, General Office and a separate Female Mess Room.

Barrow MPD diagram 1949

More or less in its final layout. This was drawn to show the work of concreting to replace the brick paving by the LMS, between 1946 and 1949. Remaining largely unchanged for the next 20 years. Photo Courtesy: RPB

A 16ft to 1in plan dated 12/8/1949, in BR days, gives different measurements, when compared with the 310ft quoted in W.T.Perkins description from the Furness Railway Magazine.  This later plan gives these dimensions: 248ft, shed only, 56ft, external inspection pits at the North East end, and 40ft of offices at the South West end, giving a total length of 344ft overall, and a width of 155ft.  Clearly, additional alterations and changes would have been carried out in LMS and BR days, especially in the post-war period, but the 1949 plan shows the position at the time the shed passed into BR ownership from 1948.

Interestingly, the original shed doors were retained for a time after nationalization, but these fittings on roads Nos. 7 to 10 were soon removed.  The substitution of concrete for brick paving, which had begun in 1946 on roads Nos. 1 to 4, and around the “fitting area” and wheel drop, was completed by 1949. In its original form, the rails were laid along the inspection pits on longitudinal timbers, these too were later replaced by concrete, and the rails supported in more conventional chairs. Only the sides of the pits remained brick faced during the resurfacing work.  Each of the 10 pitched roofs of the shed were finished in slate, and wooden smoke troughs were fitted over all of the roads.

Clayton Type 1s at Barrow - LG99-Thomas Rotherham

The Furness and West Cumberland lines were popular in the 1960s and 1970s for ‘pensioning off’ locomotives that were either troublesome or at the end of their working lives. Here, a pair of Clayton Type 1’s are seen alongside an early Derby ‘lightweight dmu. Photo Courtesy: LG99

Barrow’s last shed remained in this condition for most of the rest of its life, with only minor changes taking place during the “Modernisation Programme” of the 1950s and 1960s.  As the area saw some of the earliest diesel-multiple units in service on BR, and increasing numbers of diesel locomotives, preparations and changes were made to include the ‘cleaner’ motive power.  On the surface those changes seemed to amount to painting – whitewashing – the walls and supports over roads 7 to 10, whilst still accommodating steam locos on roads 1 to 6, along with a Cowans Sheldon breakdown crane.

Ironically perhaps, it was the north side of the shed that caught fire in the 1960s, and destroyed the roofs over roads 1 to 4.  The missing roof was never replaced, and as steam had come to an end on BR in 1968, the diesels – from Metro-Vick Co-Bos, through Clayton Type 1s, and even a few Brush Type 4’s appeared on shed regularly.

During BR days, the depot carried various numbers, including:

  • 11B – from 1950 to 1958
  • 11A – from 1958 to 1960
  • 12E – from 1960 to 1963
  • 12C – from 1963 to 1977

During the 1970s, the former steam shed numbers were deemed unnecessary with the introduction of the TOPS numbering system, when diesel and electric types saw the removal of the ‘D’ and ‘E’ prefixes, and replaced by what is still used today.  Examples such as the English Electric Type 4 with their D200 series numbers were reclassified and renumbered in as ‘Class 40’ from 40001 onwards, the Metro-Vick Type 2’s became ‘Class 28’, and so on.  The shed was restyled as a stabling and fuelling point, and identified as ‘BW’ for Barrow from 1978 onwards, since maintenance and repairs were undertaken by a smaller number of larger Traction Maintenance Depots (TMDs).

D5706 at Barrow

Not long after the fire in the 1960s, Metrovick Type 2 D5706 at Barrow MPD on 16th March 1968. The roof was never fully repaired, as can be seen in the other images. Photo: Alan Walker

The final change was to move the fuelling and basic servicing capability to a site north of Barrow station, in what was, and remains the coach and multiple unit holding sidings.  The new site, in its new role from 1979, was always the home of carriage sidings and originally covered sheds for storing, marshalling and servicing coaches used on train services to and from Barrow.

Barrow coach sidings from north

Barrow holding sidings in the mid 1970s, before the fuelling point was fully installed.                  Photo Courtesy: RPB

Also by the 1970s, the Furness area had lost a significant amount of its economic ‘clout’, which had originally been driven by the iron and steel industry, and iron mining, but was by then in terminal decline.  The town was also home to BR London Midland Region’s District HQ in the 1950s and 1960s, but this too had been transferred away to Preston.

Today, the holding sidings north of Barrow Station is home to the fuelling point and a collection of multiple units and the remnants of the early BR diesel era with English Electric Type 3 (Class 37) locos operating under the ‘Direct Rail Services’ banner.  Though operating across various lines in the UK, they have found a home along the Cumbrian coast and down to Barrow and beyond, using refurbished BR Mark II coaches.

The old Furness Railway engine shed went through a number of transitions, and just as technology and the economy of the area saw its arrival, so, the changes in that economy and technology has brought rail transport to its present position over 170 years later.

Little now remains of the once extensive works and sheds, and what does remain looks set to disappear in the very near future.

Ex FR Works Salthouse Road 2018 copy

The remains of the Furness Railway’s Erecting and Fitting shops, parts of which were used previously as the company’s earlier engine sheds. (Photographer standing roughly where the Boiler Shop was)

Ex FR Fitting Shop remaining wall copy

This view is of the Western end wall of the Furness Railway’s Fitting Shop. With the amount of demolition, it is a surprise to see it in place after so long. The columns and girder in the top right corner would have been inside the shop.

Former Telegraph & PW shops copy

Taken from the remains of the West end of the Fitting Shop, the buildings in the middle distance were the former Telegraph and PW Dept. shops. The waste ground to the right was where the former General Offices once stood.


Just for interest

This clip from the LMS publicity department shows the company’s views on the working of an engine shed.  Don’t imagine it was followed to the letter everywhere.

5 thoughts on “12C – A Metamorphosis

  1. Sam Webster

    Amazing article, this is such a clear, detailed record of this shed and its history! It’s all incredibly useful information. One question though; it says that the fire destroyed the roof over roads 6 to 10, but it also says that roads 3 to 10 are dead end lines. The two photos in which the roofs are missing show the damaged section on the right of the photo, which would mean that roads 6 to 10 are on the right. But in the same photos, we see lines running into roads 3-10, even though given the position of the destroyed roof sections, we should be looking at the back of the shed, and those eight lines should be dead ends. Does this mean that it was really roads 1-5 that were destroyed in the fire instead? I appreciate any response, this shed really interests me. Thanks again for the article!


    • Sam – many thanks for your comments. I have wrongly stated that it was the roof over roads 6 to 10 – it should have read roads 1 to 4. Most of the roof over road 5 was OK, and in one photo, the smoke trough over this road is relatively OK – at least from the gable at the east end. I must have had the diagram upside down! I will update this very shortly.
      My Grandfather was based at Barrow as a driver for many years, and I spent may an hour around the depot with him. I have a feeling I’ve an old photo somewhere of he and my cousin “on shed”.
      So glad you liked the piece.


      • Sam Webster

        Thanks so much for clarifying! This will be so helpful for a modelling project I’m doing that heavily involves this shed. I haven’t found details like these anywhere else, so this article and your clarification is a godsend. Interesting to hear about your grandfather, I was curious how you had such detailed information. Spending time at this depot back then sounds like quite the experience! Thanks for the response!


      • You’re welcome Sam. I had been thinking about a post looking at other sheds in the North West too – I’d be interested to see how your modelling project develops too.


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