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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 6 to 10. 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).
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.
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.