The coaling stage is probably the most iconic building reminicent of steam locomotives that was discarded once the diesel era embraced Barrow Hill. Built at the same time as the roundhouse, it survived long enough to have a new roof fitted but it became redundant and was eventually demolished as its condition deteriorated. There are plans to rebuild it in the future if and when funding allows.
Locomotives ran on coal which needed loading into the high tenders. Initially this job was done by hand and many depots had significant coal stacks on site. These would be neatly constructed with the outer walls constructed of dry blocks much in the style of a dry stone wall with smaller pieces behind these. These were slightly elevated to make the process a little easier. As technology advanced and the bigger sheds got busier this process became more mechanised. The architecture and layout of the depots changed with many having long ramps up to purposly designed buildings where the coal could be prepared for the locomotives. Bigger yards had concrete towers where the coal was gravity fed into the tender. This involved complex mechanisms to fill the tower, sometimes raising 16 ton mineral wagons and tipping their contents into the bunker.
Some railways were unable to use such mechanisms because of the grade of coal used. Welsh coal, used by the GWR, was quite soft and any such drop would create much dust and fine coal that would not burn efficiently. There were several types of coal used by locomotives, the best being earmarked for passenger expresses. Barrow Hill, with its hardworking freight engines, used basically anything. Although economic, the result was much work for the firemen and engine cleaners dealing with a poor material.
To help fill the tenders Barrow Hill opted for the simple elevated system in which coal wagons were pushed up a ramp from which the coal could be loaded at tender height.
The process at Barrow Hill
Eleven loaded coal wagons were pushed up through the coaling stage to the end of the ramp as shown in the picture by the day shift crew. Four were left inside for the start of the day’s activities. The sides would be opened and the coal shoveled into the waiting ‘tubs’. These would carry about half a ton of coal each. These were pushed out manually onto the loading ramps which would hinge down over the tender when the truck moved onto it. The tub would be tipped manually. This was made slightly easier by the arrangement of the wheels, the front ones of which were only slightly in front of the center of gravity so could act as a pivot. The film of Didcot coaling stage shows this process.
Once the wagons were empty, the afternoon shift crew arranged for the wagons to be drawn forwards so the next four were inside. The last three were pulled in as required, normally by the night shift.
At the end of the night the eleven wagons would be pulled fully out to be replaced by loaded wagons. During this process the coal which had spilt on the line within the coaling stage (sometimes called the ‘grip’) would be cleared up and loaded into a waiting tub. One wagon would be sent to the bottom of the coaling stage to collect the spillage which could be as much as 3 tons at the end of a busy shift. Not a popular job as the coal had to be shoveled manually back into the wagon, the opening side made this slightly easier.
Film showing Didcot Coaling Stage in action.
Many thanks to our friends at Didcot for giving us permission to show their facility on our website and for the enthusiasts who shot the stills and film.
For our eagle-eyed readers, yes it is the Tornado in the two last shots.
Early pictures of our coaling stage taken from our archive collection. We are unsure of the dates of these two pictures although we think the first was in the 1920's and the second in the 1950's.
There are some interesting differences in the picture on close inspection. The coaling stage has been re-roofed, a more substantial fence has been put along the raised track and the old gas lamps have been replaced by electric lighting. The base of the closest gas lamp in the bottom left of the top picture can still be seen in our yard today.
Rare photograph showing our coaling stage from the Roundhouse end. This also shows the original track arrangement of three lines providing access to the shed. During the relaying process in the creation of the yard as it is today, these were replaced by two lines for simplicity.
The 0-4-0 locomotive on the coaling stage was one of only 10 built at Derby between1907-22. Designed by Deeley, it was small at 32 tons and was built for shunting in brewery yards, docks and other places where sharp curves are found. In 1948 it was shown as being with Barrow Hill. Withdrawn in 1966 it was scrapped at Arnott Young, Parkgate.
In the background can be seen the building used for a short while to service oil fired locomotives.