The LMS and the closure of the Engine Shed

The Midland Railway Company was one of over 100 separate companies running Britain’s railways at the start of the 20th Century. Competition was good for passenger services, but was wasteful and lead many of these companies into financial difficulty. The Liberal government of the early 1920s opposed nationalisation because they believed that it would lead to poor management and services would suffer for political reasons. To resolve these problems they introduced the Railways Act of 1921, which forced the railways to amalgamate into four larger, more manageable companies.

The four groups created out of these mergers were:

  1. Southern Railway (SR) which linked London to the Chanel ports, South West of England and Kent.
  2. Great Western Railway (GWR) which linked London to the West Country, West Midlands and Wales.
  3. London, Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS), the largest company, it ran the Midland and West Coast main lines, as well as lines in London, North Wales, Western and central Scotland and Northern Island.
  4. London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) ran the East Coast mainline, East Anglia and Eastern Scotland.

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Map showing the new LMS network created by the 1921 merger.

The impact of the merger on Northampton’s railways was very significant, as the separate lines all became part of the LMS. The amalgamation of each company’s staff, equipment and practices was a complex process. For the LMS it meant a programme of standardisation and modernisation of techniques, processes and equipment to try to make the network more efficient. The LMS conducted a thorough and systematic investigation into the methods and practices of each company, and attempted to eliminate as much waste as possible. There was an increasing trend towards larger more powerful engines during this period, and many ‘sub-sheds’ such as this one were not capable of holding such engines, because they didn’t have sufficient space. This shed also didn’t have the equipment necessary for heavy repairs such as Shear Legs for lifting the bodies of locomotives, or a wheel drop for removing wheels.

The Midland Railway had favoured the extensive maintenance of its locomotives in order to keep them in service for as long as possible. The LMS changed this policy arguing that far too much time and effort was being spent on repairing engines and wagons that should be scrapped, rather than simply renewing them. From this point on LMS running sheds stopped doing all but the most minor repairs. Instead locomotives were sent away to the larger repair shops, like Derby or Wolverton. This meant a decline in the condition of trains as they received less regular maintenance, but saved time and money in staffing. It also meant there was less need to retain a large staff in each shed.

For the Engine Shed this marked the end of its working life as a running shed. As the smallest and least convenient of Northampton’s sheds, it was an obvious choice for closure, and on the 1st October 1924 it closed its doors to trains. During the rest of its working life for the LMS the shed was used as a workshop for the inspection and storage of wagons. The left hand rail was removed; its inspection pit was covered over, the left hand entrance was bricked up and a pedestrian entrance added. At some point after 1939 the original lantern roof was also replaced with one made of corrugated asbestos. The sand furnace was also demolished and parts of its wall rebuilt to form a store room. The ancillary buildings seem to have been abandoned during this period, as photographs show both the office building and water tower to be derelict.

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The Engine Shed by 1965