The Roundhouse, Derby

What was once an eyesore and a sad reflection of industrial decline is now an inspirational beacon of learning, regeneration, progress, success and enjoyment. It acted as a catalyst and symbol of regeneration and growth, facilitating the development of characterful, state of the art education facilities that will drive the prospects and economy of the area for generations to come.

Where: Derby
Years on register: 1998-2009

The earliest railway roundhouse in the world

The site comprised the remains of the country’s earliest surviving railway works depot, including a carriage works, workshops, smithies, engine sheds, clock tower, and early railway station. Celebrated pioneer railway engineers George and Robert Stephenson, and Francis Thompson were involved in the development of the complex for four rival railway companies.

The ‘Roundhouse’ is in many ways the hub. This Grade II* 16-sided engine shed, with its central turntable, has an internal span of 130 feet. Dating to 1839, it is now known to be the earliest railway roundhouse in the world.


Clock tower of the Roundhouse before repair
Clock tower of the Roundhouse before repair © Ian Harris, Maber Architects

20 years of neglect

The site lost its former purpose long ago, declined to storage use, and had more than 20 years of neglect and dereliction before Derby College began to investigate a radical new use. Vacancy and lack of maintenance meant that water ingress was rapidly rotting timber roof trusses and destroying the buildings. Pigeon carcasses and muck infested upper floors, while poor quality modern adaptations and additions disguised the character and quality of the historic buildings.


State of dereliction with graffiti on the walls
State of dereliction of the Roundhouse before the project began © Ian Harris, Maber Architects

Finding and funding a viable future

There were loud calls for the clearance of the entire site, listed buildings and all, and for a new start. Very few people could believe this place had a viable future.

The development of Derby College’s technical and professional skills campus required an investment of over £40 million for both new buildings and the repair and conversion of historic buildings. Funding was received from the Heritage Lottery Fund and regional development agencies.

How we made a difference

Historic England was part of the development project partnership from its inception. We ensured that constructive conservation advice and technical expertise were delivered in a spirit of cooperation and determination to meet a shared aim.

We brought a desire for cooperation and a passion not only to rescue the historic buildings but to make sure they contributed in the fullest possible way to the regeneration of the area.

The exterior of the Roundhouse restored and joined by innovative new buildings
The Grade II* clock tower restored and joined by innovative new buildings © Ian Harris, Maber Architects

Award-winning construction and design

Roundhouse College was opened to students in September 2009 and won several awards for architectural and construction excellence. The campus brilliantly combines heritage buildings and new design to create an iconic learning environment, venue and visitor destination, loved by students, staff and visitors.

The site hosts a library and resources centre, learning facilities suited to courses for everything from hair and beauty to plumbing and engineering, catering and hospitality, and the college administration services. There is also a versatile theatre, event space, and heritage exhibition. The Roundhouse is the social hub of the site, open to students and the public.

What was once an eyesore and a sad reflection of industrial decline is now an inspirational beacon of learning, regeneration, progress, success and enjoyment. It shows that former industrial buildings are versatile. Even those long without their original use and apparently on the brink of destruction can find exciting new purposes that their creators could never have envisaged.

What we noticed from a very early stage was the passion for the project from everyone that got involved. The willingness of funders and statutory bodies to get involved, the enthusiasm of the local press and former workforce and community groups was very clear. It doesn't get a column on a bill of quantities, but the value that historic buildings create for their occupiers is huge - the character, interest, quirkiness, opportunities and charm all drive real business gains.

Ian Harrs, Project Architect


You can visit the Roundhouse and it is familiar to many through many events. 

20 years of the Heritage at Risk Register

This year we are celebrating 20 years of the Heritage at Risk Register, Historic England’s tool for shining a light on the listed buildings and places in England that need the most help. Looking back over the last 20 years, huge progress has been made in saving our heritage and giving it new uses.

See more of our top 20 heritage rescues

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