Locomotive coaling drops


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:
Location Description:
Centred approximately 250m south-east of Soho House, Soho Cottages, Hackworth Close, Shildon, being part of Locomotion, The National Rail Museum at Shildon, Dale Road Industrial Estate, Shildon DL4 2RE.


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Location Description:
Centred approximately 250m south-east of Soho House, Soho Cottages, Hackworth Close, Shildon, being part of Locomotion, The National Rail Museum at Shildon, Dale Road Industrial Estate, Shildon DL4 2RE.
County Durham (Unitary Authority)
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Coal drops designed for refuelling steam locomotives, built in 1846 for the Stockton & Darlington Railway.

Reasons for Designation

The locomotive coaling drops at Shildon are listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest: * built in 1846, it is a very early example of a rarely surviving, purpose-built facility for refuelling steam locomotives; * that it may have originally operated entirely using gravity, potentially influencing the design of mid-C19 coal staithes and later marshalling yards where gravity was also used in place of shunting with horses or locomotives.

Historic interest: * built for the pioneering and internationally influential Stockton & Darlington Railway, one of the structures preserved as part of the 150th anniversary celebrations in 1975.

Group value: * one of a group of early railway related structures in Shildon, dubbed the ‘cradle of the railways’.


The locomotive coaling drops are thought to have been built in 1846, and to have been commissioned by William Bouch (1813-1876), the Stockton & Darlington Railway (S&DR) Superintendent of Locomotives from 1840. The coaling drops were specifically designed for refuelling steam locomotives: coal waggons on a railway siding that ran along the upper surface of the structure were discharged by gravity into hoppers sited in the alcoves below. These hoppers fed into chutes set above the line which ran along immediately to the south of the drops, the chutes allowing the swift refuelling of steam locomotives waiting below. The fourth, larger alcove is shown in early photographs to have contained a raised platform accessed by staircases, this platform was possibly designed for manual refuelling of locomotives with bunkers too small for the chutes. Previously all locomotives would have been refuelled via manual shovelling from line-side bunkers: the Dixon plan of 1839 appears to show a set of such bunkers to the west of the site of the coaling drops. Refuelling steam locomotives using manual labour rather than gravity feeds or some form of mechanisation was surprisingly common and persisted elsewhere nationally into the C20, even on some major railways. The structure included three sets of drops with chutes, probably to improve efficiency, but possibly to allow for differing grades of fuel or tender capacities: locomotives designed to haul passenger trains generally used higher grade fuel than slower goods engines. The track layout, depicted on Ordnance Survey maps, suggests that the refuelling of multiple locomotives simultaneously would have been impractical. Mapping shows that the line to the top of the coaling drops was a siding leading off from the Black Boy incline, suggesting that the fuel mainly came from the collieries to the north of Shildon that were served by the Black Boy branch line. It is even possible that the structure was originally designed so that loaded coal wagons were run to the top of the drops via gravity using momentum gained from descending the incline, an approach used elsewhere in the North East in the C19.

The coaling drops can be identified on the first edition 1:10560 Ordnance Survey map which was surveyed in 1857, with the track layout still in place when resurveyed in 1939 suggesting that it was still operational into the mid-C20. Map evidence indicates that the track was lifted from the coaling drops sometime before 1962. Early photographs show that at the far eastern end of the structure the end of the siding was carried on two free-standing piers that were in the area now built up as an earthen embankment.

The pioneering S&DR started commercial operation in 1825. Although initially mainly operated with horse-haulage combined with steam-powered, rope-worked inclines, the company championed the use of steam locomotives from the beginning. Through its policy of freely sharing information with visiting engineers and railway promoters, the S&DR was highly influential in the early establishment of other railways both in England and abroad, being described by Henry Booth of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway in 1831 as ‘the great theatre of practical operations on railways’. Subsequently the S&DR’s pivotal role in railway history has been marked by major celebrations every 50 years, including the opening of the National Railway Museum in 1975.


Coal drops for refuelling steam locomotives, 1846 commissioned by William Bouch for the Stockton & Darlington Railway.

MATERIALS: sandstone rubble, mainly buff coloured, including some reused former sleeper stones, and buff coloured brick. DESCRIPTION: the structure appears as a south-facing, stone-built revetment forming an incline that starts at the west-north-west end to rise and gently curve to the east. By the mid-point of the structure the incline has reached its full height, the eastern half extending at this level eastwards. It is constructed as a regular series of engineering arches with semi-circular heads formed from triple courses of brick headers, the piers generally being quoined. There are thirty of these arches forming the inclined western half. The eastern half of the structure is also mainly formed from similar regular engineering arches, but includes four rectangular, deep, open-topped alcoves marking the positions originally occupied by the coal drop hoppers. The first coal drop alcove is at about the mid-point of the structure, the next is sited after ten engineering arches, the eastern three alcoves then each separated from the next and the end by sets of three arches. The third alcove, which may not have been a coal drop, is nearly twice the width and depth of the other three alcoves and retains a ledge that formally supported staging. A number of the engineering arches are blocked with later masonry and buttressing. The structure retains a few iron brackets and other fragmentary fittings, but no longer retains chutes or hoppers.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

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Books and journals
Smith, GT, A Railway History of New Shildon, (2019)
Archaeo-Environment “The 1825 Stockton and Darlington Railway: Historic Environment Audit” report for Durham County Council, Darlington Borough Council and Stockton Council, (2016)


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

Images of England

Images of England was a photographic record of every listed building in England, created as a snap shot of listed buildings at the turn of the millennium. These photographs of the exterior of listed buildings were taken by volunteers between 1999 and 2008. The project was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Date: 12 Mar 2001
Reference: IOE01/03241/01
Rights: © Mr Alan Bradley. Source: Historic England Archive
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