The roundhouse was next to the old Curzon Street station, which was the first railway terminus serving the centre of Birmingham.
Built to a design by the 19th century engineer Robert Stephenson, the roundhouse was operational on 12th November 1837 – making it likely to predate the current titleholder of ‘world’s oldest’ in Derby by almost two years.
HS2’s initial programme of trial trenching at Curzon Street revealed the remains of the station’s roundhouse, exposed toward the southeastern corner of the site. The surviving remains include evidence of the base of the central turntable, the exterior wall and the 3ft deep radial inspection pits which surrounded the turntable.
Jon Millward, historic environment advisor to HS2 Ltd, said: “HS2 is offering us the opportunity to unearth thousands of years of British history along the route and learn about our past. The discovery of what could be the world’s oldest railway roundhouse on the site of the new HS2 station in Birmingham City Centre is extraordinary and fitting as we build the next generation of Britain’s railways.”
The roundhouse, and specifically the turntable, was used to turn around the engines so locomotives could return back down the London & Birmingham Railway (L&BR) line. Engines were also stored and serviced in these facilities. The railway’s 1847 roundhouse at the southern end of the line is now the Roundhouse music venue in London’s Camden.
The L&BR terminus opened to passengers in 1838 and was fronted by the grand ‘Principal Building’ which survives in situ (as do elements of the GJR neo-classical screen wall). This Grade I listed building represents the world’s oldest surviving piece of monumental railway architecture. Various structures were demolished from 1860 to 1870 to allow for the expansion of the goods station, including the engine roundhouse.