In 1838 a meeting in Northampton’s Town Hall was held to first consider the need for a railway. Railways were intended to benefit the country and it would have been extraordinary if a town as important as Northampton did not have such a thing.
In 1845 Northampton’s first railway station was built by the London and Birmingham Railyway as part of a route to Blisworth and Peterborough. Ten to twelve thousand people were present for the opening despite only seven thousand residing in Northampton at the time according to the most recent census - highlighting the importance of the development to the town and surrounding area.
A new line joining Northampton to the Midland Railway was built in 1872 on St John’s Street. The site is now home to the University of Northampton’s St John’s Halls of Residence.
The Engine Shed was constructed one year later in 1873 at the junction of the main London and North Western Railway line and the former Northampton branch line.
St John’s Station closed in 1939 with the introduction of the Nationalised Britsh Rail coming into effect in 1948.
In the 1960’s there was a major rationalisation of the rail network which began in 1963 in which 2,363 Engine Sheds were recommended for closure following the replacement of steam with other forms of traction. The Majority of Engine Sheds were either demolished or abandoned.
Northampton’s Engine Shed was decommissioned in 1965 and converted into a Regional Civil Engineers Welding School by British Rail. Several alterations were made to the building including blocking some of the windows and the addition of ancillary buildings and internal adjustments.
In 1998 the welding school was taken out of action and was sold to Avon cosmetics.
In 2000 there was a fire in the Engine Shed which damaged 6 of the Western Bays to the building. The Engine Shed has never been repaired and has been open to the elements ever since.
In 2012, the University of Northampton entered into negotiations with Taylor Wimpey and Persimmon and Avon regarding the acquisition of 57.65 acres of land on what is now known as the Waterside Development that would see the establishment of a Campus that will enable the University to transform into an internationally facing University committed to delivering outstanding life-changing opportunities in education, underpinned by a culture of entrepreneurship, purposeful research and social enterprise recognised around the world for its originality and impact.
Following initial considerations regarding the Engine Shed's use as a gym and as administrative offices, the Students' Union identified the opportunity for the building to become the centre for its on-campus services.
The Engine Shed survives largely as an empty, derelict shell with only the roof on its eastern half surviving. It was last used as a welding school by British Rail and has been unused for around 25 years.
The Students' Union project would see essential conservation work carried out to the Grade II listed building, which will see the largely derelict shell of the Engine Shed restored to its former grandeur.
The building’s structural roof trusses, windows and decorative brickwork would be retained alongside original train tracks, which would be carefully recovered and replaced following development works.
To realise this aim the Students' Union has applied to the Heritage Lottery Fund for a grant of £1,323,300.