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Carnforth: the coaling plant

A Grade II* Listed Building in Carnforth, Lancashire

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Latitude: 54.1298 / 54°7'47"N

Longitude: -2.773 / 2°46'22"W

OS Eastings: 349586

OS Northings: 470717

OS Grid: SD495707

Mapcode National: GBR 9N2P.GB

Mapcode Global: WH83V.CGSC

Plus Code: 9C6V46HG+WR

Entry Name: Carnforth: the coaling plant

Listing Date: 15 February 1989

Last Amended: 18 August 2015

Grade: II*

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1078213

English Heritage Legacy ID: 355231

Location: Carnforth, Lancaster, Lancashire, LA5

County: Lancashire

Civil Parish: Carnforth

Built-Up Area: Carnforth

Traditional County: Lancashire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Lancashire

Church of England Parish: Carnforth Christ Church

Church of England Diocese: Blackburn

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Plant for mechanically refuelling the tenders of steam locomotives with coal: part of the modernised Motive Power Depot built for the London Midland Scottish Railway in 1938-44, being the last British Rail depot closed to steam locomotives in 1968.


Plant for mechanically refuelling steam locomotives with coal, 1939 for the London Midland Scottish Railway.

MATERIALS: reinforced concrete, chutes and mechanisms mainly of steel.

DESIGN: the plant is of mass concrete in the form of a tower which spans a standard gauge line and is flanked by two further lines to east and west. The main body of the tower forms two 75 ton capacity hoppers connected to chutes which remain in situ and were designed to discharge into locomotive tenders placed either on the line directly below or to the west of the tower. Rising up the east face of the tower, covered by a large projecting hood towards the top, is the winch mechanism for raising fully laden 15 ton coal wagons. The plant's control cabin forms the top of the tower, accessed via ladders and walkways on the western face.


In 1846 the first railway station was opened at Carnforth as a simple wayside halt. By 1880 it had become an important junction between the London and North Western Railway's (LNWR) London to Glasgow main line, the Furness Railway to Furness and the joint Furness Midland Railway to Leeds, with all three railway companies having servicing facilities for their locomotives at the junction. With the formation of the London Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS) in 1923, Carnforth passed into single ownership, remaining an important junction and centre for the servicing and stabling of locomotives. In 1938-44 the LMS, which led the way nationally with improving operational efficiency, modernised the depot to conform to their standard depot layout developed in 1933, designed to service and stable large numbers of steam locomotives efficiently.

Commissioned in 1938, built in 1939 and operational by April 1940, the coaling plant, along with the associated ash plant, was a key feature of the modernised Motive Power Depot (MPD) and represented state-of-the-art technology. The coaling plant was based on the typical LMS cenotaph design with two 75 ton capacity hoppers, but modified with an extra pair of side chutes. These extra chutes allowed engines to be coaled on both the road immediately to the west of the structure as well as that which passes underneath. One hopper was used for class 1 and 2 coal used by passenger and heavy freight trains, the second hopper for class 3 and 4 coal used for locomotives with less demanding duties. The hoppers were filled directly from 15 ton open coal wagons which were electrically winched up the east face of the tower and inverted, water sprays being used to limit the spread of fine dust particles. The plant was operated from a control cabin at the top of the tower and was far more efficient in operation than previous practice which employed manual labour. The LMS built a number of these coaling plants across its network in its drive for increased efficiency, when other companies, such as the Great Western Railway, were still constructing traditional coaling stages employing manual labour.

Carnforth was the last MPD in the country to close to steam locomotives in August 1968, finally closing to all British Rail traffic in March 1969. However from December 1968, Carnforth became a base for steam locomotive preservation, first as Steamtown (a museum and steam locomotive restoration facility) and from the late 1990s as the base of West Coast Railways which operates private charter trains hauled by both steam and diesel traction. It is not known when the coaling plant was last operational. Both the ash and coaling plants have been the basis of models produced by a number of model railway manufacturers.

Reasons for Listing

The coaling plant at Carnforth is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:
* Technology: the plant represents the peak of technological development for the refuelling of steam locomotives;
* Rarity: the only steam-age mechanical coaling plant retaining its mechanism that survives nationally, also thought to be a rare survival internationally;
* Efficiency: the London Midland Scottish Railway led the way nationally in improving operating efficiency and developed an ultra-efficient design for their Motive Power Depots, these representing the peak of development for steam traction, the coaling plant being an important, high-tech component of the depot;
* Distinctiveness: the widely known and modelled structure that marks the high point of steam technology, being the most memorable feature of the last British Rail depot to close to steam locomotives;
* Group value: part of a remarkably complete survival of a steam-age Motive Power Depot.

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