When British Rail closed the railway north of Matlock in 1968 it seemed that this part of the former Midland Railway’s main line between Derby and Manchester was lost forever. However, in 1975 a group of railway enthusiasts put forward far-sighted proposals for the re-opening of the Matlock – Buxton railway line as a heritage and community railway offering a service for both tourists and local residents, and so The Peak Rail Project was born.

I grew up in Matlock and in 1975 would have been 12 years old and a bit of a railways fan. I can just about recall a small group of enthusiasts working out of the former goods/parcel shed behind the station and a rather weary-looking engine standing, for what seemed like years, with little outward sign of restoration.

This visit is the first I’ve made to the Peak Rail operation since those formative ‘innocent years’ when my idea of a wild time was to take the early DMU from Matlock for a days heady train-spotting on Derby station.

It was immediately apparent that during my three decades absence Peak Rail had gone on to quietly achieve milestone after milestone. To name just a few of the volunteers achievements: the line from Matlock to Rowsley has been cleared and secured; the track and signalling reinstated; a permanent interchange platform established at Matlock station; the station at Darley Dale restored and turned into a small museum to the line; the iron bridge crossing the River Derwent (just outside Matlock) stabilised and renovated; and the northern terminus established on the site of the former engine sheds at Rowsley.

It was a rather murky mid-August morning that greeted the Boys and I when we visited their current northern terminus just off the A6 between Darley Dale and Rowsley. It’s here that Peak Rail are now based. The preservation society occupies some 28 acres of land that once housed engine sheds and associated engineering and goods siding.

The location of Peak Rail operations today can be easily worked out on this 1920’s track diagram showing the location of the 1926 Shed and engineering sidings (only a small part of the complete Rowsley yard). The turntable has been recently restored to working order, and stands at the centre of Peak Rail operations, whilst their main loco shed appropriately stands on the site of the long-since levelled engine shed shown in the drawing, though only occupying about a third of the original building’s footprint. Peak Rail’s running line follows the line of the old Midland main line which sweeps out of the drawing on the bottom left hand side.

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A diagram shows the area occupied by the 1926 engine shed and adjacent Engineer’s Sidings. Note the Welfare Ground in the lower centre. This was the area known as ‘Cow Pasture’, which was purchased in 1898 as a potential site for the new shed. It appears to have been too small for that purpose, hence the reason for buying additional land on the opposite side of the main line. In the 1920s this area of land was given to the staff, who laid out various sports and children’s facilities. Two old coach bodies were used for changing and community gatherings. It was known as the LMS Sports Ground (Welfare Ground being an alternative name). Unfortunately, the land was leased to the Ministry of Supply in 1941 to help the war effort, and Firth Derihon’s Factory (now Firth Rixson) built on the site – just at the time when the compliment of staff at Rowsley was increasing quite dramatically. (Historical information on this and the other historic images below relies heavily on the wonderfully informative Disused Stations site, which is well worth a visit if you’d like to know more of the history of the Rowsley South site.)

Our visit provides a wonderful opportunity to share just a few fascinating images for the former Rowsley engine shed I found online.

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The outside of the newly built No. 2 shed looking north on 24th November 1924. It would be another year and a half before it saw any activity. It is believed that the main reason was due to delay in constructing the coaling plant. The current Peak Rail engine shed would eventually be built on this same site though covering less than a third of the area of this huge structure which was built to hold upwards of 40+ tender and tank engines.
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The original coaling plant, looking towards Rowsley South Junction around the time that the shed, opened in 1926.
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A 1957 image of the Coaling Plant for Rowsley 2nd shed, with the shed in the centre background. Photo by H Townley from Peak Rail collection
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Class 3F 0-6-0 No.43778 on the turntable in April 1958 Photo by Arthur Haynes from Peak Rail collection
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Peak Rail’s award-winning restoration of the Rowsley No. 2 Shed turntable… Note that an end-wall of part of the Firth Rixson factory building can be clearly seen in both images, in the background to the right of the turntable…
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An atmospheric view of the south end of the shed c.1958, showing a variety of motive power – a 4MT 2-6-4 Tank, an LMS 3F tank, an ex-North London 2F tank (for the Cromford & High Peak Line), a 2-6-0 ‘Crab’ and what are probably Class 3F and 4F 0-6-0s with their tenders facing. The two snowploughs on the stop block indicate that the photo was not taken in the winter period. Note the train spotter wandering freely around the site on the left! Photo from Rowsley Association
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A closer view of the south end of Rowsley 2nd shed in the mid-1950s. Part of the sandhouse can be seen on the right of the photo. The roads were numbered 1 to 4 from that side of the shed. Photo from Rowsley Association
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This image brings us back up to date. In the background, through the Summer squally showers the 11.15 departure from Rowsley South to Matlock was being formed.
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On board after sampling a Bakewell Tart from the buffet we settled into a compartment all to ourselves to savour the steam-hauled 25 minute journey to Matlock…
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Stopping on the way at Darley Dale.
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Our train was hauled by this gleaming 0-6-0 Austerity tank engine, seen here at the Matlock end of the line.
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We peeked through the windows of the dining car where all was laid out for a fine Sunday lunch judging from the care the staff were taking in setting out each table and the delicious smells wafting from the catering car!
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A glorious ‘oily rag’ gleam from the cab of the 0-6-0 tank.

Back at Rowsley another treat awaited is in the form of the delightful two foot gauge Derbyshire Dales Narrow Gauge Railway which operates a small collection of industrial locomotives and rolling stock on a 500 yard stretch of track adjacent to the picnic area. Your ticket on the Peak Rail train entitles you to a free ride on this little gem. The volunteers were great with the Boys and made them feel really welcome, fuelling their enthusiasm – ‘Dad, why can’t we have one of these???”

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The place was awash with character.

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Fin at the controls in Ruston 487963 (1963)
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And Joe in the Ruston 404967 (1957)

All round we had a wonderful morning, and the fact that the skies opened didn’t matter a jot. Thanks Peak Rail!

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