The car park to the south of Curzon Street, opposite Millennium Point, was the home of the first railway terminus in central Birmingham that opened in 1838-9. The London and Birmingham, and the Grand Junction railways each had a station on this site. When New Street Station opened in the 1850s Curzon Street Station was converted into a Goods Office to service freight traffic on the railway until its closure, and demolition in 1966.
Old Curzon Street Station Goods Office - 1913Future use and plans to incorporate the old station building into the new station design
We are working closely with Birmingham City Council (the current owners of the Old Curzon Street Station building) to protect the building and achieve agreement on a proposal to refurbish it for the period of the new station construction. The proposal under discussion is for the building to be refurbished for joint use as an HS2 community engagement and exhibition space; for Birmingham City University’s “STEAMHouse” project, which will see local students and international businesses cultivate their embryonic ideas in a university-linked and business-supportive environment; and for Historic England’s West Midlands office. Planning permission was granted in July 2017, the detailed design phase is well underway.Amazing archaeology: Unearthing the world’s oldest railway roundhouse
Our programme of exciting archaeological excavations has unearthed thousands of years of British history along the route of the new railway, giving people the opportunity to learn about their past and the history of where they live. Digs around the site of the new Birmingham Curzon Street Station discovered a real gem of our industrial heritage: the remains of the world’s oldest locomotive roundhouse, part of the station’s 19th Century predecessor and designed by iconic railway engineer Robert Stephenson.
Few 19th Century roundhouses have survived in their original form, so the dig, which began in early 2020, has provided a rare opportunity for archaeologists to investigate the full footprint of a major early railway terminus. With the survival of the main building and several below ground features, the site represents a unique opportunity to investigate the architecture even further.
When it opened in 1838, Stephenson’s London and Birmingham Railway (L&BR) made headlines as the first of its kind in the world. The first passenger train from London arrived into the Birmingham Curzon Street terminus on 17 September, while the adjacent roundhouse became operational the previous year on 12 November, 1837. The station required a roundhouse to allow locomotives to be turned around and the roundhouse engine shed - also a world first - functioned as a place where engines could be stored and serviced. Within a decade, a corresponding roundhouse was built at the London terminus, now better known as the world-renowned Roundhouse music venue in Camden.
However, the roundhouse soon became obsolete as locomotives grew in size and weight, outgrowing the bays. Similarly, Curzon Street’s role as a passenger station was short-lived. By 1854, it was superseded by the construction of New Street station, a better-connected mainline hub. Crowds of commuters were replaced by pallets wagons and boxes as the station was converted into a goods depot, following the formation of the London and Northwestern Railway in 1846. The goods station operated until its eventual closure and demolition in the 1960s.
Uncovering the secrets of the roundhouse
Given that the roundhouse and various other structures were demolished in 1860 to facilitate expansion of the station goods yard, and with the site being covered by eight inches of reinforced concrete in the 1970s, it was unclear how much would remain. It took a team of more than 10 archaeologists nearly three months to excavate. By analysing sketch plans and maps of the site from the 1840s, the team were able to predict the location of the roundhouse remains within a few metres, but were surprised to find them so well preserved.
Excavations uncovered key features including the base of the roundhouse turntable, central pit and external wall (which survived to above knee height). Radiating from this were the remains of locomotive bays, as well as the foundations of inspection pits which allowed engineers to access the engines from below.
In the area surrounding the roundhouse, several long culverts (structures allowing water flow) built from curved bricks were uncovered, which would have drained water away from the structure, essential for a building situated on low-lying land near a canal.The future of Curzon Street
As the archaeological works conclude, the site will once again be at the heart of the rail network within the new Birmingham Curzon Street Station complex, and we are looking at the most appropriate ways to safeguard and preserve this highly significant archaeological find.
The arrival of HS2 will see the site become home to the first brand new intercity terminus station built in Britain since the 19th Century. Birmingham Curzon Street station will be at the heart of the country’s new high-speed railway network, providing seven platforms, a new public space, and integration with an extended tram network.
The archaeological programme at Curzon Station Yard is being carried out by experts from Headland Archaeology with DJV (WSP UK), on behalf of LM.