Birthplace of iconic trains given listed status

The Flying Scotsman back in Doncaster Plant works (D3549MB)
The Flying Scotsman back in Doncaster Plant works (D3549MB)

Historic plant works deemed a key part of the nation’s heritage after enthusiast’s campaign

It is the birthplace of some of the most famous steam locomotives in the world - and it has now cemented its place in history thanks to a campaign by an eagle-eyed Doncaster railway enthusiast.

I was amazed when I found out it wasn’t listed

Barry Lifsey

It might not look much to the untrained eye, but a cavernous brick building at the town’s historic Plant Works site has now been deemed to be a key part of the nation’s heritage after being awarded listed building status.

And when you consider that its where both the Flying Scotsman and Mallard were conceived, designed and built along with hundreds of other famed steam locos, it seems remarkable that it was a former worker at the Hexthorpe rail depot who was behind the project to preserve the workshop for the nation.

For Barry Lifsey, who spent nearly three decades repairing and working on dozens of trains at the sprawling industrial site, spearheaded the drive to get the New Erecting Shop its Grade II status meaning its future is now assured.

He said: “I was amazed when I found out it wasn’t listed.

“Other parts of the site were but the building where the Mallard and Flying Scotsman were built appeared to have been overlooked. They are some of the most well-known and important locomotives in the world and helped put Doncaster on the map and I thought it was essential that the building where they were created was preserved.”

Both the Flying Scotsman and Mallard are synonymous with the golden age of steam railways - the former one of the world’s best known locomotives after becoming the first steam loco to smash the 100mph barrier while Mallard, which arrived 15 years later also retains its place in the record books as the holder of the fastest steam train ever built.

His mission to give the workshop the status it deserves got underway while discussing his days at the Plant, now owned and run by Wabtec Rail, with former colleagues.

“We were just saying how sad it was to see Doncaster’s heritage being lost,” said Barry, 72, of Finningley.

“I did a bit of digging around, looking at the history and found that the the new erecting shop didn’t have listed building status. That started the ball rolling,” said Barry, who started work at the Hexthorpe Road site in 1958 as an office boy.

He spent the next eighteen months poring over books, documents and photographs, visiting Doncaster libraries and scouring through the borough archives to prepare a detailed report for English Heritage, pressing for the preservation of the huge building, which has two fitting bays and where more than 2,000 steam locomotives were built.

“It took a long time and a lot of research, but English Heritage wanted a very detailed report,” he said.

“But they were great, they kept me informed every step of the way,” said Barry, who was eventually made redundant from the Plant in 1987, by which time he had worked his way through the ranks to become an industrial engineer.

As it was, he needn’t have worried - English Heritage agreed with his findings and shortly before Christmas last year he received a letter informing him of the organisation’s decision to give the building Grade II listed status.

“It was brilliant when the news came through - the best Christmas present ever,” he added. “I was over the moon.”

While there will be no official ceremony to mark Barry’s painstaking research, it now means the building is protected - meaning that its imposing structure will remain in its current form on Doncaster’s skyline for decades to come.

It is also the culmination of a labour of love project for Barry of Gatesbridge Park and for his own family, with his son, father, two grandfathers, an uncle and an auntie all having being employed at the works over the years.

“It is where the best known locomotives in the world were built. It is only right that we preserve it and give Doncaster people the knowledge that we have a very important building right on our doorstep.”