Seeing the roundhouse, 1973

Some months ago I included a page about the recently uncovered roundhouses. Tony Finn remembers the site before it was covered: “I saw this from a passing train … when the remains of the floor of the Holgate Roundhouses were still visible, but the age of steam was over, and I was moved to write the poem below.”


(On seeing the site of the roundhouse at York in 1973)

Now that they’ve pulled down the roundhouse,

Only the tiled floor remains,

Where stood the fiery monsters,

Awaiting the needs of their trains.

In the hall of this great rotunda

Rested the kings of the rail,

Cleaned and polished and painted,

Prepared for the iron trail.

Here were the works of the famous

Designers, who left their mark

On Mogul, Atlantic, Pacific,

Asleep in the circular dark.

I remember the gloom – how the cleaners

Toil through the misty night,

Scraping and rubbing and oiling,

Restoring the giant’s might.

Three-thirty. The fire is lighted,

The steam gauge begins to rise

Till the safety valves gently whisper –

The engine’s awakening sighs.

Now as the daybreak quickens,

Sign on the duty crew,

Taking command on the footplate,

Checking their giant through.

Sharply the cylinders blow down

As the monster angrily snorts,

Impatient for starting his journey

To faraway cities and ports.

Slowly the lever moves over,

Admitting the power of steam,

Produced by the burning of fossils,

Controlled by this two man team.

The giant is gently revolving,

Pointing his shining black head

Round to that gleaming rectangle,

Which marks out the door of the shed.

Out of the smoky black darkness

Emerges the splendid machine,

Puffing and panting and clanking

And wreathed in a veil of steam.

Off shed! And down to the station

Proclaiming his might and his main,

This vision of power and glory

Gently backs on to his train.

Green flag! A blast of the whistle!

The signalling beckons him on,

With two strips of silver to guide him,

He mightily roars and is gone.

Wishing I really could see this,

I blink — it is only a dream!

Gone are the great locomotives,

Gone is the era of steam.

About Lisa @YorkStories

Lisa @YorkStories is the creator, administrator, and writer of content on She can be contacted on this link or via Twitter, @YorkStories
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