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“Who could have credited the possibility of a ponderous engine of iron, loaded with some hundred passengers, in a train of carriages of corresponding magnitude, and a large quantity of water and coal, taking flight from Manchester and arriving at Liverpool, a distance of above thirty miles, in little more than an hour?  And yet this is a matter of daily and almost hourly occurrence.”

The Steam Engine Explained, Dionysius Lardner (1840).

Numerous individuals contributed to the development of the reciprocating steam engine and to its later adaption to railway traction, but a handful of names stand out.  This chapter summarises their contributions to the state of development that the railway locomotive had reached at the opening of the Stockton and Darlington Railway in 1825.  Later developments are dealt with in Chapter 12.

The first practical application of the steam engine was for pumping water from mines.  Until then, the depth at which mining could be carried out had been restricted by the limited ability of horse-operated equipment to drain water from the workings.

Papin’s pump of 1704.

Water enters the system through valve L.  The boiler (B) and cylinder (C) are fitted with weighted safety-valves.  When valve D is opened, steam is admitted to the cylinder, forcing down the piston, which drives the water beneath it into the reservoir through valve K and in the process compressing the air above it.  The steam in cylinder C is condensed to form a vacuum, which forces the piston upwards, drawing more water into the system through valve L and closing valve K.  Closure of valve K removes the steam pressure causing the water in the reservoir to be expelled through valve M under the action of the compressed air above it.


The 1698 Savery Engine.

The Frenchman Dionysius Papin (1647-1714) was among the early inventors of the steam engine and to him goes the credit for being the first to derive thrust from a piston within a cylinder.  From 1690 until about 1707 ― when he published The New Art of Pumping Water by Using Steam ― Papin built a number of steam engines including a successful piston-operated water pump, but he did not develop it commercially.  His contemporary, Thomas Savery (1650-1715), developed a thermic siphon ― other than valves, it had no moving parts ― which relied on a vacuum created by condensed steam to draw water up into a storage chamber from where, after the operation of valves, it was expelled by steam pressure.  Because Savery’s siphon lifted water by vacuum, it needed to be no more than 30 feet above the water it was to pump, which for mining operations was impractical, while the working models are reported to have suffered failures due the crude engineering methods of the age.

The distinction for creating the first practical steam-driven pump goes to Thomas Newcomen (c. 1663-1729), an ironmonger from Exeter in Devon, who succeeded in developing the ideas and techniques advanced by Papin and Savery to develop an ‘atmospheric’ steam engine, the earliest working example of which is believed to have entered service at the Wheal Vor mine on the south coast of Cornwall, although examples appear to have reached the North of England at about the same time:

“The first steam engine erected in the north was at Oxclose, near Washington; the next at Norwood, near Ravensworth.  About the year 1713, or 1714, the first steam engine in Northumberland was erected at Byker colliery, the property of Richard Ridley, Esq.”

An Historical, Topographical, and Descriptive View of the County of Northumberland, Eneas Mackenzie (1825).


The Newcomen engine.

– Steam is shown pink and water is blue.
– Valves move from open (green) to closed (red)

The Newcomen engine comprised a reciprocating piston (as utilised by Papin) coupled to a pump rod via a rocking beam.  Steam injected into the engine’s cylinder drove the piston upwards while the beam drove the pump rod downwards.  When the piston reached the top of its stroke, cold water was injected into the cylinder beneath to condense the steam.  The resulting vacuum caused the piston to be drawn back to its starting position under atmospheric pressure (as utilised by Papin and Savery), raising the pump rod in the process.  At this point the cycle was repeated.

In the Newcomen engine, the constant heating and cooling of the cylinder wasted a great deal of heat.  Nevertheless, it represented a great advance in pumping, which enabled mining to be carried out at much greater depths:

“Newcomen and Cawleys [1] engines were found to answer the purpose of raising water so well, that in a few years they were introduced into Russia, Sweden, France, and Hungary; and about 1760 one was imported by the proprietors of the old copper mine near Belleville, New Jersey.  They in fact imparted a new and very beneficial impulse to mining operations, and quickly raised the value of mining stock.  Deluged works were recovered, old mines deepened, and new ones opened in various districts, both in Great Britain and continental Europe: nor were they confined to draining mines, but were employed to raise water for the use of towns and cities, and even to supply water wheels of mills.”

A Descriptive and Historical Account of Hydraulic and Other Machines, Thomas Ewbank (1842).

Despite being rendered obsolete by the later developments of James Watt, the cheapness and simplicity of Newcomen engines led to their continued manufacture until well into the 19th Century.



Watt improved the Newcomen steam engine in a number of ways.  He invented the purpose-built condenser, means to produce rotary (as opposed to reciprocating) motion, the centrifugal governor and the double-acting engine.

In a Newcomen-type engine, the cylinder doubled up as a condenser.  At the end of the up-stroke the steam within it was condensed to form a vacuum ― cooling the cylinder in the process ― to draw the piston back to its starting position.  However, by exhausting the spent steam into a separate condenser, a vacuum was formed beneath the piston without needing to cool the cylinder, and this significantly improved the engine’s thermal efficiency.  Watt’s development of rotary motion enabled his engines to be used to drive factory machinery, in which context his use of the ‘centrifugal governor’ to regulate an engine’s speed of rotation automatically was another important advance. [2]  But Watt’s development of greatest importance to railway traction was the ‘double acting’ steam engine:

“In the specification of his third patent, 1782, he [Watt] says, ‘My second improvement upon steam or fire engines consists in employing the elastic power of the steam to force the piston upwards, and also to press it downwards, by alternately making a vacuum above or below the piston respectively; and at the same time employing the steam to act upon the piston, in that end or portion of the cylinder which is not exhausted.  An engine constructed in this manner, can perform twice the quantity of work (with a cylinder of the same size) or exert double the power, in the same time which has hitherto been done by any steam-engine, in which the active force of the steam is exerted upon the piston only in one direction, whether upwards or downwards.’”

A Treatise on the Steam Engine, John Farey (1827).

In both the Newcomen and the early Watt atmospheric engines, the pressure of expanding steam on the piston delivered one power stroke, while the return stroke was delivered by a vacuum formed by condensing the spent steam.  In a ‘double-acting’ steam engine, the pressure of expanding steam is used to deliver both power strokes. [3]  This is achieved using what in effect is a two-part cylinder; the cylinder proper contains the piston that delivers the thrust, the adjacent ‘steam chest’ contains a sliding valve (the ‘slide valve’), the backward and forward motion of which is used to direct the passage of live and exhaust steam, to and from the cylinder.


Two applications of the double-acting steam engine.  Above, a stationary steam engine powering a drive belt; below, a railway locomotive.  Live steam (pink) enters the steam chest from the boiler.  A slide valve introduces steam into the cylinder alternately through the two steam ports.  As live steam is introduced to one side of the piston, spent steam (blue) is exhausted from the other.  The slide valve is driven by an eccentric, coupled at one end to the crank and at the other to the valve rod.  When the engine is in motion, this coupling causes the slide valve to move back and forth, alternately covering and exposing the steam and exhaust ports.

Watt never attempted to apply his developments of the steam engine to road or rail traction, but he did include that possibility in his patent of 1784.  Of this group of seven ‘new improvements’, the second ― a method for dispensing with chains and instead connecting the piston rod of the double-acting engine directly to the rocking beam, to permit ‘push’ as well as ‘pull’ ― was of the most immediate practical value.  His seventh, however, came as close as Watt ever approached the subject of traction and is interesting for its description of his thoughts on the subject:

“My seventh new improvement is upon steam engines which are applied to give motion to wheel carriages for removing persons or goods, or other matters, from place to place, and in which cases the engines themselves must be portable.  Therefore, for the sake of lightness, I make the outside of the boiler of wood, or of thin metal, strongly secured by hoops, or otherwise, to prevent it from bursting by the strength of the steam; and the fire is contained in a vessel of metal within the boiler, and surrounded entirely by the water to be heated, except at the apertures destined to admit air to the fire, to put in the fuel, and to let out the smoke; which latter two apertures may either be situated opposite to one another in the sides of the boiler, or otherwise, as is found convenient; and the aperture to admit air to the fire may be under the boiler.  The form of the boiler is not very essential, but a cylindric or globular form is best calculated to give strength.  I use cylindrical steam vessels with pistons, as usual in other steam engines, and I employ the elastic force of steam to give motion to these pistons, and after it has performed its office I discharge it into the atmosphere by a proper regulating valve, or I discharge it into a condensing vessel made air-tight and formed of thin plates or pipes of metal, having their outsides exposed to the wind, or to an artificial current of air produced by a pair of bellows, or by some similar machine wrought by the engine or by the motion of the carriage; which vessel, by cooling and condensing part of the steam, does partly exhaust the steam vessel, and thereby adds to the power of the engine, and also serves to save part of the water of which the steam was composed, and which would otherwise be lost. In some cases I apply to this use engines with two cylinders which act alternately . . . .”

Origin and Progress of the Mechanical Inventions of James Watt, J. Muirhead (1854).

He then goes on to describe the means by which the engine would propel the vehicle.

Watt’s patent recognises some of the requirements that would become essential to the later development of the steam locomotive, whether on road or rail.  It states the need for lightness, and while it allows for the use of an air-cooled condenser, both to improve engine efficiency and to save on water consumption, its main suggestion for handling spent steam is to exhaust it into the atmosphere; but it seems that Watt did not imagine using exhaust steam to draw the fire through a blast pipe.  A two-cylinder configuration is also described, which was widely adopted in the development of the steam railway locomotive, although not at first.

Why Watt never attempted to make practical use of this proposal is a matter of conjecture.  His aversion to the use of high pressure steam, born of the inadequate boiler technology of the age, ruled out the development of a power plant suitable for propelling a steam road carriage; but even if he had developed a high pressure engine, the carriage it propelled would have had to face the further challenge of the appalling road surfaces of the age.  Watt appears not to have considered his engine’s use on a railway, but as events were to prove a similar problem existed in that the cast-iron plate rails of the time were too brittle to support the weight and stresses created by a moving steam locomotive.  As Boulton and Watt’s business in static engines was blossoming, they probably saw no commercial justification in undertaking the expensive research and development necessary to develop a reliable steam road carriage ― and, as Trevithick was later to discover, there was at any rate no market for such a vehicle.



Richard Trevithick takes the honours for inventing and demonstrating the first workable steam road and rail locomotives.  However, because there are no accurate contemporaneous descriptions of his trials, what there is had to be assembled years later by his son Francis, based on correspondence and on the recollections of those who witnessed them.  Unsurprisingly, the accounts so compiled are in places incomplete and inconsistent.

Richard Trevithick (1771-1833).

Richard Trevithick came from a family of mining engineers.  Thus, from an early age he was familiar with the Newcomen and Watt engines used for mine drainage in his locality and by the 1790s he was building his own.

By the end of the 18th Century, boiler engineering had reached the stage at which the safe production of steam at a comparatively high pressure was possible. [4]  This permitted the construction of a double-acting steam engine of much smaller dimensions than a Watt or Newcomen engine of comparable power.  Furthermore, because a high pressure engine does not (like its low pressure counterpart) rely on atmospheric pressure, its spent steam could be exhausted directly into the atmosphere thereby dispensing with the need for a cumbersome condenser.  The saving in space and weight thus achieved made possible the use of high pressure steam engines for road and rail traction.

Unlike Watt, who had no interest in the subject, Trevithick went on to develop the double-acting engine for traction purposes, and while he wasn’t the first in the field of steam road vehicles [5] he was the first to achieve a measure of success ― albeit short-lived on each occasion ― with his use of high pressure steam:

“Stuart, [6] writing fifty years after the date of the Watt patent, clearly defined the difference, in principle and in practice, of the rival engineers.  Trevithick increased the steam pressure from one atmosphere, or 14½ lbs. on the square inch, to 50 or 60 lbs., and by it impelled the piston with four times the force of a Watt low-pressure steam vacuum engine.  Hebert, who wrote thirteen years later, [7] still illustrates the marked difference in the two men by pointing out that, in 1784, Watt gave his views of a steam-carriage, and Murdoch tried his hand at one.  Watt proposed a wooden boiler, a cylinder 7 inches in diameter, with a stroke of 1 foot, and sun-and-planet wheels.  It is not said that it was to carry condensing water, but such may reasonably be inferred . . . . Trevithicks high-pressure engine, which was worked by the force of steam 60 lbs. or more on the square inch, wholly discarded the vacuum; and certainly without this radical change there could have been no locomotion.”

Life of Richard Trevithick, Francis Trevithick (1872).


Replica of Trevithick’s Puffing Devil.

Trevithick’s first road vehicle, the Puffing Devil, emerged in 1801.  Its cylindrical cast-iron boiler produced steam at some 60 lbs per square inch.  The engine’s single cylinder was fixed within the boiler and exhausted into the chimney, in the process heating the boiler feed water and causing a draught through the fire.  The Puffing Devil demonstrated an ability to carry a number of passengers up an incline, but during further testing it overturned on the poor road surface.  Eventually righted, the carriage was left unattended while its operators retired to a nearby alehouse for refreshment:

“The travelling engine took its departure from Camborne Church Town for Tehidy on the 28th of December, 1801, where I was waiting to receive it.  The carriage, however, broke down, after travelling very well, and up an ascent, in all about three or four hundred yards.  The carriage was forced under some shelter, and the parties adjourned to the hotel, and comforted their hearts with a roast goose, and proper drinks, when, forgetful of the engine, its water boiled away, the iron became red hot, and nothing that was combustible remained, either of the engine or the house.”

From a letter quoted on p117, Life of Richard Trevithick, Francis Trevithick (1872).

The Puffing Devil must have given Trevithick and Andrew Vivian, his business partner, sufficient encouragement to include in their patent application for a steam-powered sugar cane crushing machine . . . .

“Methods for improving the construction of steam engines, and the application thereof for driving carriages, and for other purposes.”

. . . . together with a drawing of the proposed vehicle.  A patent, No. 2599, was granted on 25th March 1802.

In his biography of his father, Francis Trevithick mentions that a further steam road carriage, the ‘Tuckingmill Locomotive’, was then built, presumably to replace the Puffing Devil:

“Mr. Anthony Michell came to live at Redruth in November, 1802, and shortly after, about the spring of 1803, a great many persons went to Tuckingmill to see Captain Dick Trevithick’s puffer locomotive that was going to run from Camborne to Redruth, about three or four miles . . . . I could not go.  They said, that in going up the Tuckingmill hill towards Redruth, the driving wheels slipped around and sunk into the road, and they could not get her on; it was a very steep and crooked road.  Everybody was talking about it . . . .”

From a letter quoted on p120, Life of Richard Trevithick, Francis Trevithick (1872).

What little is known about the ‘Tuckingmill Locomotive’ comes from hearsay and from what onlookers recalled years after the event.  It is believed that the carriage performed longer journeys than its predecessor and that Trevithick reused its engine in his London steam carriage experiment of 1803.

Another mystery from this period is the ‘Coalbrookdale Locomotive’, which might lay claim to being the world’s first steam railway locomotive but for the fact that very little is known about it.  What evidence exists lies mainly in a drawing held in the Science Museum ― which dimensional evidence suggests is of the locomotive built at Coalbrookdale ― and in a concluding remark in a letter written by Trevithick on the 22nd August 1802, while at Coalbrookdale, to Davies Giddy, in which he says that:

“The Dale [Coalbrookdale] Company have begun a carriage at their own cost for the railroads, and are forcing it with all expedition”.

Trevithick was at Coalbrookdale to supervise construction of a pumping engine, which he describes in his letter; it might be that the pumping tests that he describes were of the locomotive under static test.  But there is no record of whether the “carriage” he refers to in his letter was completed and ran successfully on rails.

In 1803, Trevithick carried out further trails of a steam road vehicle now generally referred to as ‘The London Locomotive’. [8]  A great improvement on predecessors, it was lighter and its use of a horizontal rather than a vertical cylinder, improved its steadiness while in motion, a lesson that was forgotten by the early railway locomotive designers.  Having wheels of large diameter enabled it to pass more readily over the poor road surfaces of the age that had brought Trevithick’s Camborne locomotive to a standstill.

Following trials at Camborne, the engine for the London Locomotive was shipped to the Metropolis in January 1803.  The drawings that accompanied the original patent, together with a contemporaneous artist’s impression, show the engine mounted on the frame of a locally assembled carriage.  The body of the carriage, believed to have been capable of accommodating eight passengers, was mounted over the engine and boiler between the large driving wheels, and was supported on springs fixed to the frame.

Trevithick’s ‘London Locomotive’ or ‘London Steam Carriage’ in elevation and in plan.


The engine and boiler were of wrought iron.  The boiler had an internal return fire-tube, which meant that the fire-door and chimney were at the same end (see illustration).  The cylinder, fixed horizontally within the boiler, drove a crank placed under the carriage (a cranked axle did not appear in railway locomotive use until the Rainhill Trials in 1829).  Coal and water were carried on the engine platform.  Spent steam was directed into the chimney; this helped draughting, thereby assisting the small boiler to produce the necessary amount of steam.

Trials of the carriage took place on the streets of central London on a number of occasions over several months.  Writing in 1837, Hebert says that . . . .

“There are thousands of persons now living in London who saw the steam coaches of Messrs. Trevithick and Vivian running about the waste ground in the vicinity of the present Bethlehem Hospital; and likewise in the neighbourhood or site of Euston Square.  This was thirty four years ago.”

A Practical Treatise on Rail-roads and Locomotive Engines, Luke Hebert (1837).

. . . . and  1845, Andrew Vivian’s son recalled that . . . .

“My father went to London in 1801, and again in 1802.  He himself worked the engine when it ran from Leather Lane, from the shop of Mr. Felton (who built the carriage, and he and his sons were with the engine all the first day it ran), through Liquorpond Street, into Grays Inn Lane, by Lords Cricket Ground, to Paddington and Islington, and back to Leather Lane.”

. . . . and speaking in 1860, a shopkeeper remembered seeing . . . .

“Mr. Trevithicks steam-carriage go through Oxford Street; the shops were closed, and numbers of persons were waving handkerchiefs from the houses; no horses or carriages were allowed in the street during the trial.  The carriage moved along very quickly, and there was great cheering.  At that time she kept a shop next door to the Pantheon, and it, like the others, was closed.”

But despite its apparent success, the steam carriage attracted no commercial interest and the trials, which were proving expensive, came to an end.  The steam carriage was sold for what it would fetch, its engine eventually powering a rolling-mill.
During this period, Trevithick had been building high-pressure steam engines for industrial use, one of which, a forge engine, had been installed to drive hammers at the at the Pen-y-Darren Ironworks at Merthyr Tydfil in South Wales.  This was to become the setting for the world’s first recorded locomotive-hauled train.  Rees Jones, the works’ engine fitter, helped Trevithick with the installation after which construction began on a railway locomotive.  Jones later recalled that he helped with the assembly using components manufactured on site, but other sources claim that some parts were manufactured in Cornwall.

The story now took a interesting turn.  Samuel Homfray, the proprietor of the Pen-y-Darren Ironworks, while discussing the principles and feasibility of locomotive haulage with Richard Crawshay, ironmaster of the nearby Cyfartha Ironworks, entered into a 1,000 guinea [9] wager with him that he could not convey a load of iron along the Merthyr Tydfil tram-road, from Pen-y-Darren to Abercynon, a distance of 9¾ miles.  Whether the bet led to the locomotive’s construction or was made while this was in progress, is unclear; suffice it to say that a great deal of money was at stake on the outcome of the venture.

There are conflicting descriptions of the locomotive, but according to Jones, who was on the spot ― albeit writing 54-years after the event . . . .

“The boiler was made of wrought iron, having a breeches tube also of wrought iron, in which was the fire.  The pressure of steam used was about 40 lbs. to the inch.  The cylinder was horizontal; it was fixed in the end of the boiler.  The diameter of the cylinder was about 4¾ inches.  The three-way cock was used as a valve.  The engine had four wheels.  These wheels were smooth; they were coupled by cog-wheels.  There was no rack-work on the road; the engine progressed simply by the adhesion of the wheels.  The steam from the cylinder was discharged into the stack.”

A replica of Trevithick’s Pen-y-Darren ‘tram-waggon’ at Blists Hill, Ironbridge Gorge Museum.

Rees Jones goes on to confirm that the locomotive ran well, a point taken up by Trevithick in a letter dated 15th February 1804, in which he informed Davies Giddy that . . . .

“. . . . we lighted the fire in the tram-waggon, and worked it without the wheels to try the engine.  On Monday we put it on the tramroad.  It worked very well, and ran up hill and down with great ease, and was very manageable.  We had plenty of steam and power.  I expect to work it again to-morrow. . . .”

. . . . and a few days later . . . .

“The tram-waggon has been at work several times.  It works exceedingly well, and is much more manageable than horses.  We have not tried to draw more than 10 tons at a time, but I doubt not we could draw 40 tons at a time very well; 10 tons stand no chance at all with it.  We have been but two miles on the road and back again, and shall not go farther until Mr. Homfray comes home.”

There is no definitive account of the event, those that exist being written some years later.  In 1812, Trevithick set down his recollections:

“About six years since I turned my thoughts to this subject, and made a travelling steam-engine at my own expense, to try the experiment.  I chained four waggons to the engine, each loaded with 2½ tons of iron, besides seventy men riding in the waggons, making altogether about 25 tons, and drew it on the road from Merthyr to the Quakers Yard, in South Wales, a distance of 9¾ miles, at the rate of four miles per hour, without the assistance of either man or beast; and then without the load drove the engine on the road sixteen miles per hour.  I thought this experiment showed to the public quite enough to recommend it to general use; but though a thing that promised to be of so much consequence, has so far remained buried, which discourages me from again trying its practice at my own expense.”

From the Life of Richard Trevithick, Francis Trevithick (1872).


The Gateshead locomotive. The piston is at the opposite end
to the Pen-y-Darren ‘tram-waggon’.

The outcome of the experiment ― which is what it proved to be ― was that Homfray won the wager.  But although Trevithick’s locomotive succeeded within its limitations, it was too heavy for the tram-road to which it caused considerable damage, and it spent the remainder of its days employed in a static role.

It is unclear how many railway locomotives Trevithick built following the Merthyr experiment.  In 1805, he speaks of visiting Newcastle to see “some of the travelling engines at work”, while Wood talks of a locomotive being sent there, but without stating when:

“The engine erected by Mr Trevithick had one cylinder only, and a fly wheel, to secure a rotatory motion in the crank at the end of each stroke.  An engine of this kind was sent to the North for Mr Blackett, of Wylam, but was, for some cause or other, never used upon his Rail-road, but applied to blow a cupola at an iron foundry in Newcastle.  Mr Blackett however had, in 1813, an engine of this kind made, and set upon his Rail-road, which worked by the adhesion of its wheels upon the rails.  Still the supposed want of adhesion formed the great obstacle to their introduction, and the attention of engineers was directed to obtain a substitute for this supposed defect”.

A Practical Treatise on Rail-roads, Nicholas Wood (1825).


A replica of Catch-me-who-can.

Whether a Trevithick locomotive was sent to Newcastle at this time is doubtful; what is less so, is that an example that drew on Trevithick’s design was constructed at Gateshead by John Steel, who had worked on the assembly of the ‘Pen-y-Darren Locomotive’.  For some reason this locomotive did not enter service, but among the many who came to see it on trial were George Stephenson and Timothy Hackworth, each of whom left their mark on the development of the steam railway locomotive.

Trevithick’s last railway locomotive, of which there is a reliable record, was constructed in 1808 for exhibition in London where it hauled a passenger carriage around a circular track making it the world’s first passenger engine.  In a letter to Davies Gilbert, dated 28th July 1808, Trevithick spoke of having constructed a line on which he ran an 8-ton locomotive that had been named Catch-me-who-can by Gilbert’s sister.  But the ground would not support the locomotive’s weight, which also damaged the rails, and the entire track had to be re-laid.

The only existing drawing of Catch-me-who-can (shown below) appears on a card or admission ticket to Trevithick’s ‘Steam Circus’.  Judging by it, the locomotive that Trevithick constructed for this venture was a considerable step forward over that he designed for Pen-y-Darren.  The horizontal cylinder, flywheel, and geared drive of the Pen-y-Darren locomotive are replaced by a vertical cylinder ― still encased within the boiler ― driving one pair of wheels directly by means of connecting rods.  The boiler was Trevithick’s usual return-flue type with an internal firebox.  The locomotive and its primitive passenger carriage were built by John Urpeth Rastrick (whose name appears later) at the Hazeldine Foundry at Bridgnorth.

Trevithick’s circular railway is described in the following letter, published in the Mechanics’ Magazine, 27th March 1847:

“Observing that it is stated in your last number (No. 1232, dated the 20th instant, page 269), under the head of ‘Twenty-one Years’ Retrospect of the Railway System’, that the greatest speed of Trevithick’s engine was five miles an hour, I think it due to the memory of that extraordinary man to declare that about the year 1808 he laid down a circular railway in a field adjoining the New Road, near or at the spot now forming the southern half of Euston Square; that he placed a locomotive engine, weighing about 10 tons, on that railway — on which I rode, with my watch in hand — at the rate of twelve miles an hour; that Mr. Trevithick then gave his opinion that it would go twenty miles an hour, or more, on a straight railway; that the engine was exhibited at one shilling admittance, including a ride for the few who were not too timid; that it ran for some weeks, when a rail broke and occasioned the engine to fly off in a tangent and overturn, the ground being very soft at the time.

Mr. Trevithick having expended all his means in erecting the works and enclosure, and the shillings not having come in fast enough to pay current expenses, the engine was not again set on the rail.”

John Isaac Hawkins, Civil Engineer.

With this speculative venture proving unsuccessful, Trevithick’s contributions to the development of the steam railway locomotive was almost at an end ― his final contribution, made some years later, is described in Chapter 12.  Other than being the first engineer to employ high pressure steam generated within a cylindrical boiler, his use of the engine’s exhaust to draw the fire and, in his earlier designs, coupling the locomotive’s driving wheels, were both to become common practice in steam locomotive design.  Overall, Trevithick proved that the steam railway locomotive was a viable proposition, an outcome that would inspire others.

Richard Trevithick died penniless, of pneumonia, at Dartford on the 22nd April 1833.  Those he had been working with contributed towards his funeral expenses and acted as his pall bearers.



In the period immediately following Catch-me-who-can, little interest was shown in taking Trevithick’s experiments forward, with one exception.  The inflationary pressure of the Napoleonic War was driving up the cost of animal feed and with it the cost of conveying coal in horse-drawn wagons from the mines in the North of England to the staithes [10] for shipping.  Thus, the next phase of development was driven by a search for economy, which prompted Christopher Blackett, owner of the Wylam Colliery near Newcastle-upon-Tyne, to invite Trevithick to construct a locomotive for use on the colliery’s wagonway:

“Among the charges, rendered so onerous by the war, to which the colliery at that time was subjected, by far the heaviest was incurred in conveying the mineral to the river, which pressed heavily upon the undertaking as a profitable investment.  Economy in the conveyance of coal became therefore an object of primary importance . . . . Mr. Blackett, in the year 1809, wrote to the celebrated Trevithick on the subject of an engine; his reply stated that he was engaged in other pursuits, and having declined the business he could render no assistance . . . . Mr. Blackett, at a period subsequent to his communication with Trevithick, applied to the most eminent engineers of the day, by whom he was told that the idea of an engine to convey carriages along a line of railroad was chimerical, and that to carry it out was physically impossible.  The fate of the locomotive engine in South Wales was quoted as establishing the fact.  The matter was considered quite hopeless.”

Who Invented the Locomotive Engine? Oswald Dodd Hedley (1858).

And so development of the railway locomotive languished until, in 1811, interest was reawakened.  But in one respect the next phase took a retrograde step, for it was generally believed ― without any basis in fact ― that the low friction between a locomotive’s smooth iron driving wheels and the equally smooth surface of the rails would prevent the wheels from gripping, consequently a locomotive would be unable to haul a useful payload.  The outcome was that much effort was spent in finding a solution to this exaggerated problem.

Against this background, the next steam locomotive to emerge was at the Middleton collieries at Leeds:

“We believe we are correct in assigning to Mr. Trevithick, of Cornwall, the honour of first applying the steam engine to the propelling of loaded waggons on railways; his scheme was improved upon by Mr. John Blenkinsop, manager of the collieries at Middleton, near Leeds, belonging to the late Charles Brandling, Esquire, of Gosforth House, Northumberland, who obtained a patent for the construction of the railway, and the steam carriage thereon, which he immediately put in practice on the road from Middleton to the coal staith at Leeds, a distance of about four miles, on which road the coals for supplying that town are daily conveyed by steam.  Since his application of the principle, most of our eminent engineers have turned their attention to the subject, and the consequence is, that in a few years we may expect travelling in steam carriages to be of as common occurrence as the conveyance of coal by the same means is now.”

Historical Account of the Navigable Rivers, Canals, and Railways, etc. Joseph Priestley (1831).

The colliery manager, John Blenkinsop, knew of Trevithick’s experiments and decided to try a steam locomotive on the colliery wagonway. [11]  Trevithick’s railway experiments had been marred by the tendency of the brittle cast-iron plate rails to break under his locomotive’s weight.  Thus, the challenge for Blenkinsop was to construct a locomotive light enough to run on cast-iron rails without damaging them, but of sufficient adhesive weight to haul a useful payload without slipping.

Blenkinsop and Murray’s Salamanca.

Together with Matthew Murray, a partner in the engineering firm of Fenton, Murray and Wood, Blenkinsop constructed a locomotive that exploited a patent that he had taken out for a ‘rack-and-pinion’ system. [12Salamanca, [13] the name given to the locomotive that emerged from Murray’s works, advanced Trevithick’s work by employing a twin-cylinder drive, but instead of the cylinders being coupled to the driving wheels they drove a cog, the teeth of which engaged with a toothed rack fitted to the outside of one of the rails.  In this way Blenkinsop ensured that his engine would not lose adhesion.  His boiler had a single flu, the engine’s spent steam being exhausted directly into the atmosphere via a flue mounted on top of the boiler barrel.  This departed from Trevithick’s scheme of directing exhaust steam into the chimney, where the draught so created helped to draw the fire.

On the 24th June 1812, a public trial took place of what became the world’s first commercially viable steam railway (see also the press report at Appendix I.):

“On Wednesday last a highly interesting experiment was made with a Machine, constructed by Messrs. Fenton, Murray and Wood, of this place, under the direction of Mr. ― BLENKINSOP, the Patentee, for the purpose of substituting the agency of steam for the use of horses in the conveyance of coals on the Iron-rail-way from the mines of J. C. Brandling, Esq. at Middleton, to Leeds.  The machine is, in fact, a steam engine of four horses power, which, with the assistance of cranks turning a cog-wheel, and iron cogs placed at one side of the rail-way, is capable of moving, when lightly loaded, at the speed of ten miles an hour.  At four oclock in the afternoon, the machine ran from the Coal-staith to the top of Hunslet Moor, where six, afterwards eight waggons of coals, each weighing 3¼ tons, were hooked to the back part.  With this immense weight, to which, as it approached the town, was super-added about 50 of the spectators mounted upon the waggons, it set off on its return to the Coal-staith, and performed the journey, a distance of about a mile and a half, principally on the dead level, in 23 minutes, without the slightest accident.

The experiment, which was witnessed by thousands of spectators, was crowned with complete success; and when it is considered that this invention is applicable to all rail-roads, and that upon the works of Mr. Brandling alone, the use of 50 horses will be dispensed with, and the corn necessary for the consumption of, at least, 200 men saved, we cannot forbear to hail the invention as of vast public utility, and to rank the inventor amongst the benefactors of his country.”

Leeds Mercury, 27th June 1812.

Murray went on to build three further locomotives of the type, one of which subsequently worked on Tyneside where it was seen by George Stephenson, who used it as the model for his own adhesion locomotive, Blücher, [14] and another suffered a catastrophic boiler failure:

“We lament to state that the steam-impelled engine of J. C. Brandling, Esq. employed on the rail-way of his colliery near Leeds, exploded about five oclock on Saturday afternoon.  We regret to add, that the engineer is literally blown to pieces.  Several children who were near the place have been severely scalded, but we believe that no other life has been lost on this melancholy occasion.”

Morning Post, 3rd March 1818.

Two further approaches to solving the imagined adhesion problem appear ― to modern eyes at least ― unconventional.  That advanced by Chapman has a present-day descendent in the ‘chain ferry’:

“In December, 1812, Messrs. William and Edward Chapman obtained a patent for a mode of effecting the loco-motion of the engine by means of a chain stretched along the middle of the Rail-road, the whole length, properly secured at each end and at proper intervals.  This chain was made to wind partly round, or to pass over, a grooved wheel, turned by the engine, of such a form that the wheel could not turn round without causing the chain to pass along with it.  When this wheel was turned round by the engine, as the chain was fastened firmly at the end, it could not be drawn forwards by the wheel, the carriage was therefore moved forward in the line of the chain.  The carriages containing the goods were attached to the engine carriage, and thus conveyed along the Rail-road.”

A Practical Treatise on Rail-roads, Nicholas Wood (1825).

In effect, the Chapman locomotive put in reverse the use of cable-haulage by a stationary steam engine, a system later used at, among other places, the Stockton and Darlington Railway and the Euston to Camden incline of the London and Birmingham Railway.  Tried out at Heaton and Lambton collieries, according to Nicholas Wood “it was soon abandoned; the great friction, by the use of the chain, would operate considerably against it, and also its liability to get out of order”.

Brunton’s Mechanical Traveller’ of 1813.

A number of inventions appeared at this time that were designed to be pushed along by mechanically operated legs.  One example was William Brunton’s Mechanical Traveller, which to a contemporary writer appeared to be “a machine of great singularity”.  Surprisingly, perhaps, there is evidence that the locomotive actually worked, but its boiler exploded killing 13 onlookers and ending its trials.

Setting aside eccentric solutions to this imagined problem, a locomotive appeared in 1813 that was capable of hauling a useful payload without the need for rack and pinion, chain haulage, mechanical legs or any aid to adhesion other than its own weight.  Commissioned by Cristopher Blackett, owner of the previously mentioned Wylam Colliery, the design of the world’s first practical adhesion steam locomotive, Puffing Billy, was based on experimental data:

“Hitherto . . . . the only feasible scheme of obtaining effectual locomotion seemed to be the procuring some fulcrum, as it were, upon which to operate with steam, or to propel by rack work, pulling, or thrusting.  To operate by mere friction or gravity had not as yet occurred to any one, until the late William Hedley, Esq., Viewer, who had the direction of Wylam Colliery, conceived the idea and having satisfied himself by a variety of experiments with the waggon-way carriages, he took out a patent for the invention, which bears date March 13th, 1813.  The experiments were made by men placed upon the carriages, and working the teeth gear by means of handles.  The weight of the carriage, and the number of waggons drawn after it varied, but came to corresponding results, which were decisive of the fact, that the friction of the wheels of an engine carriage upon the rails was sufficient to enable it to draw a train of loaded waggons.  So conclusive were the experiments, that an engine was immediately constructed.”

Who Invented the Locomotive Engine? Oswald Dodd Hedley (1858).

The locomotive was built by Blackett’s manager, William Hedley, assisted by the colliery’s enginewright Jonathan Forster and blacksmith Timothy Hackworth. [15]  As with other locomotives of its era, Puffing Billy was really a stationary beam engine mounted upon a suspensionless carriage.  Hedley used two externally mounted vertical cylinders ― in itself a step forward ― to drive a single crank-shaft connected to the driving wheels through gearing.  Steam was produced in a cylindrical boiler working at 50 lbs per sq. in., which, as was typical of the return-flue type, was fired from the chimney-end of the locomotive, the driver being stationed at the opposite end of the boiler facing the fireman.

In its original four-wheeled form, the locomotive proved too heavy for the colliery’s cast-iron plateway, which it damaged.  To remedy this, Puffing Billy was rebuilt with four axles (as shown above) to reduce its axle weight.  Later in her career, when the plateway was replaced with wrought iron edge rails, she was returned to four flanged driving wheels and in this form remained in service until withdrawn in 1862.  Two further locomotives, Wylam Dilly and Lady Mary, were later built to broadly the same design: [16]

“On the Killingworth railroad locomotive engines are used.  One of these engines, it is stated, draws twelve waggons at the rate of four miles an hour for twelve hours each day.  The locomotive machines on Wylam rail-road travel with nine waggons at a much quicker pace.  A stranger is naturally struck with the imposing appearance of an engine moving without animal power, with celerity and majesty, along a road with a number of loaded carriages in its train.  The coal waggon, which is formed like an inverted prismoid, is moved on four wheels of cast-iron, and has a false bottom hung with hinges, and fastened by a hasp.  When the waggon has arrived at the staith, the hasp is knocked out, and the coals fall into a spout below, which conveys them into the ships or keels, or into a storehouse underneath.”

An Historical, Topographical, and Descriptive View of the County of Northumberland, Eneas Mackenzie (1825).

Puffing Billy still at work in 1862.  Note the fireman and driver stationed at opposite ends of the return flue boiler.

Puffing Billy replica ― movie clip


A replica of Puffing Billy at Beamish Museum, County Durham.

Above and below: an example of an early steam locomotive ― a replica of the ‘Steam Elephant’ at Beamish Museum, County Durham.

The original locomotive is believed to have been designed in 1815 by John Buddle and William Chapman for the Wallsend Waggonway and colliery at Wallsend on the north bank of the River Tyne.  The design for the replica was based largely on a contemporaneous painting by an unknown artist.


The locomotive had a centre-flue boiler with two vertical cylinders of about 9 by 24 inches set into its top centreline (in the picture below, the safety valve is on the right).  The cylinders drove slide bar mounted beams which turned crankshafts driving the axles through 2:1 reduction gears between the frames. The locomotive’s frame, of wooden construction, lacked any form of suspension.



George Stephenson (1781-1848),  civil and mechanical engineer.

Having watched the progress of the Wylam locomotives, George Stephenson suggested to the owners of the Killingworth Colliery that they would benefit from the use of steam traction:

“In the early part of the year 1814, an engine was constructed at Killingworth Colliery, by Mr. George Stephenson, and on the 25th July, 1814, was tried upon that Rail-road.  This engine had two cylinders each eight inches diameter, and two feet stroke; the boiler was circular, eight feet long, and thirty-four inches diameter; the tube twenty inches diameter, passing through the boiler . . . .  This engine was tried upon the Killingworth Colliery Rail-road, July 27, 1814, upon a piece of road with the edge rail, ascending about one yard in four hundred and fifty, to draw after it, exclusive of its own weight, eight loaded carriages, weighing altogether about thirty tons, at the rate of four miles an hour; and, after that time, continued regularly at work.”

A Practical Treatise on Rail-roads, Nicholas Wood (1825).


Named Blücher, after the Prussian general, and built in the colliery workshops under Stephenson’s direction, the locomotive had four smooth flanged driving wheels of 3 feet diameter.  These were driven by two vertical in-line cylinders of 8 inches bore by 24 inches stroke, which were semi-immersed in the boiler at opposite ends.  As in the Hedley locomotive, the piston-rods were connected to the wheels through a system of crossheads, coupling rods, crankshafts and gearing.  The wrought iron boiler ― 8 feet long by 34 inches in diameter ― contained a single 20-inch diameter flue, at one of which was the fireplace and at the other a 20-inch diameter chimney.

The locomotive proved capable of hauling a 30-ton train at a speed of 4 mph up a gradient of 1 in 450, but the geared transmission produced a noisy and spasmodic motion.  By exhausting the waste steam through the chimney rather than directly into the atmosphere, the boiler’s steam-raising ability was improved, but the geared transmission was unsuccessful.  In service, the expected savings failed to materialise and the locomotive was dismantled, its parts being recycled.

Stephenson’s next locomotive was built in collaboration with the colliery overseer, Ralph Dodds, in 1815.  In it, Stephenson replaced its predecessor’s geared transmission with direct drive, the front and rears pistons being connected to the front and rear axles with coupling rods, which, in effect, formed cranks.  To ensure that the front and rear cranks remained at an angle of 90 degrees to each other, [17] the axles were coupled using a chain drive, for which the pair applied for and were granted a patent (summary at Appendix II.).

A Stephenson locomotive showing chain coupling and ‘steam spring’ suspension.

Stephenson’s final locomotive for Killingworth dates from 1816.  In its design his attention was directed towards distributing the locomotive’s weight evenly over its wheels using some form of suspension, a feature he had not provided previously.  This need arose from the poor condition of the colliery wagonways whose uneven surfaces caused constant jolting resulting in much wear and tear, while the weight of the swaying locomotive, distributed unevenly over its driving wheels, damaged the lightly laid rails.  Derailments were not uncommon:

“In order to avoid the dangers arising from this cause, Mr. Stephenson contrived his Steam Springs.  He so arranged the boiler of his new patent locomotive that it was supported upon the frame of the engine by four cylinders, which opened into the interior of the boiler.  These cylinders were occupied by pistons with rods, which passed downwards and pressed upon the upper side of the axles.  The cylinders opening into the interior of the boiler, allowed the pressure of steam to be applied to the upper side of the piston; and that pressure being nearly equivalent to one fourth of the weight of the engine, each axle, whatever might be it position, had at all times nearly the same amount of weight to bear and consequently the entire weight was at all times pretty equally distributed amongst the four wheels of the locomotive.  Thus the four floating pistons were ingeniously made to serve the purpose of springs in equalising the weight, and in softening the jerks of the machine; the weight of which, it must also be observed, had been increased, on a road originally calculated to bear a considerably lighter description of carriage.  This mode of supporting the engine remained in use until the progress of spring making had so far advanced that steel springs could be manufactured of sufficient strength to be used in locomotives.”

The Life of George Stephenson, Railway Engineer, Samuel Smiles (1858).

Although gas-filled suspension systems are widely used today, Stephenson’s steam springs were not a success:

“The contrivance was introduced into some of Killingworth and Hetton engines, but it is probable only about one-half or two-thirds of the weight resting upon the axles was transmitted through the supporting pistons.  At any rate they did not move in their cylinders, although they no doubt mitigated the force of the shocks between the engine and the railway, as they allowed only a part of the weight of the boiler and cylinders, instead of the whole, to act percussively upon the axles.  In their specification, Losh and Stephenson described the supporting pistons as ‘floating pistons,’ which they were not; and they added, evidently without understanding the true action of the pistons, which was different in principle from the action of springs, that inasmuch as they ‘acted upon an elastic fluid, they produced the desired effect with much more accuracy than could be obtained by employing the finest springs of steel to suspend the engine.’  The whole arrangement was, on the contrary, defective in principle, and objectionable on the score of leakage, wear, &c., and as a matter of course was ultimately abandoned.”

Locomotive Engineering, and the Mechanism of Railways, Colburn and Clark (1871).

Stephenson’s steam springs were later abandoned in favour of steel leaf springs when these could be manufactured to the required strength and when locomotive cylinders were moved away from the vertical position they had so far occupied. [18]

In addition to the steam suspension, in collaboration with William Losh, his financial backer, Stephenson introduced other innovations.  Stronger and more ductile malleable iron was used in the locomotive’s wheels in place of brittle cast-iron, which also resulted in lighter wheels.  He and Losh greatly improved the quality of the track by devising a better means of joining the rails together ― with half-lap rather than butt joints ― and for supporting the joint.  Together with the steam springs referred to, these innovations also became the subject of a patent:

“A grant unto William Losh, of the town and county of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, iron founder, and George Stephenson, of Killingworth, in the county of Northumberland, engineer, for their invented new method or new methods of facilitating the conveyance of carriages, and all manner of goods and materials along railways and tram-ways, by certain inventions and improvements in the construction of the machine, carriages, carriage wheels, railways, and tram-ways employed for that purpose.”

Patent Record Office, No 4067, 30th September, 1816.

Stephenson’s activities at this time, together with his views on steam road vehicles, are dealt with in the 1869 article taken from the Locomotive Engineers Journal at Appendix III.

The eventual form of Stephenson’s Killingwoth locomotives.

In 1820, Stephenson was engaged by the owners of Hetton Colliery to build an 8-mile railway linking the colliery to coal staithes on the River Wear near Sunderland.  Opened in 1822 (Appendix IV.), the line has the distinction of being the first railway (albeit private) designed to be mechanically operated, in this case by a combination of locomotives and stationary engines:

“On the original Hetton line there were five self-acting inclines—the full wagons drawing the empty ones up—and two inclines worked by fixed reciprocating engines of sixty-horse power each.  The locomotive travelling engine, or ‘the iron horse,’ as the people of the neighbourhood then styled it, worked the rest of the line.  On the day of the opening of the Hetton Railway, the 18th of November, 1822, crowds of spectators assembled from all parts to witness the first operations of this ingenious and powerful machinery, which was entirely successful.  On that day five of Stephensons locomotives were at work upon the railway, under the direction of his brother Robert; and the first shipment of coal was then made by the Hetton Company at their new staiths on the Wear.  The speed at which the locomotives travelled was about four miles an hour, and each engine dragged after it a train of seventeen wagons weighing about sixty-four tons.”

The Life of George Stephenson, Railway Engineer, Samuel Smiles (1858).

The five locomotives referred to ― built by Stephenson between 1820 and 1822 ― were developments of the 0-4-0 engines use at Killingworth, with two in-inline vertical cylinders, chain-coupled wheels and steam suspension.


A Hetton Colliery Locomotive at Beamish Museum, County Durham.

Built in 1822 by George Stephenson, this engine worked at Hetton until 1908, although much rebuilt and altered since.



An important development to emerge from the project to build the Stockton and Darlington Railway (Appendix V.), was the creation, in 1823, of Robert Stephenson and Company, the world’s first company specifically set up to build railway locomotives.  Until then, locomotives had been manufactured locally, either in colliery workshops or general engineering firms, [19] but Stephenson:

“. . . . had long felt that the accuracy and style of their workmanship admitted of great improvement, and that upon this the more perfect action of the locomotive engine, and its general adoption, in a great measure depended.  One principal object that he had in view in establishing the proposed factory was to concentrate a number of good workmen for the purpose of carrying out the improvements in detail which he was from time to time making in his engine; for he felt hampered by the want of efficient help from skilled mechanics, who could work out in a practical form the ideas of which his busy mind was always so prolific.”

The Life of George Stephenson, Railway Engineer, Samuel Smiles (1858).

The company was set up by George Stephenson and his son Robert, Edward Pease, Michael Longridge (a partner in the Bedlington Ironworks) and Thomas Richardson, an iron founder and Pease’s cousin.  Their workshop was in premises at Forth Street, Newcastle, where the first works manager was Timothy Hackworth, who soon moved to take up an appointment with the Stockton and Darlington Railway, there to become a distinguished mechanical engineer.

Timothy Hackworth probably had a hand in the design of the first locomotive to leave the Forth Street works, which was of the usual 0-4-0 type, much in the Killingworth/Hetton tradition.  Named Active, by the opening of the Stockton and Darlington Railway, at which event she hauled the inaugural train, she bore the name Locomotion No. 1.

Locomotion No. 1, Stockton and Darlington Railway (1825).

Steam, produced in a centre flue boiler, drove two in-line vertical cylinders enclosed within the boiler, before being exhausted into the chimney.  Piston rods were coupled by crossheads to the connecting rods, a major departure being that coupling rods now replaced the endless chain; these required return-cranks to be fitted to the wheels on the rear axle in order to clear the connecting rod.  A single crank set on the front axle operated the valves for both cylinders, but because this gave an angular advance in each running direction, valves with a form of lap and lead were fitted.  Stephenson’s steam suspension had by now been abandoned.

Replica of Locomotion No. 1 pictured during the 1925 centenary cavalcade.

Locomotion No. 1 was followed by three further locomotives of the class, Hope (November 1825), Black Diamond (April 1826) and Diligence (May 1826).  Each exhibited a major weakness inherent their single flue boilers, an abysmally poor thermal efficiency.  While heavy fuel consumption presented no significant drawback in areas where fuel was cheap and plentiful, elsewhere the steam locomotive would have proved more expensive to operate than horse traction.  Referring to the Locomotion class, the author of the following article gives some idea of the extent of the heat wasted in a single flue boiler (exacerbated by wasteful combustion due to the absence of an external firebox):

“These were constructed after Stephenson’s most matured designs, and embodied all the improvements which he had contrived up to that time.  No. 1 engine, the ‘Locomotion,’ which was first delivered, weighed about eight tons.  It had one large flue or tube through the boiler, by which the heated air passed direct from the furnace at one end, lined with fire bricks, to the chimney at the other.  The combustion in the furnace was quickened by the adoption of the steam-blast in the chimney.  The heat raised was sometimes so great, and it was so imperfectly abstracted by the surrounding water, that the chimney became almost red hot.”

Locomotive Engineers’ Journal, Vol. 4, January 1870.

The situation was improved by converting the boilers in these locomotives to return flue, as in Trevithick’s Catch-Me-Who-Can, which increased the heating area from 63 to 125 square feet.  This doubled the boiler’s evaporative power, but at the inconvenience of placing the fireman at the opposite (chimney) end of the boiler to the driver.

Comparing Stephenson’s Locomotion No. 1 with Trevithick’s Catch-Me-Who-Can, of 1808, it is difficult to see that any material advance had been made in locomotive and boiler design during the intervening years.  Locomotion’s coupled driving wheels were, perhaps, the only significant distinguishing feature, although Rocket, of 1829, while greatly advanced in other ways, reverted to the twin driving wheels last employed by Trevithick.  Thus, while Stephenson undoubtedly promoted the steam railway locomotive as the universal workhorse it was to become, several fundamental improvements were yet to be made:

“. . . . Stephenson foresaw the further advantage of locomotive power, and he had an abiding faith in the Locomotive Engine.  As improvements appeared he distinguished them clearly, and applied them successfully, in most instances at least; for in the Killingworth, Hetton, and Stockton and Darlington engines he overlooked the advantages of the return flue boiler and small chimney of the Wylam engine.  But there is no ground for asserting, as has been done, that George Stephenson was the inventor of any essential part of the Locomotive Engine; and it is difficult to say in what respect he improved its structure or working, otherwise than by adopting and successfully executing the plans and suggestions of plans of others.  There was, indeed, great merit in this, ― as much probably as Stephenson ever claimed for himself in this respect; and it no more detracts from his acknowledged sagacity and skill as an engineer, or his singular worth as a man, that he did not ‘invent’ the Locomotive Engine, than it is a reproach to Sir Isaac Newton that he did not originate the electric telegraph.”

Locomotive Engineering, and the Mechanism of Railways, Colburn and Clark (1871).

By comparison, Trevithick had the greater imagination ― perhaps even a touch of genius about him ― but, sadly, his inability to persevere was his undoing:

“Trevithick began better than Stephenson: he had friends in Cornwall and in London; and he ought not to have left to Stephenson to work out the locomotive engine and the railway.  Trevithick was always unhappy and always unlucky; always beginning something new, and never ending what he had in hand.  The world ever went wrong with him, as he said, ― but in truth he always went wrong with the world.  The world had done enough for him, had he known or had he chosen to make a right use of any one thing.  He found a partner for his high-pressure engine, ― he built a locomotive, ― he had orders for others for Merthyr Tydvil and for Wylam, ― he set his ballast engine to work, ― and he drove his tunnel under the Thames for a thousand feet; ― but no one thing did well; all were afraid, and at length no one would have anything to do with him.  It was not that his mind was more fruitful than that of Stephenson, who in this short time had made improvements in pit work, and railways, built a locomotive, and found out the safety lamp, and who throughout his life was ever working out something new.  What it was, was this ― Stephenson never lost a friend, and Trevithick never kept one.”

Civil Engineer and Architect’s Journal, p.300, Vol. XI. 1848.





From the Leeds Mercury, 18th July, 1812.

In our paper of the 27th ult. we mentioned a successful experiment made on the Iron-rail-way between Hunslet and Leeds, to ascertain the powers of a Steam-impelled Machine, by which the conveyance of coals, minerals, and other articles is facilitated, and the use of horses dispensed with.  This Machine, at once so simple, powerful and beneficial, has, as was to be expected, excited a considerable share of public attention, and we now subjoin a Drawing of the Machine and toothed Rail-way, accompanied by an abstract of the Specification of the Patent granted on the 10th of April, 1811, to the Inventor, Mr. JOHN BLENKINSOP, of Middleton, near this place.


—First, There is placed upon the road over which the conveyance is to he made, a toothed Rack or longitudinal piece of cast-iron, having the teeth or protuberances standing either upwards, or downwards, or sideways, in any required position; and this toothed Rack is continued and duly placed all along, or as far as may be required upon the ground or road.

— Secondly, There is connected with a Carriage required to bear and convey goods alone the road, a Wheel having teeth at the circumference thereof, so formed and placed as to become connected with, and fairly to act upon the teeth belonging to the rack when the Carriage shall he suitably placed with regard to the same.

— Thirdly, The Wheel is made to revolve and drive the Carriage along by the application of a Steam- Engine placed upon and carried along with the Carriage.  And further, the Wheel is connected with the first mover by a Crank, assisted by a Fly, and the connection is made either directly with the arbor of the wheel, or indirectly by other wheel-work, when the crank or other driving piece cannot with convenience or effect be fixed upon the arbor of the wheel.

— Fourthly, In order to render the motion of the carriage more easy, the Patentee avails himself of the contrivances and expedients heretofore used for improving roads, such as Platforms, Pavements, connected Timbers, and more especially the Iron rail-way, upon which the untoothed or common wheels of the carriage are made to run, and in that case the longitudinal pieces are connected with the Rail-road itself, or otherwise by preference.  One of the sides or range of pieces forming the said Rail-way is cast with teeth, that the same side or range shall constitute the toothed Rack, and at the same time afford a regular and even bearing for the Wheels and for the Toothed wheel, which (if its plane be vertical,) may he made with a side run to bear upon the smooth part of the Rail and prevent the teeth from locking too deep.

― And lastly, Motion is given to other carriages by attaching the same to the carriage upon which the first mover is placed and these other carriages are fitted up as usual without the Toothed-wheel, and where the same may be preferred, use is made of two Toothed-wheels, acting upon correspondent racks on each side.




Patents for Inventions.
Abridgements of Specifications Relating to the Steam Engine,

Vol. I (1871).

A.D. 1815, February 28. ― No. 3887.

DODDS, Ralph, and STEPHENSON, George. “The friction of four wheels propelled by two engines will propel several tons weight upon an iron railway. This was done by a cog-wheel upon each bearing axis, spurred on by a cog-wheel upon each engine’s axis, with an interleading cog wheel to combine the two engines together and keep them at right angles from one another.”  Another method was “to combine the two engines together with cog-wheels which spur themselves along a cog railway or waggon way;” “but we,” say the Patentees, “apply the power of the engine to the travelling wheels of the carriage, by joining one end of each connecting rod to a pin fixed to one of the spokes of each of the travelling wheels; which connecting rods are joined at both ends by ball and socket joints, to give way to the rise and fall of the road; and there is also a joint where the piston rod is joined to the yoke, that it may give way to the ball and socket joints.”  “The engines are kept at their proper distance apart by each bearing axle having two cranks near its centre with two connecting rods fitted at right angles to each other, and extending from one crank to the other.”

2. Or two grooved wheels that have notches into which the projecting bolts of the endless chain fall, and in which it works, are fixed in the centre of each axle.

3. Applying the friction of the bearing wheels in this way, the engines propel 60 tons or upwards upon an iron railway.  If a greater burden is to be moved, the friction of other two wheels is added, and they are made to carry the water that supplies the engine.  A groove is made in each, and a groove in the last two bearing wheels of the carriage, into which an endless chain falls.  By the propelling force of the engine this is moved along, together with the bearing wheels of the water carriage attached to it.




from the

Locomotive Engineers Journal,
Volume 3 (1869).

Mr. Stephenson’s experiments on fire damp and his labours in connection with the invention of the safety lamp, occupied but a small portion of his time, which was mainly devoted to the engineering business the colliery.  He was also giving daily attention to the improvements of his locomotive, which every day’s observation and experience satisfied him was still far from being perfect.

At that time, railways were almost exclusively confined to the colliery districts, and attracted the notice of few persons except those immediately connected with the coal trade.  Nor were the colliery proprietors generally favourable to locomotive traction.  There were great doubts as to its economy.  Mr. Blackett’s engines at Wylam were still supposed to be working at a loss; the locomotives tried at Coxlodge and Heaton, proving failures, had been abandoned; and the colliery owners seeing the various locomotive speculations prove abortive, ceased to encourage further experiments Stephenson alone remained in the field after all the other improvers and inventors of the locomotive had abandoned it in despair.  He continued to entertain confident expectations of its eventual success.  He even went so far as to say that it would yet supersede every other tractive power.  Many looked upon him as an enthusiast, which no doubt he was, but upon sufficient grounds.  As for his travelling engine, it was by most persons regarded as a curious toy; and many, shaking their heads, predicted for it “a terrible blow up some day.”  Nevertheless, it was daily performing its work with regularity, dragging the coal wagons between the colliery and staiths, and saving the labour of many men and horses.  There was not, however, so marked a saving in the expense of working, when compared with the cost of horse traction, as to induce the northern colliery masters to adopt it as a substitute for horses.  How it could be improved and rendered more efficient as well as economical was never out of Mr. Stephenson’s mind.  He was quite conscious of the imperfections both of the road and of the engine; and he gave himself no rest until he had brought the efficiency of both up to a higher point.  He worked his way step by step, slowly but surely; every step was in advance of the one preceding, and thus inch by inch was gained and made good as a basis for further improvements.

At an early period of his labours, or about the time when he had completed his second locomotive, he began to direct his particular attention to the state of the road; as he perceived that the extended use of the locomotive must necessarily depend in a great measure upon the perfection, solidity, continuity, and smoothness of the way along which the engine travelled.  Even at that early period, he was in the habit of regarding the road of the locomotive as one machine, speaking of the rail and the wheel as “man and wife.”

All railways were at that time laid in a careless and loose manner, and great inequalities of level were allowed to occur without much attention being paid to repairs; the result was that great loss of power caused, and also great wear and tear of machinery, by the frequent jolts and blows of the wheels against the rails.  His first object, therefore, was to remove the inequalities produced by the imperfect junction between rail and rail.  At that time (1816) the rails were made of cast-iron, each rail being about three feet long; and sufficient care was not taken to maintain the points of junction on the same level.  The chairs, or cast-iron pedestals into which the rails were inserted, were flat at the bottom; so that whenever any disturbance took place in the stone blocks or sleepers supporting them, the flat base of the chair upon which the rails rested, being tilted by unequal subsidence, the end of one rail became depressed, whilst that of the other was elevated.  Hence constant jolts and shocks, the reaction of which very often caused the fracture of the rails, and occasionally threw the engine off the track.

To remedy this imperfection, Mr. Stephenson devised a new chair, with an entirely new mode of fixing the rails therein. Instead of adopting the butt joint, which had hitherto been used in all cast-iron rails, he adopted the half-lap joint by which means the rails extended a certain distance over each other at the ends, somewhat like a scarf joint. These ends, instead of resting upon the flat chair, were made to rest upon the apex of a curve forming the bottom of the chair. The supports were extended from three feet nine inches or four feet apart. These rails were accordingly substituted for the old cast-iron plates on the Killingworth Colliery Railway, and they were found to be a very great improvement upon the previous system, adding both to the efficiency of the horse power (still used on the railway) and to the smooth action of the locomotive engine, but more particularly increasing the efficiency the latter.

This improved form of the rail and the chair was embodied in a patent taken out in the joint names of Mr. Losh, of Newcastle, iron-founder, and of Mr. Stephenson, bearing date the 30th of September, 1816. [A grant unto William Losh, of the town and county of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, iron founder, and George Stephenson, of Killingworth, in the county of Northumberland, engineer, for their invented new method or new methods of facilitating the conveyance of carriages, and all manner of goods and materials along railways and tram-ways, by certain inventions and improvements in the construction of the machine, carriages, carriage wheels, railways, and tram-ways employed for that purpose ― 30th September, 1816, Patent Record Office, No. 4067.]

Mr. Losh being a wealthy, enterprising iron manufacturer, and having confidence in George Stephenson and his improvements, found the money for the purpose of taking out the patent, which in those days was a very costly as well as troublesome affair.

The specification of the same patent also described various important improvements on all locomotives previously constructed.  The wheels of the engine were improved, being altered from cast to malleable iron, in whole or in part, by which they were made lighter as well as more durable and safe.  Thus the road was rendered smoother, and the wheels of the locomotive were made stronger.  But the most ingenious and original contrivance embodied in this patent was the substitute for springs, which was deviated by Mr. Stephenson.  He contrived an arrangement by which the steam generated in the boiler was made to perform this important office!  The means by which this was effected were so strikingly characteristic of true mechanical genius, that we would particularly call the reader’s attention to this ingenious device, which was the more remarkable, as it was contrived long before the possibility of steam locomotion had become an object of parliamentary inquiry, or even of public interest.

It has already been observed that up to, and indeed for some time after, the period of which we speak, there was no such class of skilled mechanics, nor were there any such machinery and tools in use as are now at the disposal of inventors and manufacturers.  The same difficulty had been experienced by Watt many years before, in the course of his improvements in the steam-engine; and on the occasion of the construction of his first condensing engine at Soho, Mr. Smeaton, although satisfied of its great superiority over Newcomen’s, expressed strong doubts as to the practicability of getting the different parts executed with the requisite precision; and he consequently argued that, in its improved form, this powerful machine would never be generally introduced.  Such was the low state the mechanical arts in those days.  Although skilled workmen were in course of gradual training in a few of the larger manufacturing towns, they did not, at the date of Stephenson’s patent, exist in any considerable numbers, nor was there then any class of mechanics capable constructing springs of sufficient strength and elasticity to support a locomotive engine ten tons in weight.

The rails then used being extremely light, the road soon became worn down by the traffic, and, from the inequalities of way, the whole weight of the engine, instead of being uniformly distributed over the four wheels, was occasionally thrown almost diagonally upon two.  Hence frequent jerks of the locomotive, and increased strength upon the slender road, which occasioned numerous breakages of the rails and chairs, and consequent interruptions to the safe working of the railway.

In order to avoid the dangers arising from this cause, Mr. Stephenson contrived his steam springs.  He so arranged the boiler of his new patent locomotive that it was supported upon the frame of the engine by four cylinders, which opened into the interior of the boiler.  These cylinders were occupied by pistons with rods, which passed downwards and pressed upon the upper side of the axles.  The cylinders opening into the interior of the boiler, allowed the pressure of steam to be applied to the upper side of the piston; and that pressure being nearly equivalent to one forth of the weight of the engine, each axle, whatever might be its position, had at all times nearly the same amount of weight to bear, and consequently the entire weight was at all times pretty equally distributed amongst the four wheels of the locomotive.  Thus the four floating pistons were ingeniously made to serve the purpose of springs in equalizing the weight, and in softening the jerks of the machine; the weight of which, it must also be observed, had been increased, on a road originally calculated to bear a considerably lighter description of carriage.  This mode of supporting the engine remained in use until the progress of spring making had so far advanced that steel springs could be manufactured of sufficient strength to be used in locomotives.

The result of the actual working of George Stephenson’s new locomotive and improved road amply justified the promises held forth in his “specification.”  The traffic was conducted with greater regularity and economy, and the superiority of the locomotive engine, as compared with horse traction, became more apparent.  And it is a fact worthy of notice, the identical engines constructed by Mr. Stephenson in 1816, are to this day to be seen in regular useful work upon the Killingworth railway, conveying heavy coal trains at the speed of between five and six miles an hour, probably as economically as any of the more perfect locomotives now in use.

Mr. Stephenson’s endeavours having been attended with such marked success in the adaptation of locomotive power to railways, his attention was called by many of his friends, about the year 1818, to the application of steam to travelling on common roads. It was from this point, indeed, that the locomotive had been started. Trevithick’s first engine having been constructed with this special object. Stephenson’s friends having observed how far behind he had left the original projector of the locomotive in its application to railroads, perhaps naturally inferred that he would be equally successful in applying it to the purpose for which Trevithick and Vivian originally intended it.

But the accuracy with which estimated the resistance to which loads were exposed on railways, arising from friction and gravity, led him at a very early stage to the idea of ever successfully team power to common road travelling.  In October, 1818, he made a series of careful experiments, in conjunction with Mr. Nicholas Wood, on the resistance to which carriages were exposed on railways, testing the results by means of a dynamometer of his own construction.  His readiness at all times with a contrivance to enable him to overcome a difficulty, and his fertility in expedients, were in no respect more strikingly displayed than in the invention of this dynamometer.  Though it was found efficient for the purpose for which it was contrived, it will not, of course, bear a comparison with other instruments for a similar purpose that have since been invented.  The series of practical observations made by means of this instrument were interesting, as the first systematic attempt to determine the precise amount of resistance to carriages moving along railways.

[The experiments are set forth in detail in “A Practical Treatise on Railroads and Interior Communications in General.” By Nicholas Wood, Colliery Viewer, C.E., London: Hurst, Chance & Co., ed. 1831, pp. 197-253.]

It was thus for the first time ascertained by experiment that the friction was a constant quantity at all velocities.  Although this theory had long before been developed by Vince and Coulomb, and was well known to scientific men as an established truth, yet at the time when Mr. Stephenson made his experiments, the deductions of philosophers on the subject were neither believed in nor acted upon by practical engineers.  And notwithstanding that the carefully conducted experiment in question went directly to corroborate the philosophical theories on the subject, it was a considerable time (so great were the prejudices then existing) before the conclusions which they established received the sanction of practical men.

It was maintained by many that the results of these experiments led to the greatest possible mechanical absurdities.  For example, it was insisted that, if friction was constant at all velocities upon a level railway, when once a power was applied to a carriage, which exceeded the friction of that carriage by the smallest possible amount, such excess of power, however small, would be able to convey the carriage along a level railway at all conceivable velocities.  When this position was taken by those who opposed the conclusions to which Mr. Stephenson had arrived, he felt the greatest hesitation in maintaining his own views; for it appeared to him at first sight really the absurdity which his opponents asserted it to be. Frequent and careful repetition of his experiments, however, left no doubt upon his mind as to the soundness of his conclusions ― that friction was uniform at all velocities.  Notwithstanding the ridicule that was thrown upon his views by many persons with whom he associated at the time, he continued to hold to this conclusion as a fact positively established; and he soon afterwards boldly maintained, that that which was an apparent absurdity was indeed an inevitable consequence, and that every increase of speed involved a necessary expenditure of power almost in a direct ratio.

It is unnecessary at this time of day to point out how obvious this consequence is, and how it is limited and controlled by various circumstances; never-the-less it is doubted, that could you always be applying a power proportionately in excess of the resistance, a constant increase of velocity would follow without any limit.  This is so obvious to professional men now, and is indeed so axiomatic, that it is unnecessary further to illustrate the position; and the discussions which took place on the subject, when the results of Mr. Stephenson’s experiments were announced, are only here alluded to for the purpose of showing the difficulties he had to contend with and overcome at the time, and how small was the amount of science then blended with engineering practice.

(Some years afterwards, Mr. Sylvester, of Liverpool, published an able pamphlet on this subject, in which he demonstrated in a very simple and beautiful manner, the correctness of Mr. Stephenson’s conclusions.)

The other resistances to which carriages are exposed, were at the same time investigated by Mr. Stephenson.  He perceived that these resistances were mainly three: the first being upon the axles of the carriage, the second (which may be called the rolling resistance) being between the circumference of the wheel and the surface of the rail, and the third being the resistance of gravity.  The amount of friction and gravity was accurately ascertained; but the rolling resistance was a matter of greater difficulty, being subject to great variation.  He however satisfied himself that it was so great when the surface presented to the wheel was of a rough character, that the idea of working steam carriages common roads was dismissed him as entirely out of the question.  Even so early as the period to (1818) he brought his calculations to a practical test: he scattered sand upon the rails an engine was running, and that a small quantity was quite sufficient to retard and even to stop the most powerful locomotive that had at that time made.  And he never failed to urge this conclusive experiment upon the attention those who were at that time their money and ingenuity upon vain attempt to apply steam to the purpose of travelling on common roads.

Having ascertained that resistance might be taken as represented by 10 lbs to a ton weight on a level railway, it became obvious to him that so small a rise as 1 in 100 would diminish the useful effort of a locomotive by upwards of 50 per cent.  This was demonstrated by repeated experiments, and the important fact thus rooted deeply in his mind, was never lost sight of in the course his future railway career.  It was owing in a great measure to these painstaking experiments that he thus early became convinced of the vital importance, in an economical point of view, of reducing the country through which a railway was to pass as nearly as possible to a level.  Where, as in the first coal railways of Northumberland and Durham, the load was nearly all one way ― that is from the colliery to the shipping place -- it was an advantage to have an inclination in that direction.  The strain on the powers of the locomotive was thus diminished, and it was an easy matter for it to haul the empty wagons back to the colliery up even a pretty steep incline.  But when the loads were both ways, it appeared obvious to him that the railroad must be constructed as nearly as possible on a level.  The strong and sagacious mind of Stephenson early recognized this broad principle; and he had so carefully worked out the important facts as to the resistance offered by adverse gradients, that he never swerved from it.  At a much later period, when the days of fast engineering had arrived, while many thought him prejudiced on this point, he himself clung tenaciously to it, and invariably insisted upon the importance of flat gradients.  It is true, great and important additions were made to the powers of the locomotive, but no sooner were these effected, than lines of steeper and still steeper gradients were devised, until, as he used to declare, engineers were constantly neutralizing the increased powers of the engine, and in precisely the same degree diminishing the comparative advantages of over common roads.

These views, thus early entertained, originated in Mr. Stephenson’s the peculiar character of railroad works as distinguished from all roads; for, in railroads, he contended that large sums be wisely expended in perforating barriers of hills with tunnels, and in raising the levels with the excess cut down from the adjacent high ground.  In proportion as these views forced themselves upon his mind, and were corroborated by his daily experience, he became more and more convinced of the hopelessness of applying steam locomotion to common roads; for every argument in favour of a level railway was, in his view, an argument against the rough and hilly course of a common road.  Nor did he cease to urge upon the numerous patrons of road steam carriages, that if, by any amount of ingenuity, an engine could be made, which could by possibility travel on a turnpike road at a speed equal to that obtainable by horse power, and at less cost, such an engine if applied to the more perfect surface of a railway would have its efficiency enormously enhanced.

For instance, he calculated that, if an engine had been constructed, and had been found to travel uniformly between London and Birmingham at an average speed of 10 miles an hour, conveying say 20 or 30 passengers, at a cost of 1s. per mile, it was clear that the same engine, if applied to a railway, instead of conveying 20 or 30 persons, would easily convey 200 or 300; and, instead of travelling at a speed of 10 or 12 miles an hour, a speed at least 30 or 40 miles an hour might be attained.

All this seems trite and commonplace enough, now that the thing has been done; but it was not so in those days, before it had been attempted or even thought of, excepting by one man, whom his cotemporaries spoke of as a dreamer and enthusiast on the subject of railways.  Then, the so called “practical” men were bent upon a really impracticable thing ― the economical application of steam power to turnpike roads; while the “enthusiast” was pursuing the only safe road to practical success.  At this day it is difficult to understand how the sagacious and strong common-sense views of Stephenson on this subject, failed to force themselves sooner upon the minds of those who were persisting in their vain though ingenious attempts to apply locomotive power to ordinary roads.  For a long time they continued to hold with obstinate perseverance to the belief that, for steam purposes, a soft road was better than a hard one ― a road easily crushed better than one incapable of being crushed: and they held to this after it had been demonstrated in all parts of the mining districts, that iron tram-ways were better than paved roads.  But the fallacy that iron was incapable of adhesion upon iron, continued to prevail, and the projectors of steam travelling on common roads only shared in the common belief.  They still considered that roughness of surface was essential to produce “bite,” especially in surmounting acclivities; the truth being that they confounded roughness of surface with tenacity of surface and contact of parts; not perceiving that a yielding surface which would adapt itself to the tread of the wheel, could never become an unyielding surface to form a fulcrum for its progression.  It was the error of reasoning from one circumstance, instead of taking all the circumstances into account.




From the Morning Chronicle, 28th November, 1822.

HETTON COLLIERY, DURHAM. ― On Monday, the 18th inst. the Hetton Coal Company effected the first shipment of their coals at their newly erected staith on the banks of the river Wear, at Sunderland.  The waggon-way, which extends over a space of eight miles, from the colliery to the river, and in its course crosses Warden Law (one of the highest hills in this part of the country), was crowded with spectators to witness the first operations of the powerful and ingenious machinery employed for conveying the coal-waggons.  Five of Mr. George Stephenson’s patent travelling engines, two 60-horse power fixed reciprocating engines, and five self-acting inclined planes (all under the direction of Mr. Robert Stephenson, the company’s resident engineer), simultaneously performing their various and complicated offices with the precision and exactness of the most simple machinery, exhibited a spectacle at once interesting to science, and encouraging to commerce.

The good quality of the coals is universally acknowledged; and the shipment of them has been anxiously looked for by the ship owners and fitters at Sunderland, who had the gratification of witnessing about 100 waggon loads (containing upwards of 100 tons weight) conveyed along the iron-railway (which was furnished my Messrs. Losh, and Co.) with astonishing facility and dispatch, to the company’s staith, where the coals were shipped by their newly-invented self-discharging apparatus.

The crowds of people assembled on the occasion, the flags and colours streaming from every building, with the cheerful airs of the Newbottle band, rendered the scene most lively and exhilarating.  Extensive commercial speculations are as grateful to philanthropy as they are animating to science.  Whilst they call forth the powers of genius, they, at the same time, afford subsistence and comfort to the labouring classes of society; and, we trust, there are none who will withhold the meed of praise from undertakings like the present, which has for two years given constant employment to many hundreds of individuals and their families, and opened a cheering prospect to the working part of the community in the coal districts.

After the business of the day, the owners of the colliery, with about fifty of their friends, who had been invited to celebrate the event, sat down to an excellent dinner, at Miss Jowsey’s, the Bridge Inn, Bishopwearmouth.




From the Manchester Courier, 8th October, 1825.

On Tuesday last, that great work, the Darlington and Stockton railway was formally opened by the proprietors, for the use of the public. It is a single of railway twenty-five miles in length, and will open the London market to the collieries in the western part of the county of Durham, as well as facilitate the obtaining of fuel to the country along its line, and the northern parts of Yorkshire.

The line of railway extends from the collieries in a direction nearly from west to east from Witton Park and Etherly, near West Auckland, to Stockton-upon-Tees, with branches to Darlington, Yarm, &c., and is chiefly composed of malleable iron rails.  At the western extremity of the line a deep ravine occurs at the river Gaundless, on the summit of the hills, in each side of which, permanent steam-engines are fixed for the purpose of conveying the goods across the two ridges.  The engine on the western side of the vale is called the Etherly engine, and that on the eastern side the Brusselton engine; the latter of which, in addition to conveying the goods up from West Auckland, also continues the transit down the eastern side of the ridge: below this to the east, the country, though undulating, is pretty flat, and the conveyance is performed by locomotive engines.

To give éclat to the public opening of the road, a programme was issued, stating that the proprietors would assemble at the permanent steam-engine, below Brussleton Tower, about nine miles west of Darlington, at eight o‘clock.  Accordingly, the committee, after inspecting the Etherly engine plane, assembled at the bottom of Brusselton engine plane, near West Auckland, and here the carriages, loaded with coals and merchandise, were drawn up the eastern ridge by the Brussleton engine, a distance of 1960 yards, in seven minutes and a half, and then lowered down the plane on the east side of the hill, 880 yards in five minutes.  At the foot of the plane, the locomotive engine was ready to receive the carriages, and here the novelty of the scene and fineness of the day attracted an immense concourse of spectators—the fields on each side of the railway being literally covered with ladies and gentlemen on horseback, and pedestrians of all kinds.

The train of carriages were then attached to a locomotive engine of the most improved construction, and built by Mr. George Stephenson, in the following order: ― 1. Locomotive engine, with the engineer (Mr. Stephenson) and assistants. ― 2. Tender, with coals and water―next, six carriages loaded with coals and flour ― then an elegant covered coach, with the committee and other proprietors of the railway―then twenty-one waggons, fitted up on the occasion for passengers ― and, last of all, six waggons loaded with coal, making altogether a train of thirty-eight carriages, exclusive of the engine and tender.  Tickets were distributed to the number of near three hundred, for those who it was intended should occupy the coach and the waggons; but such was the pressure and crowd, that both loaded a empty carriages were instantly filled with passengers.

The signal being given, the engine started off with this immense train of carriages, and here the scene became most interesting ― the horsemen galloping across the fields to accompany the engine, and the people on foot running on each side of the road, endeavouring in vain to keep up with the cavalcade.  The railway descending with a gentle inclination towards Darlington, though not uniform, and the rate of speed was consequently variable.  On this part of the railway it was intended to ascertain at what rate of speed the engine could travel with safety.  In some parts the speed was frequently twelve miles per hour; and in one place, for a short distance, near Darlington, fifteen miles per hour; and, at that time, the number of passengers were counted to four hundred and fifty, which, together with the coals, merchandize, and carriages, would amount to near ninety tons.

After some little delay in arranging the procession, the engine, with her load, arrived at Darlington, a distance of eight miles and three quarters, in sixty-five minutes, exclusive of stops, averaging about eight miles an hour.  Six carriages, loaded with coals, intended for Darlington, were then left behind; and, after obtaining a fresh supply of water, and arranging the procession to accommodate a band of music and passengers from Darlington, the engine set off again.  Part of the railway from Darlington to Stockton has little declivity, and in one place is quite level; and, as in the upper part it was intended to try the speed of the engine; in this part it was intended to prove her capability of dragging a heavy load, and certainly the performance excited the astonishment of all present, and exceeded the most sanguine expectations of every one conversant with the subject.

The engine arrived at Stockton in three hours and seven minutes after leaving Darlington, including stops, the distance being nearly twelve miles, which is at the rate of four miles an hour; and upon the level part of the railway, the number of passengers in the waggons were counted about five hundred and fifty, and several more clung to the carriages on each side, so that the whole number could not he less than six hundred, which, with the other load, would amount to about eighty tons.

A number of gentlemen from Liverpool and Birmingham were present at the opening.





Although Newcomen was the inventor, the patent granted in 1707 was to the partners Newcomen, Cawley and Savery.  John Cawley (or Calley), Newcomen’s assistant, was a metalworker and plumber by trade, while Savery was included due to his claim that the use of condensed steam infringed his patent of 1705.


Although often attributed to Watt, who designed his first governor in 1788 following a suggestion from his business partner Matthew Boulton, the centrifugal governor was a far older invention used in milling technology.  However, Watt did develop the device’s practical application to the control of the steam engine.


That said, in a static engine, exhaust steam was still drawn out of the cylinder by the vacuum created in an external condenser to gain the best use of heat.  In traction use, the heavy and bulky condenser was dispensed with and spent steam exhausted into the locomotive’s smoke-box, where it added to the draught through the fire.


The boiler of Trevithick’s first steam carriage (1801) produced steam at 60 psi; this compares with around 5 psi used by Watt’s static engines.


That distinction possibly goes to the French military engineer, Nicholas-Joseph Cugnot, (1725-1804), who in 1769 built a three-wheeled steam wagon.  In 1784, William Murdoch, Watt’s assistant, constructed a working prototype steam road carriage (also three-wheeled) but developed it no further.


Descriptive History of the Steam Engine, Robert Stuart (1824).


A Practical Treatise on Rail-roads and Locomotive Engines, Luke Hebert (1837).


So named by Trevithick’s son Francis in his biography.  Its engine is believed to have been that built to power the ‘Tuckingmill Locomotive’.


According to Trevithick in a letter to Davies Giddy, 20th February 1804, the bet was for 500 guineas.


Staithe: Stathe, stade and steed are Anglo Saxon terms, formerly applied to single fixed dwellings or to places on the banks of rivers where merchandise was stored up and at which vessels could lie to receive it.


The Middleton Railway is the world’s oldest continuously working public railway. Founded in 1758, it was the first railway to be authorised by Act of Parliament (31 Geo.2, c.xxii, 9 June 1758). . . .

An ACT for Establishing Agreement made between Charles Brandling, Esquire, and other Persons, Proprietors of Lands, for laying down a Waggon-Way in order for the better supplying the Town and Neighbourhood of Leeds in the County of York, with Coals.

Initially operated as a horse-drawn wagon-way, around 1807 its wooden tracks began to be replaced with superior iron ‘edge rails’.


The Middleton Railway became the World’s first ‘rack railway’.  Several systems of rack railways operate today on steeply graded lines, such as the Snowdon Mountain Railway in North Wales, which uses the Swiss Abt system.


After the Duke of Wellington’s recent victory in the Peninsula Wars.


There is doubt about the name of Stephenson’s first locomotive if, indeed, it had one. Some sources claim it was name “My Lord” after one of the aristocratic partners in the Grand Alliance Colliery business, Stephenson perhaps leaving it vague as to who it referred.  The name Blücher might refer to a more popular name given in tribute to the contribution made by the German general to Wellington’s victory at Waterloo, or to another locomotive.


Later to became the first locomotive superintendent of the Stockton and Darlington Railway.


Puffing Billy ― which remained in service until 1862 ― and Wylam Dilly are preserved at the Science Museum, London and the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, respectively.


This was to prevent stalling, by ensuring that when one piston was at the top of its stroke, and therefore delivering no thrust, the other was at its position of maximum thrust.


The first locomotive to be fitted with steel springs on all wheels is believed to have been the Lancashire Witch, built by Robert Stephenson and Company for the Bolton and Leigh Railway in 1828.


. . . . as in the case of Fenton, Murray and Wood, the builders of Blenkinsop’s Salamanca.


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