New home for original 1829 steam locomotive and icon of British engineering.
Stephenson’s Rocket will join legends of the steam age such as Mallard and Flying Scotsman this autumn as the historic locomotive goes on long-term display at the National Railway Museum in York.
For the first time in 20 years, the locomotive will travel to York to complete the final leg of a national tour of UK museums organised by the Science Museum Group.
The original Rocket will be displayed at the National Railway Museum for at least a decade—initially as part of a new exhibition called Brass, Steel and Fire. Rocket will eventually be one of the stars of the museum’s redeveloped Great Hall which is part of the museum’s £55m ‘Vision 2025’ masterplan.
Built in 1829, Rocket is one of the UK’s most historically significant objects. After success at the Rainhill Trials in the same year, the engine operated on the world’s first inter-city passenger railway in 1830 and helped usher in the railway age, shaping the modern world as we know it. Rocket was the only locomotive to successfully complete the Trials, achieving a then remarkable top speed of 30 mph and securing the engine’s place in history.
Designed by George and Robert Stephenson, Rocket's win proved that steam-powered locomotives were better at pulling trains than horses or stationary winding engines and that locomotives were suitable for widespread use.
Anthony Coulls, Senior Curator at the National Railway Museum, said: “Rocket was not the first steam engine, but it is certainly one of the most significant and it combined all the technological innovations available at the time to create one engine that was faster and more reliable than anything seen before.
“The technology pioneered by Rocket led to the rapid expansion of the railways, which brought widespread social and economic changes that shaped modern Britain as we know it. I am very excited at the prospect of displaying Stephenson’s original Rocket at the National Railway Museum alongside the models of Brass, Steel and Fire which will bring the story of the railways and engineering alive for our visitors.”
Moving such a significant but fragile object from its temporary home at the Museum of Science and Industry is not straightforward and requires a large team and careful planning. Transporting Rocket just 70 miles from Manchester to York and the installation will take four days and will be overseen by a team of conservators.
The famous engine will travel by road in a special protective crate and the engine’s chimney will have to be removed and carefully reattached before the exhibition opens to the public.
Once at York, Rocket will be displayed in a purpose-built room in Station Hall alongside the museum’s collection of royal carriages as part of the new exhibition Brass, Steel and Fire. This exhibition will open on 26 September and will tell the story of the first 100 years of railway models.
In the early days of the railways, engineers would make small but mechanically accurate models of new locomotives to test their designs before constructing full-size versions. As a result, many priceless models of historically important engines remain, despite the full-size originals being lost to history.
Ahead of the Rainhill Trials, George and Robert Stephenson had no time to build a model and so Rocket became the ultimate full-size model to test the latest technology of the time.
Alongside Rocket, highlights of the Brass, Steel and Fire exhibition include the world’s oldest working model steam engine made in 1836 by Thomas Greener, aged just 16 years old. Thomas became an engineer after working as an apprentice at Shildon Works under Timothy Hackworth. The model is based on a full-size stationary winding engine that would have been used on the Stockton and Darlington Railway to haul coal wagons up steep hills.
The exhibition also features a very early example of a working toy engine named Pilot. This type of engine was nicknamed a ‘dribbler’ because they often left a trail of hot water or flammable spirits in their wake.
Other models include prototype model Topsy on loan from the Ffestiniog Railway in Wales. This locomotive played an important role in the development and adoption of narrow-gauge railways around the world.
Another model of Stirling Single was made by Henry Wood, the father of Sir Henry Wood who is now famous for having founded the Proms. The exhibition also includes the model Invicta, a near contemporary of Rocket made in the Stephenson works by Edward Fletcher who later rose to become Chief Mechanical Engineer of the North Eastern Railway.
Judith McNicol, Director of the National Railway Museum, said: “Rocket will join the museum as a potent symbol of what can be achieved through STEM and it will inspire new generations of visitors to pursue their own futures in engineering. It will also represent one of the first signs that our ambitious ‘Vision 2025’ plan to transform the museum is becoming a reality.“
In 2018 to share Rocket with a wider audience, the Science Museum Group announced that the historic locomotive would go on a national tour of significant locations with a strong connection to the engine’s story. This included a visit to the Discovery Museum in Newcastle, the city where Rocket was built, as part of the Great Exhibition of the North.
The engine then went on display at the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester which is based on the site of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway.
Brass, Steel and Fire will open at the National Railway Museum on 26 September and will be free to enter. After leaving York, the exhibition will travel to the Science Museum in London although Rocket will remain at the National Railway Museum.
Brass, Steel and Fire is kindly supported by Hornbeam Park Developments and players of the People’s Postcode Lottery.
For more information, visit https://www.railwaymuseum.org.uk/whats-on/brass-steel-and-fire or visit the Science Museum Group collections website here which includes an interactive 3D model of the original Rocket.
For more information, please contact:
PR & Press Manager at the National Railway Museum
01904 686 299
About the National Railway Museum
- The National Railway Museum in York has the largest collection of railway objects in the world and attracts more than 750,000 visitors per year
- The collection includes over 260 locomotives and rolling stock, 600 coins and medals as well as railway uniform, equipment, documents, artwork and photographs
- The National Railway Museum forms part of the Science Museum Group, along with the Science Museum in London, the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester, the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford and Locomotion in Shildon
- Admission to the National Railway Museum is free, for more information visit: www.railwaymuseum.org.uk
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