New report uncovers the truth about the first steam locomotive to carry passengers on a public railway.
The most definitive research into one of the world’s most recognisable steam engines, Locomotion, has been published by early railway experts Dr Michael Bailey and Peter Davidson.
Commissioned by the National Railway Museum which owns the locomotive and published on the anniversary of the opening of the Stockton and Darlington Railway on 27 September 1825, the report presents a complete account of the locomotive’s history in operation and preservation for the first time.
The culmination of Michael and Peter’s work with nine early locomotives over the past 30 years, it is the most definitive archival and mechanical study of the locomotive ever undertaken.
The report reveals the locomotive on display today does not contain identifiable parts dating to 1825, although the boiler barrel dates from 1827 and was originally from sister locomotive Diligence, making it the world’s oldest known standard-gauge boiler to exist today.
As was common with many working steam locomotives, parts were replaced over the years, but LOCOMOTION appears to have had four distinct phases and was substantially rebuilt several times.
The fourth and final incarnation in 1856/57 is how the locomotive appears today. This saw a return to a form reminiscent of its 1825 appearance but with numerous changes including to its flue, chimney, boiler endplates and the distinctive parallel motion which wasn’t fitted in the first three years of operation.
LOCOMOTION was originally called Active and only acquired its number in 1827 and the name LOCOMOTION in the summer of 1833 when it is likely to have acquired cast nameplates on each side of the boiler. The current brass nameplates are later additions.
At 225 pages and with 399 notes and references, the report also examines: the quality of wrought iron used (which was subjected to independent metallurgical analysis), every mechanical component and the archive material relating to Locomotion’s operation and performance.
For the first time a definitive list of drivers and some firemen known to have worked on LOCOMOTION is available in one place and further research could identify living relatives who are descended from those railway workers.
The report also highlights the dangers faced on the early railways and LOCOMOTION driver John Cree was killed in 1828 after the boiler flue collapsed – the third serious accident involving the early locomotives in a seven-month period.
Every location visited by the locomotive in preservation is recorded in the report with journeys as far afield as Chicago (in 1883 where it acquired its bell) and Paris as well as being displayed at Liverpool, Newcastle, Edinburgh, York, Manchester, London, Darlington and Shildon. There is no record of it attending the 1876 centennial event held in Philadelphia in the United States as previously thought.
Introduced in 1825, the locomotive was one of five original Stephenson-built locomotives to work on the Stockton and Darlington Railway. It was withdrawn from service in 1841 and was valued at £100 but in a world first, in 1857 LOCOMOTION was preserved, preceding the collecting of other, sometimes earlier locomotives in national collections and saving the locomotive for posterity.
The preservation of LOCOMOTION was first considered by the Stockton and Darlington Railway in 1856, the report stating: ‘…The Directors of the Stockton and Darlington Railway have determined to preserve their No 1 Locomotive Engine, the first to run on a public railway, and have accordingly appropriated for the purpose a piece of ground in front of the station, at Darlington, where it will be placed on a pedestal…’.
Dr Michael Bailey said: “This study reveals that Locomotion played a full and successful pioneering role in the creation of the world’s railway system. Until now our knowledge of Locomotion’s story has been dictated by the appearance of the artefact itself and by the writings of Victorian historians seeking to provide their readership with stories they wished to read without the detail of its actual life experiences.
“Locomotion remains an icon of locomotive history and is the early locomotive form that is instantly recognisable today. We hope that railway curators and historians will find these results informative for a locomotive that is about to begin its third century of existence.”
Dr Bailey has previously carried out similar investigations on historically significant early locomotives such as ROCKET, Hetton LYON, and Killingworth BILLY and has worked with Peter on many of these projects.
The research is published on 27 September to coincide with the date in 1825 when the locomotive set off from Shildon to haul the first train on the Stockton and Darlington Railway.
Sarah Price, Head of Locomotion, said: “LOCOMOTION has become an important symbol of enterprise, engineering and innovation at a time when railways were very much a developing technology. It is incredibly important to the people of the north east as a link to our railway heritage. This research adds to our shared knowledge of LOCOMOTION and the Stockton and Darlington Railway as we prepare to celebrate the bicentenary in 2025. I would like to thank Michael and Peter for their work to produce this thorough and comprehensive research.”
The rail industry has confirmed it will mark the bicentenary of the Stockton & Darlington Railway, and the far-reaching impacts of all railways and train travel, with a year-long programme called Railway 200. Developed by a cross industry partnership, with a focus on inspiring the next generation, Railway 200 will be a national public engagement programme starting in January 2025. A wide variety of activities, initiatives and partnerships are being considered, including commemorative products. This will enable Railway 200 to celebrate rail’s remarkable past, recognise its importance today, and look forward to its future. Further information can be found at www.railway200.co.uk.
Railway 200 has also partnered with Stockton & Darlington Bicentenary Festival (S&DR200) who are delivering a nine-month international festival developed right in the heart of where the first journey took place. Stockton on Tees, Darlington & Durham County Councils are planning some never to be forgotten moments that should help to excite people in the local area and beyond. Further information on local celebrations can be found at www.s&dr200.co.uk
For more information please contact:
Simon Baylis, PR & Press Manager, 01904 686 299, firstname.lastname@example.org
Brittany Noppe, Senior Press Officer, 01274 203356, email@example.com
- The report’s full title is: ‘LOCOMOTION No.1 - an assessment of its history and modifications through archaeological and archival study.’
- The results of the investigation will be shared at an invite-only event at Locomotion in Shildon on 27 September 2023
- The authors and the Science Museum Group would like to thank the many curatorial and library staff and volunteers who were involved in providing material and assistance
- LOCOMOTION will appear in a future video on our YouTube channel
- LOCOMOTION is currently on display at Locomotion in Shildon. Following an agreement with Darlington Borough Council, the locomotive will be displayed for six months in Darlington’s Head of Steam museum in the first half of 2025 – the bicentenary of the Stockton and Darlington Railway. There will also be the opportunity for Head of Steam to request two further six-month loan periods between 2026 and 2030.
About Locomotion museum in Shildon
- Locomotion offers visitors the chance to see highlights of the national collection of railway vehicles in Shildon – the world’s first railway town
- Locomotion 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 the National Railway Museum in York
- Locomotion is a partnership between the Science Museum Group and Durham County Council, which is a major funder of the museum
- The museum will host Flying Scotsman this year to celebrate the world-famous locomotive’s 100th birthday. Locomotion’s Centenary Festival will take place at Locomotion from 16 December – 2 January.
- New Hall at Locomotion is scheduled to open in 2024 and will feature 50 rail vehicles from the national collection. Admission to Locomotion is free – visit www.locomotion.org.uk