In the beginning

I noticed, in a comment on Friday, that it was the anniversary of the opening of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway, which took place on 15th September 1830, this contraption, the ‘Steam Elephant’ was puffing about around Wallsend – on – Tyne 15 years earlier, in 1815, and ten years prior to the opening of the Stockton & Darlington in 1825. Not this exact one of course, this is a modern day replica.

In 1813 William Hedley, along with Johnatan Forster and Timothy Hackworth constructed ‘Puffing Billy’ and ‘Wylam Dilly’ to work coal hoppers, over the waggonway, from Wylam Colliery to Lemington – on – Tyne. The really wonderful thing about these engines is that both of them survive, Puffying Billy, at the Science Museum and, Wylam Dilly, at the National Museum of Scotland. There’s a working replica of ‘Puffying Billy’ at Beamish Open Air Museum, as can be seen in the photo below.

Despite appearances Puffying Billy was a pretty robust piece of kit remaining in service until 1862 when she was first loaned and then sold to the Patent Office – subsequetly the Science Museum.  Going back a little further, to 1809, and we come to Richard Trevithick’s ‘Catch me who can’. Trevithick is a fascinating character who deserves greater recognition for his achievements and pioneering spirit. ‘Catch me who can’ was a sort of fair ground attraction and an attempt to raise cash. It ran on a circle of track and ‘riders’ paid a shilling a go – a tidy sum in 1809.

There’s a modern day replica of  ‘Catch me who can’, which was, when I photographed it, at the Severn Valley Railway’s terminus at Bridgnorth.

‘Catch me who can’ wasn’t Trevithick’s first engine, he had built one in 1803/4 for the Pen – y – Darren iron works and his ‘Puffing Devil’, a steam powered road carriage, ran for the first time, in 1801. Two hundred and sixteen years on from that and we’ve gone from all of the above to Maglev trains that can travel at 350mph, not 3.5mph.

I know nothing about the head swinging from the gibbet!!

If you have enjoyed my blogs – I have written a book about my 60 years involvement with railways, from trainspotter, via steam age footplateman, to railway author and photographer, this is a link to it:


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