Tag Archives: Rainhill

Let’s do the Locomotion

‘Ground control to Major Tom’ – please land your Rocket at Locomotion, Shildon, Co. Durham,  ‘roger, wilco, over and out’.  Not this Rocket and not Major Tom, but Major Tim Peake and his space capsule. This month, Locomotion will display the craft which returned our very own British ‘Rocket Man’ and space walker, Tim Peake, to Planet Earth, along with an exhibition of the very latest in Samsung, ‘space age’ VR techno.

Rocket’s crew might not have made it into orbit but, they were travelling at speeds previously unknown – when the railways really got going, engine drivers and firemen were the ‘fastest men on Earth’.  And, like space travel, it did give them a new view of the world, the one flashing by!  In 1957 the Russians launched Sputnik 1 and, in 1961, Russian cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, became the first man in orbit, seven years before steam locomotion finished as the driving force of British railways.

Strangely, the Russian connection to Shildon goes right back to the beginng of the railway age. Timothy Hackworth, who, as many of you will know, built the locomotive, Sans Pereil, which competed against Rocket at Rainhill; a replica of his Sans Pereil is housed at Locomotion. Born in Shildon, Hackworth had a locomotive building workshop there, where, in 1836, he built an engine for the Tsarskoye Selo Railway, in Russia. Hackworth’s son, John Wesley Hackworth, travelled to Russia to help assemble the locomotive and teach them how to operate it. According to legend, Hackworth junior taught the Tsar how to drive too!

However, the real speed is that it took human society millenia to reach the point, technologically, where we could travel faster than the speed of the horse, it then took a mere 132 years after the Rainhill trials to put a man in space – escape velocity is, crudely speaking,  25,000mph.

In the photograph, the Rocket replica is departing from Quorn & Woodhouse station on the GCR, which is not a million miles from the National Space Centre in Leicester – eeeH, it’s a small world!!

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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‘Rainhill, next stop Rainhill’


Good morning customers, I’m your train manager and I’d like to welcome you all to the 18.29 service from Liverpool to the future.  Please have your travel documents ready for inspection, customers traveling 3rd class air conditioned are standing in coach D, towards the rear of the train, anyone wishing to travel in the quiet carriage please proceed towards the front of the train, the restaurant car will be added when we leave 1879. Our driver today is Mr. George Stephenson, he’s the bloke in the top hat, with his hand on the regulator. On the shovel, and suitably cloth capped, one of Mr. Stephenson’s pals from Tyneside.

(In those early railway days the men on the footplate were often recruited  Pit enginemen from Tyneside, Wales, or Cornwall – they became what one of my former Nine Elms colleagues, Clive Groome, described, in his book the Decline & Fall of the Engine Driver, as ‘the footplate clan’.)

There is no doubting that from Rocket to the Javelin is ‘one giant leap’ in less than 200 years. However, by far the greatest part of that leap has taken place in the last 40 years. No.92220 Evening Star was, for the most part, Rocket on steroids. Over the 131 years between Rocket in 1829, and 1960 when No.92220 became the ‘last steam engine’ little changed, yes there were a few tweaks here and there but coal, water, and human sweat produced the steam which powered them both, and, almost, the entire rail travel machine, from 1804 to 1968. After 1968 it wasn’t just the steam locomotives which were swept away, engine sheds, coal towers, signal boxes and goods sheds, coal yards and sidings, stations, branch lines,  a railway landscape and a railway architecture disappeared too.

Not everything changed though, for the customers, there’s surprisingly little difference. Men in top hats still control things and those in cloth caps still do their bidding. Just one head peeps through the window in first class luxury, 3rd class is rammed – barely room for the train manager to stand!

The Rocket replica with its replica train, suitably costumed crew and firmly entrenched class system, is departing from Quorn & Woodhouse Station en route to Loughborough during the Great Central Railway’s Golden Oldies gala.

If you’ve enjoyed my photographs and blog, you might enjoy my book “Gricing: The Real story of the Railway Children”

These are some of the totally unsolicited comments from people who have read  Gricing:  ‘ treated myself to a copy of “Gricing” for Christmas, excellent reading.’  ‘I’m enjoying your book. It’s a real page-turner, thought provoking and great photos, to boot.’  ‘ I bought and enjoyed “Gricing” etc and would heartily recommend it to readers’. – and from another ‘satisfied’ reader’ – ‘ I was given what I believe to be your book called Gricing the other night.  Very much enjoyed the book if it is yours!’

This is the link to my book “Gricing: The Real Story of the Railway Children.  http://www.amazon.co.uk/Gricing-Real-story-Railway-Children/dp/1514885751


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