‘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: