Chapter 13

It had taken Locomotion No 1 two hours to travel the nine miles from Brusselton to Darlington on the opening morning of the Stockton and Darlington Railway (S&DR).

It had suffered three breakdowns. One wagon had been abandoned because it kept falling off the rails, and a by-stander had been badly bruised when the faulty wagon collided with him.

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At midday on Tuesday, September 27, 1825, Locomotion was resting to the north of Darlington. George Stephenson was refilling its large wooden water barrel in the tender – a barrel so large that the cooper, Mason Brotherton, was forced to assemble it outside his workshop, in Blackwellgate, Darlington.

During the 30-minute break, six wagonloads of coal, which had travelled from Brusselton with passengers sitting on top of them, were distributed to the poor people of Darlington, and a couple of hundred railway workmen were despatched to the town’s pubs for free food and beer.

The Yarm Band took the place of distributed coal in the train and prepared to “oompah” the 12 miles to Stockton.

There were about 38 carriages in that first train, which weighed about 80 tons. A couple of dozen more horse-drawn carriages puffed along in its wake.

When the train left Darlington at 12.30pm, a man riding on horseback preceded it carrying a flag. That man is believed to have been John Dixon, after whom a street is named in Darlington.

The line curved south through Fighting Cocks and Middleton St George to Goosepool, where Stephenson again stopped to replenish the water barrel.

By the time Locomotion was ready to move off, there were probably about 700 people onboard – a majority of them clinging to the sides of the coal wagons.

Inevitably, an accident happened. John Stevens, a keelman who had attached himself to the wagon in front of the railway pioneers, who were travelling in the luxury of The Experiment coach, lost his fingerhold. He tumbled down and the wagons ran over his foot, crushing it horribly. The last mention that history affords Mr Stevens is that medical men said an amputation was the only way to save his life. It is not recorded if it did.

Yet there was a happier moment on the last stretch of the journey into Stockton.

From Preston Park, the line ran adjacent to the main road from Egglescliffe to Stockton (now the A135).

Suddenly, Locomotion (passengers 700, horses nil) drew alongside a stagecoach (passengers 16, horses four). For a while, they were neck-and-neck at 15mph, but quickly Locomotion ran out the winner as the horses tired.

Its victory lap led it into Stockton at 3.45pm where, at the Company’s Wharf beside the River Tees, a 21-gun salute greeted its arrival.

According to local legend, there were also “three times three stentorian cheers” from the 40,000-strong crowd. We can accept that there were 21 guns and nine cheers, but 40,000 would have been every single person from miles around. Darlington’s population in 1821 was only 5,570, and Middlesbrough, of course, did not exist.

However, we can accept that 102 VIPs processed from the Company’s Wharf behind the Yarm Band up Stockton High Street to the Town Hall, where they were treated to good food and fine wines.

It was in this hall, 15 years earlier, that local solicitor Leonard Raisbeck first mentioned the word ‘railway’ in connection with linking Stockton with the Durham coalfields.

Thomas Meynell, chairman of the S&DR, chaired the meal, accompanied by William Wright, of Essex, and William Thomas Salvin, of Croxdale, with John Wilkinson, Mayor of Stockton, the vice-chairman. But few of the 23 toasts were drunk to the railway – most were directed at the River Tees and Stockton. Both Raisbeck and Stephenson tired of the proceedings and left well before the 11pm conclusion.

In the pubs of Stockton, another 300 workmen were consuming copious quantities of free food and strong ale.

By the time the celebrations began to break up, it was dark and late. Many people cadged beds in Stockton; others prepared to stumble home in the moonlight. A few enterprising souls went to the railway to see if they could tie a spare horse to a coal wagon and get a lift.

But they found the rails covered in planks of wood and large chunks of debris. It was impossible to get a wagon moving.

Some of the debris undoubtedly came from the boisterous nature of the celebrations at the dawning of the railway age. However, it seems certain that much of it was deliberately placed there by vandals who wished the venture to fail.

Although it had taken Locomotion five hours and 45 minutes to cover 20 miles, it was adjudged enough of a success by its horse-powered opponents, who still sought to derail it.

Offered for £100 as scrap - but there were no takers

George Stephenson called the first locomotive built at his factory in Forth Street, Newcastle, Active.

When it was delivered to the Stockton and Darlington Railway (S&DR) on September 16, 1825, it was known as “the locomotive”. On November 1, a second locomotive arrived which became known as Locomotive No 2. The first loco was then referred to as Locomotive No 1. It was not until the early 1830s, when the S&DR had five or six locomotives, that it became too difficult to refer to them all by number and they began to acquire names.

Locomotive No 2 was known as Hope; No 3 was Black Diamond (after the valuable coal it carried) and No 4 was Diligence. No 1 remained the original and so was called Locomotion No 1.

There is much debate about Locomotion’s true place in history. It showed very few technological advancements from the engines Stephenson had been building at Killingworth ten years earlier, and it was inefficient. It was not until the Rocket three years later that Stephenson introduced the multi-tubular boiler, which increased efficiency.

Locomotion was not helped by the inexperience of its drivers, who believed they were only doing their job if they stoked its fires until its chimney glowed red.

Locomotion’s biggest achievement was its reliability in working a line of 20-odd miles.

Not that its working was without incident. Its biggest was on July 1, 1828, when it exploded at Aycliffe Level (where Heighington Station is today). Its driver, John Cree, was killed and a water pumper, Edward Turnbull, was maimed. Wreckage from the engine covered several fields.

Timothy Hackworth rebuilt it and contributed greatly to its success. In a year after the rebuild it covered 25,000 miles.

But still it was not without incident. In 1833, at Goosepool, near Middleton St George, it hit a donkey which caused its fireman to lose a foot (the fate of the donkey is not recorded, but it will not have come out of a collision with an eight-ton mechanical monster in rude health).

It was derailed at Aycliffe Level in November 1837 (damage: £22-16-10d), and again at Middlesbrough in October 1839. It also fell over at New Shildon.

Its biggest problem was that technology was moving on apace, and it was quickly left behind. Still, in September 1835, it raced a horsedrawn mail coach over four miles and beat it by 100 yards.

In 1841, it was taken out of service, and in 1846 it was working as a pumping engine at Howden Station before being called to ceremonially open the Middlesbrough and Redcar line.

Then it returned to pumping duties at Pease and Partners’ West Collieries, in South Durham, and in 1850 it was offered for sale as scrap for £100. Fortunately, there were no takers.

In 1856, the Peases spent £50 restoring it, and the following year it was placed on a pedestal near North Road Station, in Darlington. In September 1875, it travelled to Philadelphia to take part in an exhibition, and in 1892 it starred at the Paris Exhibition.

It returned to take pride of place on a pedestal outside Bank Top Station, where it was vulnerable to inclement weather and inquiring young boys.

It needed substantial repair work to enable it to take part in the 1924 British Empire Exhibition, at Wembley, London.

The following year, during the 100th anniversary celebrations of the S&DR, an internal combustion engine was sneaked into its tender to allow it to take part in the parade.

Locomotion was hidden away at Stanhope Station during the Second World War because of fears that Bank Top would be struck by German bombers. In peacetime it returned to the mainline station and, after the 1975 Rail 150 celebrations, was moved to North Road Railway Museum, where the grand old lady of steam resides to this day.