A MYSTERY engine has arrived at the National Railway Museum in Shildon to be examined by railway history experts.

The Hetton engine, named after the colliery in County Durham where it spent its operational life, is thought to be the world’s first replica locomotive dating from 1855.

The engine is believed to be a replica of an original 1822 George Stephenson design, now lost to history and it is hoped the research will reveal further secrets about the world’s oldest steam engines.

The project will be led by Dr Michael Bailey and Dr Peter Davidson who are both specialists in the field of locomotive investigation.

The pair will take photographs and measurements and will systematically and carefully dismantle parts of the engine to compare materials and methods of construction with archive evidence.

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Work is expected to continue over a number of three-day sessions lasting several months and the entire project will take place in public view at Locomotion so people can ask questions and see the investigation taking place.

Dr Sarah Price, head of locomotion said: “The history of early railways is incredibly important for the history of the North-East of England and in the early 19th century, engineering pioneers such as George and Robert Stephenson led the way in this emerging technology that would eventually change the world.

“Despite having been in preservation since the 1920s, relatively little is known about this engine and we are really looking forward to seeing what new discoveries will be made.”

Dr Bailey and Dr Davidson recently led a similar project in Newcastle which found Killingworth Billy to be ten years older than previously thought - making it the third oldest locomotive in the world.

In the past Dr Bailey has also carried out investigations with his colleague Dr John Glithero, into other historic locomotives such as Samson, Albion, Nelson and Canadian National No. 40.

Dr Michael Bailey said: “We plan to better understand the history of this locomotive and its components through detailed archival and archaeological research.

“As repairs were carried out, locomotives sometimes picked up parts from other engines and they were often heavily modified or rebuilt over the years, as technology advanced.

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“We hope to provide new evidence of the progression of Stephenson’s locomotive designs and to perhaps find the ‘missing link’ between famous early locomotives Killingworth Billy and Locomotion No. 1.”

Anthony Coulls, senior curator at Locomotion added: “This is an exciting project for us because it’s not often we get to investigate the history of a locomotive in this way.”

Although its name is a mystery, the Hetton locomotive may be a familiar sight to people based in the North-East after spending the past eight years on loan to the Living Museum of the North in Beamish.

At the end of the project, the engine will remain at Locomotion and will go on public display.

The findings of the study will be sent to the National Railway Museum, before being offered to the next Early Railways Conference due to be held in 2021. For information visit locomotion.org.uk