THE iconic steam engine Locomotion No 1 does not have any pieces that date back to the historic opening day of the Stockton & Darlington Railway in 1825, new research has shown.

The engine which is today on display in Shildon’s Locomotion museum is a looky-likey loco which is very different to the way it appeared when it pulled what is regarded as the world’s first passenger train 198 years ago.

The research shows the famous loco when through a huge evolution during the course of its 15 year working life, even having two chimneys for several years.

And, at its heart, is the world’s oldest standard gauge boiler, dating back to 1827 – although that was cannibalised from one of its sister early engines.


The Northern Echo: Locomotion No 1Dr Michael Bailey reveals the results of his research at the Locomotion museum in Shildon on the 198th anniversary of the opening of the Stockton & Darlington Railway

“It can still be described as the locomotive which started the public railway system,” said Dr Michael Bailey who, with Peter Davidson, has spent months crawling over the engine examining every aspect of it and poring over every archive reference to it. “The fact that it has been rebuilt out of all recognition doesn’t matter because there’s a continuity back to 1825 that we have explained.”

The research shows that there are five key dates in Locomotion No 1’s story.

The Northern Echo: The famous John Dobbin picture of the 1825 opening which was painted in 1875 and so Locomotion No 1 on the Skerne bridge at Darlington doesn't look like it did in 1825

Firstly, it opened the railway on September 27, 1825, having been built so hurriedly in Newcastle that engineer George Stephenson was forced to use a simple slidebar mechanism on it, which had worked for several years on his locos in Killingworth Colliery on the outskirts of Newcastle, rather than the more complicated “parallel motion” that he believed was the future.

Secondly, on July 1, 1828, it imploded disastrously on the outskirts of Newton Aycliffe, injuring its driver, John Cree, so badly that he died two days later, and splattering his assistant with so many droplets of scalding water that he looked like a Dalmatian dog for the rest of his life.

Shildon engineer Timothy Hackworth collected all the bits of the engine from the fields around the old Heighington station and rebuilt the engine, but to make it more efficient he added a second chimney to it.

The Northern Echo: Locomotion No 1Locomotion No 1 in 1825 with the parallel motion on the top even though it didn't gain that until 1834 

“It worked because the heating surface was appreciably greater, but there was one important problem: it now weighed far more than the original and it absolutely hammered the track,” said Dr Bailey.

So, thirdly, in 1834, Locomotion No 1 was back in Shildon for Hackworth to rebuild and make lighter. He took the boiler out of its sister engine, Diligence, of 1827 along with its parallel motion – all those curious bits of metal on top of the engine – and got it going again.

“It was a very successful engine indeed,” said Dr Bailey. “It earned its keep – the whole fleet of early engines was evolving very quickly and they were making money, which is what it was all about for the railway directors.”

By the early 1840s, with technology improving very quickly, Locomotion No 1 was retired from active service, but it was dusted down for the opening of the Middlesbrough & Redcar Railway on June 4, 1846.

“They had a splendid luncheon and some splendid speeches and then someone stood up and saw how pleased he was to see the locomotive which had started it all was there, and this was greeted with applause because it was a popular comment - people were starting to get fond of this loco,” said Dr Bailey.

The Northern Echo: Locomotion No 1Dr Bailey examines Locomotion No 1

Usually the Darlington Quakers who ran the railway sold off their obsolete machines, but in 1856 they instructed their engineer William Bouch to restore it so it looked like it had on opening day.

“What a challenge that was,” said Dr Bailey. “He was given a budget of £50. He cobbled together some bits of old chimneys and new plates, with the zigzag top. He couldn’t afford to replace the cylinders so he left them in place, and we don’t know where he got the wheels – they are from a late 1830s pattern but whether they were already on the engine or whether they were old ones he had lying about in Shildon we don’t know.” One of the four wheels is different to the other three.

The Northern Echo: Locomotion No 1Locomotion No 1 was placed on a plinth outside Darlington's North Road station in 1856

In June 1856, the looky-likey loco was placed on plinth outside Darlington’s North Road station – the world’s first conserved historic railway engine and so the birth of the nostalgia indusry.

“Ever since it was put on the plinth 166 years ago, everyone has believed they were looking at the artefact which started the S&DR, but it wasn’t in that form when it opened the railway,” said Dr Bailey. “We couldn’t find any identifiable component that dates back to 1825, it has been rebuilt so many times that nothing dates back to them except maybe a few nuts and bolts.

“So it is a hybrid replica. It isn’t all cosher, but there is a lot of very interesting components on there and the boiler barrel dates from 1827 – it is the oldest standard gauge boiler in existence.

“It became so famous that everyone was talking about it. It went to Newcastle, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Paris, Chicago – the Americans even gave it a bell which is still on there all these years later.”

The National Railway Museum, which commissioned the research, is planning to put Locomotion No 1 at the centre of its enlarged Shildon museum in time for the bicentenary in 2025.

“The research shows that history never stops,” said head curator Andrew McLean. “There’s always something new to learn and it shows the value of going back to look at things afresh. It will challenge a lot of people’s perception of it, some people might be disappointed that it is a ‘hybrid replica’, but now we have a much better understanding of how it evolved, and the fact that it has the world’s oldest standard gauge boiler, built by Robert Stephenson & Co in Newcastle, that’s an amazing survivor.”

Sarah Price, the head of the Shildon museum, said: “Locomotion has become an important symbol of enterprise, engineering and innovation at a time when railways were very much a developing technology. It is incredibly important to the people of the north east as a link to our railway heritage.”

  • More on Locomotion No 1 in Memories on Saturday