September 27, 1825

Locomotion No 1 pulled the first train on the opening day of the Stockton & Darlington Railway – but new research by Dr Michael Bailey and Peter Dickson for the National Railway Museum shows that this iconic loco looked little like the paintings of the occasion, most of which were completed decades later.

The S&DR had ordered two locos at £600 each from the new engine works in Newcastle, but with George Stephenson dashing madly about the country involved other fledgling railway projects, he left instructions for his engine-builders to follow.

He was convinced a “parallel motion” – all those weird metal bits on top of the engine – would be better than the simple “slide-bars” he had used on his previous engines, but his men couldn’t put his ideas into practice. With the Darlington directors getting understandably anxious about the lack of a loco and time running short, Stephenson put aside his new idea and despatched the engine – nicknamed “Active” – with the old technology on top of it.


The Northern Echo: Locomotion No 1 at the Shildon museum. Picture: NRMLocomotion No 1 at the Shildon museum. Picture: NRM

It was dragged by horses down to the Aycliffe Lane level crossing, next to the old Heighington station, and assembled on the line by Stephenson watched by a crowd of curious boys. Crawford Marley, 13, and two unnamed friends were sent to a nearby farmhouse to get buckets of water to go in the barrel on the engine’s tender – the barrel was so large that the cooper, Mason Brotherton, had to make it outside his Blackwellgate workshop for fear of it getting stuck.

To light the engine, Stephenson sent John Taylor into Aycliffe Village to get a lantern and a candle, but then he spotted labourer Robert Metcalf, of Church Lane, Darlington, lighting his pipe by focussing the rays of the sun onto his tobacco through a piece of glass. Stephenson used the piece of glass to light the engine’s fire, and, once the engine was going, Crawford and his two pals were rewarded with a ride on the footplate – the railway’s first passengers.

The engine is described as being “brightly painted”, but no one knows what colours. Favourites are orange and green.

It worked perfectly on opening day, reaching 15mph with no one’s eyeballs popping out. The next engines were delivered to the railway with the new parallel motion on top and proved troublesome for months after.

The Northern Echo: FAMOUS: The famous view taken by artist John Dobbin of the opening day of the Stockton and Darlington Railway on September 27, 1825. It shows Skerne Bridge, which was restored recently, with North Road on the left and Locomotion No 1 going over theJohn Dobbin's view of the opening day was painted in 1875 and he painted Locomotion No 1 (top right) as it looked then and not how it looked in 1825

The Northern Echo: Heighington station in the 1920s or 1930s. Picture: Geoffrey Horsman, Historic EnglandHeighington station has this week been given a Grade II* listing, making it among the most important 10 per cent of buildings, and it has been hailed as the "world's first railway station" as research now shows it was operational by September 1827. Ironically, this means the station, now derelict, is probably older than the oldest bits of Locomotion No 1


July 1, 1828

AT Heighington station, the engine imploded when it stopped to take on water, killing its driver John Cree and splattering waterpumper Edward Turnbull with so many droplets of scalding water that his "face was black and speckled like a Dalmatian dog ever after".

It would seem that very few parts of the original engine were salvageable, although Shildon engineer Timothy Hackworth collected what he could and rebuilt it with some new features: he replaced the spindly eight-spoke wheels, which had a habit of breaking, with more solid constructions, and he added a “double return flue” to increase the surface area of the boiler.

This required a second chimney on the front.

He also added the parallel motion which Stephenson had wanted from day one.

It worked. The two flues produced 40 per cent more steam than before, and the engine’s average speed increased from five miles per hour to eight miles per hour and it often touched 12. It regularly moved 40,000 ton-miles of coal a month whereas before the rebuild, 25,000 ton-miles was a good month.

But it was so heavy that it damaged the track and when the rickety bridge over the Tees to Middlesbrough opened – the world’s first railway suspension bridge – it was too heavy to be allowed across.

The Northern Echo: Peter Davidson and Dr Michael Bailey with Locomotion No 1Peter Davidson and Dr Michael Bailey with Locomotion No 1


Engine No 4, Diligence, which had been built in Newcastle in 1827, was also too heavy so Hackworth took it to pieces. Its boiler was lighter and bigger than Locomotion No 1’s so Hackworth put it into No 1 – this boiler, which required only one chimney, is the oldest surviving part of the engine and is the oldest standard gauge railway boiler in the world.

It worked. Locomotion was now 1.75 tons lighter and able to cross the suspension bridge, and in the summer of 1835, it shifted more than 70,000 ton-miles of coal.

But, by 1840, just as a mobile phone from 2008 would look dreadfully old-fashioned today, the engine had been overtaken by new technology and was withdrawn from active service.

The Northern Echo: The opening day of the Stockton and Darlington Railway between Yarm and Stockton. A stagecoach races Locomotion No 1.The new loco overtakes an old fashioned horsedrawn coach near Eaglescliffe on opening day - but Locomotion No 1 did not look like this

June 4, 1846

The old engine was pressed into ceremonial action to open the Middlesbrough & Redcar Railway and, rather than being regarded as a pile of old junk, it surprisingly became the star of the show.


Nathaniel Plews, a Darlington brewer who was a director of the railway, said: “He felt more especial pleasure in meeting to celebrate this extension of the Stockton & Darlington line from a circumstance which might be looked upon as one of a singular nature – his having been brought to that place by the first engine that ever travelled with passengers in the United Kingdom – the old Stockton and Darlington Railway engine – No.1 (hear, hear and cheers)… they had that morning come by it from Middlesbro’ to Redcar in 23 minutes (cheers).”

The railway’s practice was to sell off obsolete engines, but for some reason, Locomotion was saved, with an eye to posterity, although it was reduced to working as a pump at Joseph Pease’s Roddymoor Colliery near Crook.

The Northern Echo: Locomotion No 1 at North Road station, DarlingtonLocomotion No 1 on its plinth outside North Road station

March 1856

The directors ordered locomotive superintendent William Bouch – the brother of Sir Thomas who designed the amazing viaducts of the trans-Pennine railway and the ill-fated Tay Bridge at Dundee – to restore No 1 “to its original state as a locomotive”.

But there were no original drawings and only the memories of old timers to go by. With limited budget, Bouch erroneously rebuilt No 1 with the parallel motion. He kept Diligence’s boiler, but seems to have rootled around Shildon for old wheels – one of the four doesn’t match.

It was this “hybrid replica”, as Dr Michael Bailey calls it, a looky-likey loco, that went on a plinth outside North Road station – after the ceremony, there was a reception in a special marquee in Henry Pease’s Pierremont mansion followed by cricket and quoits.

It is this inaccurate image that is now famous the world over – No 1 was a great star in the late 19th Century appearing in front of millions of exhibition visitors in to Newcastle, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Paris and Chicago – but the new research adds to the 200-year-old story of this iconic engine, even if no part of it actually dates back to the very beginning.

“It can still be described as the locomotive which started the public railway system,” said Dr Bailey. “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 Northern Echo: Locomotion No 1 on its plinth outside Bank Top station. Picture: NRMLocomotion No 1 on its plinth outside North Road station. Picture: NRM