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Locomotion No.1, Stockton & Darlington Railway
North Road Station, Darlington, County Durham, UK
associated engineer
George Stephenson
date  1825
UK era  Georgian  |  category  Steam Engine or Locomotive  |  reference  NZ238255
Stephenson’s Locomotion, originally named Active, was the first steam locomotive constructed for the Stockton & Darlington Railway — the world's first steam-powered passenger railway. The locomotive has been rebuilt more than once and is on display at the Head of Steam museum, housed in the railway’s former North Road Station. A full-size working replica is held at Beamish.
When the Stockton & Darlington Railway opened on Tuesday 27th September 1825, the route was worked by steam, with initially a single locomotive, and with stationary engines to pull trains up the steep inclines. The machines were built in Newcastle, at the Forth Street works of Robert Stephenson & Co.
The company had been founded on 23rd June 1823, by the railway’s engineer George Stephenson (1781-1848) and his son Robert Stephenson (1803-59). Its five partners were the Stephensons, Edward Pease (1767-1858), Thomas Richardson (1771-1853) and Michael Longridge (1785-1858). The works were operational from August 1823, and in November the Stockton & Darlington Railway ordered four stationary engines. On 16th September 1824, the railway company ordered two locomotives, each costing around £550.
One year later, the line's first locomotive was delivered by road from Newcastle. Originally named Active, it was known as simply "the locomotive". Her four 1.22m diameter driving wheels (0-4-0 arrangement) were coupled by rods and overhead beams rather than chains, maximising adhesion to the rails. Each of the axles was powered by a single vertical cylinder via the rods and crank pins on the wheels — a system George Stephenson had patented with Ralph Dodds (1792-1874) in February 1815. The two cylinders were mounted in line along the centre of the single-flue boiler. The 6.6 tonne machine's boiler, cylinders and wheels were of cast iron and her engine frame of timber.
On 26th September 1825, the evening before the Stockton & Darlington Railway’s official opening, the locomotive made a practice run between Shildon and Darlington, pulling a party of railway directors aboard the railway’s first passenger coach Experiment. Steam engines of the day had no cab so Active’s driver James Stephenson (1779-1847), George Stephenson’s elder brother, perched on a tiny platform beside the top of the boiler while the fireman William Gowling stood on a footplate between the rear of the engine and the tender.
Next morning, with George Stephenson driving, Active set out from Brusselton (NZ211255) near Shildon coupled to her tender, followed by five wagons of coal and one of flour, Experiment bearing the railway’s coat of arms and motto Periculum Privatum Utilitas Publica ('Private Peril for Public Service'), some 20 wagons of guests and workmen and six more wagons of coal. The 122m long train was crammed with passengers — 300 tickets had been sold but twice as many people boarded. Several flag-bearers rode horses along the line ahead of the engine, and 24 wagons drawn by horses trundled behind the train.
Active was the first steam locomotive to pull a passenger train on a public railway. She hauled a total load of more than 80 tonnes, reaching 24.1kph (15mph) downhill with bursts of speed up to 38.6kph (24mph), and taking around two hours to complete the first 14km of the journey to Darlington. During this time, she stopped to have a blockage removed from a valve on the feed pump, and to shunt a wayward wagon into a passing loop after it had derailed twice.
By the time the train halted at midday to refill the water barrel in the tender, the locomotive had been in motion for 65 minutes, averaging 12.9kph (8mph). Six wagon loads of coal were distributed (free) to local people in Darlington before the train departed for the 19km journey to Stockton. A man on horseback, believed to have been John Dixon (1796-1865), rode in front of the engine carrying a flag.
The water barrel was refilled again during a stop at Goosepool (NZ370138) near Middleton St George. As the locomotive approached the end of the journey, where the rail track is adjacent to the main road (now A135) from Egglescliffe (NZ417136) to Stockton, the train raced alongside a stagecoach and quickly drew ahead. The cavalcade arrived in Stockton at 3.45pm to be greeted by a 21-gun salute and the cheers of the waiting crowd.
Though the Stockton & Darlington Railway’s first locomotive had secured a place in history, technologically she was not so different from the engines George Stephenson had built at Wylam and Killingworth over the previous decade. Despite her inefficiency, the tendency of inexperienced drivers to stoke the fire until the chimney glowed red hot, and suffering a broken wheel within days of the line opening, she proved the worth of steam locomotives.
On 1st November 1825, the railway’s second locomotive arrived from Newcastle, and the pair were called No.1 and No.2. As more locomotives joined the fleet, the numbering system was replaced by names. Active (No.1) became Locomotion, No.2 was called Hope, No.3 Black Diamond and No.4 Diligence.
On 1st July 1828, Locomotion’s boiler exploded at Aycliffe Level (NZ271225, now Heighington Station) during a stop for water. The driver John Cree died of his injuries two days later, and water pumper Edward Turnbull was maimed. The cause of the accident was attributed to the driver tying down the safety valve arm to prevent it rattling as the unsprung locomotive jolted along the track. A similar incident had happened to Hope in March 1828, when her driver John Gillespie was killed.
Timothy Hackworth (1786-1850) rebuilt Locomotion at the company's Shildon works, installing a spring safety valve and a new boiler with a single flue and two return tubes. As a result of his efforts, she covered some 40,225km the following year. But better locomotives were being developed, notably Robert Stephenson's Rocket, which won the Rainhill Trials in October 1829 and worked the Liverpool & Manchester Railway. Rocket was the first to use a multi-tubular boiler, greatly increasing efficiency.
In 1833, Locomotion hit a donkey crossing the line at Goosepool, injuring the fireman who lost a foot. Records show that she was derailed at least three times — at Shildon (date unknown), at Aycliffe Level in November 1837, resulting in almost £23 worth of damage, and at Middlesbrough in October 1839.
Nevertheless, Locomotion worked the Stockton & Darlington Railway until 1841, by which time she had a boiler with a single flue of the original design. The boiler was then 1.22m in diameter and 3.05m long with a heating surface of 5.6 sq m. The vertical cylinders were 254mm in diameter with a 610mm stroke.
In 1841, she was taken out of railway service and purchased by Joseph Pease & Partners for use as a pumping engine. In June 1846, she returned to the track, heading the procession to open the Middlesbrough & Redcar Railway. After resuming pumping duties, it’s reputed that in 1850 she was on sale as scrap for £100 — fortunately no buyers came forward.
In 1856, Joseph Pease (1799-1872) and his family spent £50 restoring Locomotion. In 1857, they presented the locomotive to the Stockton & Darlington Railway Company. She was put on display at Alfred Kitching’s (1808-82) iron foundry at Hopetown in Darlington.
Locomotion was back in steam for the railway’s Golden Jubilee in September 1875, and the procession of locomotives at the George Stephenson Centenary in June 1881. And she was exhibited at the Centennial International Exhibition in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1876), the International Exhibition of Navigation, Commerce and Industry in Liverpool (1886) and the Exposition Universelle in Paris (1889). In 1892, she was moved to an outdoor pedestal at Bank Top Station (NZ294140) in Darlington.
In 1924, after substantial repairs to counteract the effects of the outdoor location, Locomotion took part in the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in London. She was on the rails for the centenary of the Stockton & Darlington Railway in 1925, though not in steam, the motive power was supplied by an internal combustion engine in the tender.
During World War II (1939-45), Locomotion was kept at Stanhope Station, north west of Bishop Auckland, in case Bank Top Station was bombed. In peacetime, she returned to the mainline station. In 1975, she was moved to the former North Road Station (NZ239255) when it became Darlington Railway Museum (now called Head of Steam). The locomotive remains on display here, as part of the National Railway Museum collection.
In August 1975, to mark the 150th anniversary of the opening of the Stockton & Darlington Railway, the Rail 150 exhibition of locomotives, rolling stock and other artefacts of steam travel was held at Shildon. A full size working replica of Locomotion No.1 led the cavalcade.
The original Locomotion is too fragile to work again without extensive rebuilding, which would also compromise historical authenticity, and so she did not play an operational role in the celebrations. Instead, the replica locomotive was planned and constructed (1973-5) as a memorial to the early railway pioneers, and for the hands-on training of modern engineers. Parts were manufactured at the South West Durham Training Centre.
The replica Locomotion No.1 is on display at Beamish Museum, located between Durham and Gateshead. Here she is housed in a locomotive shed at Pockerley Wagonway (NZ221543) to the east of the museum, and pulls passenger wagons up and down the line. She has also run on the Nene Valley Railway in Cambridgeshire.
Research: ECPK
"George Stephenson: The Remarkable Life of the Founder of the Railways" by Hunter Davies, Sutton Publishing Limited, Stroud, revised edition, 2004
"George and Robert Stephenson: The Railway Revolution" by L.T.C. Rolt, Penguin Books Ltd, London, 1984
"The history of the first public railway, (Stockton & Darlington) the opening day, and what followed", edited by Michael Heavisides, Heavisides & Son, Stockton-on-Tees, 1912
reference sources   CEH North

Locomotion No.1, Stockton & Darlington Railway