Sunday, 28 March 2010

On the Move - Rack and Pinion Loco

One of the few pieces on the Tapestry which we have detailed information about.

"This is the world's first commercially successful steam locomotive, which began work on Wednesday 24th June 1812 on the waggonway between Middleton Colliery and Leeds.
Four of these locomotives were built for the colliery owner Charles John Brandling, by the famous engineer Matthew Murray, at his Round Foundry in Water Lane, Holbeck.
They incorporated a cogged wheel which gripped on to a cogged rail, an invention patented by John Blenkinsop, Mr. Brandling's manager at Middleton. This system enabled the locomotive, which weighed less than 5 tons, to heave along about 30 waggons of coal, sometimes weighing over 100 tons in total, without breaking the brittle cast-iron rails then in use. A man named George Stephenson saw an identical locomotive start work near Newcastle in 1813: his own first locomotive copied most of it, but omitted the cogged wheel and, therefore, was not nearly as strong as the Leeds locomotives.
Between 1812 and 1835, people from France, Prussia, Saxony, Bavaria, Austria, Russia, and the U.S.A. are known to have seen the Leeds locomotives at work and later tried to interest their own countrymen in the building of steam railways.
The Hunslet area adjoining the railway was later at the centre of Leeds' important locomotive-building industry.
The Middleton Railway has other claims to fame: in 1758, its route agreements were ratified by the first railway Act of Parliament and,
over two hundred years later, in June 1960, it became the first standard-gauge railway with services operated entirely by volunteer preservationists.
Steam trains still run on the historic Middleton Railway, maintained and operated by the volunteers of the Middleton Railway Trust Museum."

Information supplied by Sheila Bye (Historian/Archivist, Middleton Railway Trust Museum)

The piece was hand stitched by Lesley Dove


  1. I see our archivist has already commented on the Middleton locos. There were four of these engines on the Middleton line, believed to have been named Salamanca, Prince Regent, Lord Wellington and Marquis Wellesley. Salamanca is the one of these that gets the most mention as it was the first steam locomotive to be built for commercial use.
    These locos lasted until 1835, by which time two had exploded and the other two were withdrawn. The railway returned to using horses, as it had done when first built in 1758. Steam returned1866 with a locomotive built by local firm Manning Wardle and named Blenkinsop after John Blenkinsop who had brought about the introduction of the rack engines in 1812. This engine was followed a few years later by another named Matthew Murray after the engineer that constructed the rack engines. For most of the years since then there have been engines named after Murray and Blenkinsop in use on the Middleton Railway. Though our John Blenkinsop is currently stored out of use, Manning Wardle built Matthew Murray (the fourth engine to carry the name) will be back in service this year after an overhaul.

    Kris Ward

  2. Thanks for that. I've another question now. I've just been looking at another Millennium tapestry of Cynon Valley and they have Richard Trevithick's steam railway locomotive which reached Abercynon from Penydarren in 1804 - is the distinction 'commercial'?

    I see Mr Trevithick's had no cogged wheel

  3. Though Trevithick's engine won a bet by completing its run along the Merthyr Tramway it lacked the strength to haul even empty wagons up the steep gradients and it's weight often broke the rails which had been laid for carrying horse drawn wagons. It proved that there was potential for steam locomotives though and by the addition of the rack system and making the engine lighter the Middleton engines overcame the problems with the Penydarren and similar engines.

  4. Thanks for that, I'll have to revisit the Middleton Railway now - I see you're open for the whole of Easter weekend.


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