Locomotion, No.1, the Stephensons and the S&DR
Locomotion No.1, ordered from Robert Stephenson & Co., was the first locomotive built for the Stockton & Darlington Railway and entered service in 1825 just in time to haul the first train on that railway at its opening, actually running its trial trip only a day previously. Although not the first locomotive to be built by this celebrated firm, its significance is profound.
Despite popular perception, the Stockton & Darlington Railway was not the first in most of the fields which posterity has often presumed. It was not the first public railway in the world (that distinction went to the Middleton Railway near Leeds), nor even the first steam powered operation in the region of its birth for that matter, there being several earlier contenders in the North East. It was not the first public passenger line either: that was in 1807 between Swansea and Mumbles, horsedrawn, and in South Wales. Nor did the famous George Stephenson (very much associated with the line) build the first steam locomotive in Britain - a Cornishman, Richard Trevithick, having done so in 1804. But on 27th September 1825, 'Engine No.1' of the S&DR (it did not have a name at that time), driven by George Stephenson no less, did bring the various strands of early railway evolution together by hauling passengers behind a steam locomotive for the first time ever on a public line, thus establishing the essential principles of the modern railway.
Locomotion itself was used on this famous occasion, though its external configuration was somewhat different from that in which it is now preserved and which the model represents. It was the first of four engines ordered for the fledgling S&DR and actually ran in service for some 20 years before withdrawal - a very notable achievement at such an early (and rapidly changing) period of evolution. It is not even clear who, if any one person, actually designed it. It is often attributed to George Stephenson because it is clearly in a direct line of evolution from his first locomotive attempt at Killingworth Colliery in 1814. But at time of building the S&DR, some 10 years or more later, George was far more involved with developing the concept of a railway network in general, including the S&DR, than with locomotives in particular. It is for this reason that he can lay sound claim to be the 'father of railways' in a strategic sense; but modern research shows that he probably had little real significant influence in the specific field of locomotive design after circa 1817, although he undoubtedly kept a close watch on what was happening.
What seems more significant is that the works where Locomotion was built, were in the charge of and named after George's son Robert who, if truth be told, was a far better engineer in the purest sense than his father. To be fair to both, however, Robert was given the sort of education which the self-taught George had not had; but if one single name can be coupled with Locomotion, then of the two Stephensons, Robert, rather than George, is the more likely. But Robert went to South America in the early 1820s so even he cannot have been involved in all the small detail of S&DR No.1 as finally completed. He came back a few years later to continue his association with locomotive development in general and also to serve as engineer in charge of the London & Birmingham Railway and the Britannia Bridge across the Menai Straits, to name but two of his many non-locomotive engineering achievements a few years hence. But during his absence abroad, there was also a fair degree of input from other early North-Eastern pioneers, including the celebrated Timothy Hackworth. At this range in time, therefore, it is perhaps most honest to regard Locomotion as a sort of 'committee job'!
Whatever, the engine itself was the first locomotive to employ connecting rods between the driven wheels (George Stephenson's Killingworth type was chain driven) and although its precise boiler form with semi-enclosed cylinders and single flue, not to mention its convoluted, highly visible 'parallel motion' arrangement above the boiler (to ensure the linearity of the piston rods within the cylinders), were to be of no great long term significance, its place in history is secure. Early technological flaws, not least those in the then, as yet not fully understood, field of metallurgy, were to result in several fairly rapid rebuildings to make things more reliable, but even though its final configuration (as preserved and modelled) is not quite as first built, the general arrangement of the engine when finally withdrawn is, in overall principle, much as was originally intended.
The origins of its name are obscure and it is not known, precisely, when it was given its final name - 1833 being probably the best estimate. What is known is that the S&DR originally referred to its locomotives by number only, Locomotion being the first to enter service in plain guise as 'Engine No.1'. Well substantiated later research indicates that for a few years prior to 1833 it was also known as Active but there is no solid evidence that this name was ever applied, tangibly, to the engine itself.
In a rare early example of 'historical foresight', though it is not known who made the eventual decision, Locomotion was not broken up when it was withdrawn from service c.1846 (as were its three non-identical but near-contemporaries when they too were made redundant by later designs), but was preserved as it stood. Over succeeding years it has occupied an honoured place in railway history, being mostly displayed in Darlington which, if not exactly its birthplace, was most certainly its spiritual home. It is now part of the National Collection and displayed at the Darlington Railway Museum, having spent over 100 years before then mostly on show on the concourse of Darlington station itself. It is a measure of its supreme historical importance that it is one of but three pioneering 19th-Century locomotive designs to have been perpetuated in 'working reproduction' form by the National Railway Museum, the others being Robert Stephenson's equally significant 'Rocket' and the GWR broad gauge locomotive 'Iron Duke'. The reproduction Locomotion can currently be seen in motion from time to time at the Beamish Open Air Museum in Co. Durham.