Stephenson’s Rocket unveiled at National Railway Museum for 10-year stay


Lead Conservator Wendy Somerville-Woodiwis unveils Stephenson’s Rocket at its new home, the National Railway Museum in York, where it will be on display until April next year. Credit: Danny Lawson/PA Wire.

The original 1829 steam locomotive Stephenson’s Rocket can be seen from today at the National Railway Museum’s new Brass, Steel and Fire exhibition.

Rocket joins legends of the steam age such as Mallard and Flying Scotsman as the historic locomotive goes on long-term display at the National Railway Museum in York.

It will be displayed at the museum for at least a decade – initially as part of a new exhibition called Brass, Steel and Fire. Rocket will eventually be one of the stars of the museum’s redeveloped Great Hall, which is part of the museum’s £55m ‘Vision 2025’ masterplan.

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Built in 1829, Rocket is one of the UK’s most historically significant objects. After success at the Rainhill Trials in the same year, the engine operated on the world’s first inter-city passenger railway in 1830 and helped usher in the railway age, shaping the modern world as we know it. Rocket was the only locomotive to successfully complete the Trials, achieving a then remarkable top speed of 30mph and securing the engine’s place in history.

Designed by George and Robert Stephenson, Rocket‘s win proved that steam-powered locomotives were better at pulling trains than horses or stationary winding engines and that locomotives were suitable for widespread use.

To learn more about the Rainhill Trials, The Railway Magazine’s editor Chris Milner and deputy editor Gary Boyd-Hope went behind the scenes at the National Railway Museum for the documentary Rocket, Rainhill and the Stephensons’ Legacy. The film covers the Rainhill Trials, the competitors and the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. Featured are interviews with railway expert Dr Michael Bailey and the National Railway Museum’s senior curator Anthony Coulls and assistant director and head curator Andrew McLean. Also included is a unique glimpse behind the curtain at the National Railway Museum in York and the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester. The documentary is free with issue 259 of Heritage Railway, sister magazine to The Railway Magazine, and is released in stores and online on September 27, 2019.

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When interviewed about Rocket’s move to York, Anthony Coulls said: “Rocket was not the first steam engine, but it is certainly one of the most significant and it combined all the technological innovations available at the time to create one engine that was faster and more reliable than anything seen before.

“The technology pioneered by Rocket led to the rapid expansion of the railways, which brought widespread social and economic changes that shaped modern Britain as we know it. I am very excited at the prospect of displaying Stephenson’s original Rocket at the National Railway Museum alongside the models of Brass, Steel and Fire which will bring the story of the railways and engineering alive for our visitors.”

Rocket will be displayed in a purpose-built room in Station Hall alongside the museum’s collection of royal carriages as part of the new exhibition. Alongside Rocket, highlights of the exhibition include the world’s oldest working model steam engine made in 1836 by Thomas Greener, aged just 16 years old. Thomas became an engineer after working as an apprentice at Shildon Works under Timothy Hackworth. The model is based on a full-size stationary winding engine that would have been used on the Stockton and Darlington Railway to haul coal wagons up steep hills.

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The exhibition also features a very early example of a working toy engine named Pilot. This type of engine was nicknamed a ‘dribbler’ because they often left a trail of hot water or flammable spirits in their wake.

Other models include prototype model Topsy, on loan from the Ffestiniog Railway in Wales. This locomotive played an important role in the development and adoption of narrow-gauge railways around the world.

Another model of Stirling Single was made by Henry Wood, the father of Sir Henry Wood, who is now famous for having founded the Proms. The exhibition also includes the model Invicta, a near contemporary of Rocket made in the Stephenson works by Edward Fletcher, who later rose to become chief mechanical engineer of the North Eastern Railway.

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Credit: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

Brass, Steel and Fire opens today at the National Railway Museum and will be free to enter. The Rocket, Rainhill and the Stephensons’ Legacy DVD will be free with issue 259 of Heritage Railway and goes on sale on September 27, 2019.

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