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The North East is rich in railway history. It was the need for coal to fuel the industrial revolution that was instrumental in the advance of the railways in the region. The development of the railways meant the coal could be transported from the collieries to the cities and the ports faster and more economically.

The North East Railway Trail takes you on a tour of the region, visiting the home of the great railway pioneers, riding on the world's oldest railway and admiring the world's fastest steam locomotive.


The North East was the home to the great men of the railways. Three of them were born within a few miles of each other; William Hedley at Newburn, and Timothy Hackworth and George Stephenson at Wylam.

William Headley was manager at Wylam Colliery, and was asked by the owner of its Christopher Blackett, to construct a locomotive to replace horse power on his waggonway. Headley was aided in his work by the colliery blacksmith, Timothy Hackworth, and he built two locomotives "Puffing Billy" and "Wylam Dilly" that were used to haul coal from the colliery to Leminngton on the River Tyne.

George Stephenson was born in Wylam and lived with his family in a cottage next to the waggonway. George's father worked at a local colliery and when George was 14 years old he joined his father working there. In 1802 he was made engineman at the colliery and in the same year married Francis Henderson. She gave birth to his only son Robert but suffered from ill health and died of consumption in 1806.

In 1807 George was employed as engineman at Killingworth Colliery, and in his spare time he increased his knowledge of steam engines by taking apart pumping engines made by James Watt and Thomas Newcomen. Stephenson was promoted to colliery enginewright and was asked by the colliery manager Nicholas Wood to construct a locomotive. Stephenson was aware of the work being done by Headley at Wylam Colliery and also by John Blenkinsop at Middleton Colliery near Leeds.

In 1814 he built his first engine "Blucher" and over the following years improved on the design so that the connecting rods drove the wheels directly. Stephenson built engines for a number of local collieries while at Killingworth, and became well known for his skill in locomotive construction.

The Wylam Railway Museum illustrates its place in history though a series of exhibits, model locomotives and railway artifacts.

Wylam Railway Museum, Falcon Centre, Falcon Terrace, Wylam. NE41 8EE. Tel: 01661 852174 Open: All year, Tues - Thurs 2-5 and 5.30 - 7:30, Sat 9 -12.

George Stephenson's birthplace in Wylam can also be visited. He was born in 1781 and the cottage was home to four families, one in each room. The Stephenson family room is open to the public and has been restored to how it was when the eight family members lived there. You can also take a walk down the Wylam Colliery waggonway, which has been preserved as a riverside walk.

George Stephenson's Birthplace Wylam. Tel: 01661 853457 Open: 1 April - 31 October, Thursdays, weekends, and Bank Holiday Mondays 1- 5.30. The cottage is National Trust property.

By Car-Wylam is 8 miles west of Newcastle centre, off A69. By Train -Trains run regularly from Newcastle Central Stations to Wylam. By Bus- Buses from Newcastle to Wylam.


As word spread about George Stephenson's achievement, he was asked to be involved in an increasing number of railway projects. In 1819 he began the task of building a railway between Hetton and the River Wear at Sunderland. Stephenson used locomotives to haul the coal waggons along the level terrain, but when the gradient became too steep he used stationary engines to pull them up by a series of rope-worked inclines and pulleys.

At Springwell Village, Gateshead, you can visit another one of George Stephenson's railways that employed the same principle. Bowes Railway has the last surviving standard gauge hauled railway, the earliest section was designed by George Stephenson and opened in 1826. It was developed as part of the railway to carry coal to the River Tyne at Jarrow from the pits in the north west of Durham and was 15 miles long when completed in 1855. Locomotives worked each end, with the six mile middle section consisting of rope worked inclines with very steep gradients. At its peak, the Railway handled over 1 million tons of coal per year and remained virtually intact until 1968.

The railway now runs a passenger service using steam locomotives and traditional brake vans formerly used on the colliery lines. The line runs from the museum centre to Blackham's Hill, where the two working rope-haulage systems can be viewed pulling coal wagons up the two inclines. They are operated from an engine house built in 1915 and were originally powered by steam, but it was converted to an electric engine in 1950.

The railway centre also has a wide collection of colliery wagons and three saddle tank steam locos.

Bowes Railway, Springwell Road, Springwell Village, Gateshead. NE9 7QJ. Tel: 0191 416 1847 http://users.pipemedia.net/bowes/ Open: The site is open daily. Operational days occur throughout the year, telephone for details.

By Car- On the B1288 Springwell Lane between Wrekenton and Springwell Village. By Bus- The following buses run along Springwell Lane and pass the Centre. From Gateshead Metro Interchange Nos. 187, 188, 189 From Newcastle Eldon Square Bus Station Nos. X4, X5, X90, X94 From Sunderland Park Lane Bus Station Nos. 187, 188, 636, X4.

3. Beamish, The North of England Open Air Museum

In 1821 an Act of Parliament was passed to allow the construction of a horse drawn railroad to connect the collieries of west Durham and the port of Stockton on the River Tees. The man behind the idea was Edward Pease, a local wool merchant, who along with a group of businessmen formed the Stockton and Darlington Railway Company. It's a common misconception that the line ran from Stockton to Darlington, but it actually ran from Stockton to Wilton Park Colliery, near Shildon, via Darlington. Darlington was included in the title because most of the money to set it up came from the Darlington businessmen.

Originally the railway was to be horse drawn, but Stephenson and Nicolas Wood suggested to Pease that he should consider using steam locomotives. Pease went to visit Killingworth Colliery and when he saw Stephenson's engines at work he was convinced that steam power would be the best option. He also offered Stephenson the position of Chief Engineer on the railway and in 1823 they set up a company, along with George's son Robert, to construct locomotives for the line. It was called Robert Stephenson and Company, and was based in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

Stephenson employed Timothy Hackworth, who had been involved with Headley's locomotives at Wylam, as one of his engineers, and in 1825 their first locomotive "Locomotion No.1" was complete.

You can take a ride on a working replica of "Locomotive No. 1" along Pockerley Waggonway at Beamish Open Air Museum. The museum also has an exhibition on the railway pioneers, as well as one of the oldest locomotives "Hetton", which was built in 1822. At Beamish there is also a typical branch line country station of the early 20th century along with a complete goods yard, sign box, locomotives and rolling stock.

Beamish, The North of England Open Air Museum, Beamish, County Durham. DH9 0RG. Tel: 01207 231811. http://www.merlins.demon.co.uk/beamish Open: Apr to Oct, daily 10 -5. Nov to Mar, Tues - Thurs and weekends 10 - 4. Reduced operation in Winter.

Directions: By Car - Follow signs from A1(M) Junction 63, 4 miles along the A693 towards Stanley. By Train - Durham City and Newcastle Central Stations are convenient for bus services to Beamish. By Bus - Service buses run from Durham City (Milburngate), Durham Railway Station and Colleges (summer only), Newcastle (Eldon Square) and Sunderland (Park Lane) to the Museum Entrance Gates.

4. Timothy Hackworth Railway and Victorian Museum

Timothy Hackworth was appointed Locomotive Foreman of the Stockton and Darlington Railway in 1825, with the responsibility of maintaining the locomotives. He was given a cottage and small workshops at Shildon near the terminus of the line. He built up the workshops so that he was able to undertake construction of locomotives as well as their repair. In 1928 the boiler of Locomotion No.1 exploded, killing the driver, and Hackworth set about improving the design by enlarging the size of the boiler. The following year Hackworth built a new locomotive the "Royal George", to replace Locomotive No.1.

The original engine shed and goods sheds remain and are open as part of the Timothy Hackworth Railway and Victorian Museum. His cottage is situated near the shed, and is furnished as it would have been when Hackworth lived there.

The exhibits in the engine shed include Hackworth's Braddyll locomotive and a full scale working replica of "San Pareil", which he built to run in the Rainhill Trials for the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. Sans Pareil had a fair chance of winning the trials, until a cylinder exploded on one of the practice runs, paving the way for Robert Stephenson's "Rocket" to win the £500 prize. Stephenson had constructed Hackworth's cylinders and some of Hackworth's supporters claimed industrial espionage!

In 1833 Hackworth left the employment of the Stockton and Darlington Railway and set up his own locomotive works at Shildon. He continued to construct locomotives for the Stockton and Darlington Railway, but also built them for other companies in Britain and for railways in all corners of the world, including Novia Scotia and Russia.

Timothy Hackworth Railway and Victorian Museum Shildon, County Durham. DL4 1PQ. Tel: 01388 777 999 Open: Easter to late October, Wed - Sun and Bank Holidays 10-5.

By Car - From A1 junction 58, go towards Bishop Auckland. The museum is signed posted in Shildon. By Train - Shildon BR. Museum is 400 yards from the station. By Bus - Regular services from Darlington and Bishop Auckland.

5. Darlington Railway Centre and Museum

The museum is situated in the restored North Road Station, which was on the original route of the Stockton and Darlington Railway. The railway was opened on 27th September 1825, when George Stephenson's Locomotion No.1 hauled a train of 38 wagons and several hundred passengers from Shildon to Stockton, at an average speed of 8 miles per hour. The event created great interest and masses of people from the towns and villages within a few miles of the railway flocked to see it; it was estimated that 40 to 50,000 people witnessed the proceedings.

George Stephenson drove Locomotion No.1, and his assistants, believed to include Timothy Hackworth, accompanied him on board. It hauled along a cavalcade of 38 wagons and carriages including twelve wagons laden with flour and coal and twenty-one open wagons packed full of passengers. The proprietors of the railway and its committee travelled in a purpose built passenger carriage called Experiment. By the time the train reached Stockton there were believed to be over 600 people on board, and this was the first time a steam locomotive had pulled passengers on a public railway.

However, in the early years of the railway it was only the goods wagons that were hauled by steam, while the passenger coaches like Experiment were pulled by horse. The trains on the Stockton and Darlington Railway were fitted with dandy carts in which the horse could stand when the carriages were going down hill.

The price of transporting coal on the railway started off a 1d per ton per mile, but by the end of the first year this was decreased to ½d. The colliery owners found that this form of transport was half the cost of any other mode, and soon nearly all the local trade was using the railway. The reduction in the cost of transportation led to the price of coal at Stockton falling from 17 shillings to just over 10. By the end of the first year of operation the income of the railway had risen from £700 to £1500 per month.

The market town of Darlington quickly developed into an important centre of the railway industry where many main-line engines were built for use in Britain and abroad. The railway works have now gone, but the town's history is commemorated at the Railway Centre and Museum. The large collection includes engines, carriages, wagons, a large 0-gauge model railway and hundreds of other exhibits. Darlington built exhibits include "Derwent", the oldest surviving locomotive built in the town, however, the main attraction is George Stephenson's original Locomotion No. 1.

The Ken Hoole Study Centre has a wide variety of materials on the railways of the North East, which can be viewed by appointment. Steam train rides are also available on a short line within the Railway Centre and Museum grounds on certain weekends.

Darlington Railway Centre and Museum North Road Station, Darlington. DL3 6ST. Tel: 01325 460 532 Open: All year, daily 10-5. Closed Jan.

Directions: By Car - Off the A167, 1 mile north of the town centre. By Train - Trains operated by Regional Railways North East call at North Road Station. By Bus - Frequent services along North Road stop nearby.

6. National Railway Museum, York

Robert Stephenson and Company continued to construct locomotives for the Stockton and Darlington Railway, however, the most famous locomotive to come out of their works was "Rocket", which Robert Stephenson entered in the Rainhill Trials of 1829.

In 1829 the directors of the Liverpool and Manchester Company were unsure as to which form of motive power to use on the railway they had built. Some preferred the use of locomotives while others favoured stationary engines. It was decided to hold a competition, with a prize of £500 for the winner, which would demonstrate the effectiveness of the steam locomotive.

The competition was to be held on the Manchester side of Rainhill Bridge, and became known as the Rainhill Trials. Although ten locomotives were entered only five turned up, these were, Thomas Brandeth's Cycloped, Timothy Burstall's Perseverance, Timothy Hackworth's Sans Pareil, John Braithwaite and John Ericsson's Novelty, and Robert Stephenson's Rocket.

The main rules of the competition were that the locomotives should weigh less than 6 tons, all the wheels should be sprung, and to be eligible for the first prize the locomotive must reach 10 mph. The locomotives had to run up and down the track ten times, which was equivalent to the distance between Manchester and Liverpool.

Cycloped was a strange contraption in which a horse was mounted on top of a wagon. The horse powered the wheels by turning round a treadmill type device. Not surprisingly it did not reach 10mph and was withdrawn from the competition when the horse fell through the floor of the wagon!

Mr Burstall's locomotive Perseverance was damaged in an accident on the way to Liverpool and was not able to compete until the sixth day. It only managed to reach around 6mph and was withdrawn from the competition.

Timothy Hackworth's Sans Pareil started promisingly and reached 16 mph, but when a cylinder broke he was forced to withdraw.

Braithwaite and Ericsson's Novelty was much lighter and smaller than the other entries and was much admired by the public. It reached a speed of 28mph when it was run without the carriages and even with the load attached reached 20mph. Unfortunately a small pipe burst on one of the runs and it had to be sent for repair.

One the third day of the trials the competition rules were amended by the judges to take account of the fact that Novelty carried its own fuel and water and therefore did not require a tender carriage. These new changes seemed to take away the advantage of the innovative design of the Novelty, which required less water and coal. There was some debate as to the fairness of these changes, and it is interesting to note that one of the judges of the competition was Nicolas Wood, manager of Killingworth Colliery, friend and ex-employer of George Stephenson!

The burst pipe of Novelty had been replaced and was run under these new conditions the next day. The joints of the locomotive were sealed with cement and the urgent repairs had meant that the new seals had not had time to set properly. When Novelty reached about 15mph the joints started to leak and it had to be pulled up. Braithwaite and Ericsson knew that it would take at least a week to let the cement set properly and decided to withdraw from the competition.

This left the way open for Robert Stephenson's Rocket to claim first prize, and despite any skepticism, it was a worthy winner. It was the only locomotive that completed the 35 mile course, and with only a 16 minute break for water supplies, it was able to complete the course a second time. It reached top speeds of 16mph and averaged over 12mph, and when the Rocket was run without the load attached it could reach speeds of 30mph.

The new features that Stephenson included in the design became the standard for all steam locomotives. At the National Railway Museum in York a sectioned replica of the Rocket is on display, which clearly shows the revolutionary design. The museum also has a working replica and, until June 1999, it is host to the original Rocket, which is on loan from the Science Museum, London.

The Museum has a vast collection of locomotives, rolling stock and artifacts that tell the history of the railways from the Rocket to the Eurostar. Permanent exhibits include "Palace on Wheels" which is a collection Royal carriages dating from the Victorian era, and Mallard, the world's fastest steam train which holds the World Record of 126mph.

Leeman Road, York, Y026 4XJ. Tel: 01904 621 261 http://www.nmsi.ac.uk/ Open: All year, daily 10 - 6.

Directions: By Car - The museum is sign posted on all major routes into the city. By Train - The museum is 5 minutes walk from York Station.

7. Middleton Railway

Middleton Railway was established in 1758 by an act of Parliament and can rightly claim to be the oldest railway in the world. It was built to carry coal from the Middleton Collieries to Leeds and thus provided cheaper coal that gave a vital impetus to the growth of Leeds and its industries.

In the beginning Middleton Railway was a development of the early wagonways by which wagons of coal were hauled along tracks by horses. However, by 1812 it began running the world's first commercially successful steam locomotive service. The locomotives were designed by Richard Blenkinsop, who devised a rack and pinion method of propulsion. This was achieved when cogged wheels pulled the locomotives along by engaging in teeth cast into the sides of the rails. The principle has already been employed in some types of machinery, notably in the machines devised by Matthew Murray. Murray was a prominent local engineer and it was to him that Blenkinsop went to have his locomotives built.

The first locomotive ran on 24th June 1812 and a crowd of many thousands turned up to witness the event. At four o'clock in the afternoon the locomotive ran from the coal staith to the top of Hunslet Moor, where six wagons of coal, each weighing three tons, were attached to it. About fifty spectators, who climbed aboard the wagons, added to the weight but it still managed the return journey of 1¼ miles in 23 minutes.

About seven locomotives were all built to the same design, and each engine weighed about five tonnes and, according to Blenkinsop, did the work of 16 horses in 12 hours. They each hauled 27 wagons of coal at 3½ mile per hour, and the first two engines went into service on August 12th of that year. One was named Prince Regent, as it was his birthday on that day, and the other Salamanca after Wellington's victory in the Peninsular War.

For many years, people came from all around to witness this strange new form of transport, including one George Stephenson who embodied many of Blenkinsop's features in his first engine "Blucher".

Middleton Railway was also the first railway to be run by volunteers when it was taken over by a preservation society in 1960. It now has an extensive collection of industrial locomotive and rolling stock. A passenger service is run over 1 mile of the original route between Moor Road, Hunslet and Park Halt.

Middleton Railway, The Station, Moor Road, Hunslet, Leeds. LS10 2JQ. Tel: 01132 710 320 http://www.personal.leeds.ac.uk/~mph6mip/mrt/mrt.htm Open: Easter - Christmas, weekends and Bank Holidays. Directions: By Car - Next to M1 junction 45, 1 mile from Leeds City centre. By Train -Leeds BR. By Bus - Regular services from Leeds City Centre (Corn Exchange).

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Driving - North West Railways