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Immediate Significance


In the words of Robert Stephenson ‘the trials at Rainhill seem to have sent people railway mad’.

The Trials attracted thousands of spectators, crowding onto specially erected grandstands to watch the spectacle, but very few of them could have realised the significance of the drama unfolding before them.

This was the moment when the future of railway travel would be decided. People and goods could travel faster – and more reliably than ever before and the Industrial Age had arrived.

The Development of the Rocket and the L&MR

The progress and success of the L&MR can be said to be down to the perseverance of George Stephenson. He was opposed to using stationary engines on the line and pushed for the Rainhill Trials, leading to the onset of the new locomotive. The stationary engine continued to have a place in railway working where steep gradients were involved but, with the development of the locomotive, their use became less common.

There were countless attempts to displace the locomotive in this form – water tube boilers, electric-transmission (as in the Heilman locomotives), turbine drive and gear drive, but on balance no other form equalled that of the winner of the Rainhill trials – an engine embodying a multi-tubular boiler and having direct drive from cylinder to wheel.

It was this form created by Stephenson that was to endure almost one and a half centuries until it was replaced by another form of traction. The longevity of this form was not down to a lack of competition, but down to design lending itself to the necessary development over the coming years.

The only real difference between the Rocket and the last British Steam locomotive to be built was the provision of superheating, and the idea for that actually preceded George Stephenson, it had been thought of as far back as Trevithick. The most important outcome of the Trials was to establish the locomotive for general railway working at speeds never before imagined.

Locomotives had to be built for working the L&MR and these had to incorporate modifications to the Rocket design.

The alterations required included lowering the cylinders, increasing the cylinder size and that of the driving wheels. The immediate successor to Rocket (which become No1 of the L&MR) was Meteor Numbered 2. It gave its name to the class comprised of a further three engines. These all had 10in by 16in cylinders, i.e. a diameter 2in greater than Rocket’s, and a stroke 1in less.

The grate area (6ft) was the same. The evaporative heating surface was 300ft in the case of No2 and 308ft in the others of the class.

All, like Rocket, had an outside firebox and no smokebox. As Nos 2 and 3 were delivered in January 1830 and Nos 4 and 5 the following month, it will be understood that Stephenson’s Newcastle works lost no time in starting production.

The subsequent four engines (Nos 7, 8, 9 and 11) all had 11in by 16in cylinders and a slightly larger grate area; in the case of Nos 7 and 8 the heating surface was 310ft but in that of Nos 9 and 11 it was respectively 412 and 407ft. Most important was the change on those two engines of the position and firebox – which was internal as distinct from the former external position.

The success of Rocket was rapidly followed by that of the L&MR and the development of passenger rail travel. In the first year of working the railways conveyed 460,000 passengers who paid £101,829 in fares, against an estimated £10,000.

Goods traffic, expected to bring in £50,000, produced over £80,000, a combined total more than three times that forecast so it is small wonder that railway promotion was to develop into Railway Mania.

Stephenson lost no time in building engines and was not slow in developing design. In the short space of ten months the Rocket type progressed from an engine with 8in by 17in cylinders, 138ft of heating surface and weight of 4 tons 6cwt to one with 11in by 16in cylinders, 412ft of heating surface, weighing 7 tons 7cwt. Of the eight other engines of the Rocket type, all had 5 ft diameter driving wheels, 31in larger than those of Rocket.