George Stephenson had already built over a dozen steam locomotives and engineered colliery railways at Killingworth in Northumberland, and Hetton in County Durham. Now his growing reputation had brought him another challenge, a little further south at Shildon.
THE Stockton and Darlington Railway is celebrated as the first public railway for fare-paying passengers, and over 30,000 travelled the line in twelve months from July 1826. But their single, horse-drawn carriages on rails (fare one-and-six)* were not the line’s real business.
That was to trundle long train-loads of coal from the coalfields of County Durham to the Tees at Stockton, for which George Stephenson and his son Robert convinced Edward Pease, the line’s chief investor, to use steam power, establishing a new locomotive works at Forth Street in Newcastle.
On 27th September 1825, Forth Street’s ‘Locomotion No. 1’ led the grand opening of the Stockton and Darlington, the world’s first commercial railway serving the general public.
Behind it was a carriage named ‘Experiment’ and twenty-one coal wagons temporarily fitted out with seats intended for three hundred passengers, though almost twice as many piled into the train.
* That is, 1s 6d or one shilling and six pence. There were 20 shillings to the pound, and twelve pence to the shilling. In 1849, a hewer (worker at the coalface) received about 4s a day (Durham Mining Museum); meanwhile in London, a 1lb loaf of bread sold for a penny farthing (1¼ pence) (Old Bailey Online).
Locomotion No. 1
Below is a short video of a working replica of Locomotion No. 1, at Beamish Museum in County Durham.