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King George IV (1820-1830)
The Rainhill Trials : To prove that steam power was the future of railways, George Stephenson held a truly historic competition.
The Rainhill Trials

The Liverpool and Manchester Railway, opened in 1830, was the first passenger-carrying line to be operated exclusively by steam locomotivies (horses were still sometimes used on the Stockton and Darlington). Initially, there was some hesitation among investors over safety and reliability, so the matter was put to the test near St Helens, at the Rainhill Trials.

IN 1829 George Stephenson, appointed to construct one of those new-fangled railways to ferry wool and passengers between Liverpool and Manchester, wanted to prove to doubters that steam locomotives could handle the traffic better than cable-hauled or horse-drawn carriages.

So starting on October 6th, on a level section of track at Rainhill, Stephenson held a competition. Five locomotive builders were challenged to maintain an average of 10mph over a total of thirty-five miles.

‘Cycloped’, driven not by steam but by a horse plodding away on a treadmill, disintegrated early on. Timothy Burstall’s steam-powered ‘Perseverance’ was disqualified for failing to achieve the 10mph average, and both Timothy Hackworth’s ‘Sans Pareil’ and John Ericsson’s ‘Novelty’, which topped 28mph, broke down.

The undisputed winner of the £500 prize was ‘Rocket’, designed and built by George’s son Robert. It breezed through the tests, averaging 12mph and reaching a top speed of thirty. ‘Rocket’ made Robert the country’s leading locomotive engineer, and became the template for most steam locomotives thereafter.

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Picture: © Geni, Wikimedia Commons. Licence: CC BY-SA 4.0. View original
A replica of ‘Rocket’, the winning locomotive at the Rainhill Trials in October 1829. It was designed and built by Robert Stephenson, with input from his father George. It was the most advanced and forward-looking of all the designs, and the most recognisably modern steam locomotive. The original locomotive, stripped of its wooden cladding, is on display at the Science Museum in London.

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