Timothy Hackworth (1786-1850) turned steam locomotives from a brilliant concept into a reliable commercial success. He is the man we have to thank for bringing mobility, jobs, and better lives to countless millions of people worldwide.
TIMOTHY Hackworth was locomotive superintendent on the Stockton and Darlington Railway, the world’s first public railway using steam locomotives, from its opening in 1825. His task was to keep the line’s primitive steam locomotives running and earning revenue.
Often overshadowed by his larger-than-life employer, George Stephenson, Hackworth was the man who made railways reliable.
As the industrial world looked on, his ‘Royal George’ and a succession of no-nonsense 0-6-0s established railways as commercially viable, and laid down principles of locomotive engineering that would last until the end of the steam age.*
In 1840, he founded the Soho Engine Works at Shildon, where his Christian principles - he was a Methodist preacher with a fondness for humorous anecdotes - inspired him to build a model village for himself and his employees.
Hackworth’s work had never been about personal glory, only shared achievement. That is why he is often forgotten — and why he should be remembered.
* An 0-6-0 locomotive has no small wheels at the front, six large driving wheels in the middle, and no trailing wheels at the back.
‘Puffing Billy’ was built by Timothy Hackworth and William Hedley in 1813, and is the oldest surviving steam locomotive in the world. It is on static display in London, but Beamish Museum in County Durham has a working replica of it, which you can see in the video below.