Thursday, 23 February 2017

Who drove Rocket?

Rather like the tenuous, or indeed fictional claims, that just about everone's grandad or great uncle "drove the Flying Scotsman", so too were there various claims as to who drove Rocket, both at Rainhill and at the opening day.

James Nasmyth (of Steam Hammer fame) who witnessed the events of the opening day of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway in September 1830 states in his autobiograpgy that George and Robert Stephenson were her crew.

"I was much entranced by seeing it make several short trips under the personal management of George Stephenson, who acted as engineman,  while his son Robert acted as stoker. During their trips of four or five miles along the line, The Rocket attained a speed of  thirty miles an hour- a speed then though almost incredible!"

That said, Nasmyth says he saw Rocket performing for the public on the 12 September (before opening day) and that he took the opportunity to sketch Rocket - when in fact what he sketched was Northumbrian. A confusion which in the 1880s (and to some, ever since, who enjoy conspiracy theories)  to conclude that there were in fact two Rocket locomotives.

Other claimants have included Sir Charles Fox - but men from the Stephenson Company soon demolished his claim almost as soon as he had made it in the early 1850s.

John Dewrance, latterly Locomotive Superintendent of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway, is also cited as having driven Rocket.


 George Stephenson certainly drove her at least two occasions on the 'Public Relations' trips tun by the Liverpool & Manchester in Summer 1830.

So if her regular driver was none of these worthies, then who?

The usual claim of Rocket's first driver is Mark Wakefield. Robert Stannard claims that Mark Wakefield drove Rocket at Rainhill - and that he in fact was put on the wooden barrel of the tender (and was literally stuck on as the varnish was wet). Mark Wakefield also left a commentary supporting his claim as to have driven Rocket, at least in service noting that when she came to the Whiston Incline they had to stop her, tie down the safety valve, open the regulator, jump off, and walk up beside the engine and jump back on at the right moment to stop her.

One letter writer  ("J. H. H.") to Bell's Weekly Messenger (29-11-1851) supports the idea it was Mark Wakefield who drove Rocket at Rainhill:

"Ralph Hutchinson, of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, assisted to construct The Rocket at that place, and attended it to Liverpool, where he was invested with the management of it by the late Mr Robert Stephenson, with Mark Wakefield as his assistant, and Robert Hope as fireman, Ralph Hutchinson being at all times responsible for the efficient working order of the engine."

John Wakefield - brother to Mark? - was the driver of No. 6 Venus and later No. 11 Mercury.

The three earliest drivers on the Liverpool & Manchester were John Dunn, Robert Hope and Mark Wakefield who ‘ballasted with the Lancashire Witch’ whilst ‘the works were still in progress.’Mark Wakefield was certainly driving Rocket it was engaged on permanent way duties pulling ballast trains (from December 1829) and it was probably Wakefield who was driving when on 28 October 1830 Henry Hunter, a local publican, who had developed a habit of hitching a ride home on the footplate 'despite the repeated remonstrances of the engine-man' fell off and was killed.

Of the fitters sent with Rocket to both Killingworth and Rainhill was Edward Fletcher, latterly CME of the North Eastern Railway and one Thomas Atkinson who was in his nineties at the turn of the twentieth century.

Other claiments to the title of Rocket's driver are Joseph Bell (c.1812-1895) who had a railway career of fifty  years, on the Liverpool & Manchester, SECR and then the District Railway his obituary claiming that

"he was, in youth, engineer of the first locomotive ever constructed - George Stephenson's Rocket. He ran the Rocket at fifteen miles an hour on average; reach 29 miles an hour and on one occasion 35 miles an hour."

The final claim is from Edward Entwistle (1815-1909); he had been an apprentice to the Bridgewater Trust(at the age of 11) and he claims he volunteered to be George Stephenson's assisant, and was latterly driver of Rocket and made one round trip per day driving her - despite that fact that Rocket was obsolete by the time of opening,  was only ever used as on slow permanent way duties and as a 'stand-by engine'. It is doubtful that she ever turned a wheel in revenue earning servivce. Entwistle says:

"I managed the Rocket all right and go to know every joint of her.We spent that Saturday in gettig the Rocket ready and on the Sunday we got Steam up, and George Stephenson and myself took her out ... for a trial run before the big trip which was to be made on the Monday... I was to do the firing and driving and Stephenson was to stand by me all the time."

Elsewhere his memory is clearly faulty as he claims Rocket had a 100psi boiler, with the boiler pressure regularly at 60 or 80 psi. Entwistle claims that no driver could be found for Rocket for the opening day, that the others had shied off. So what had happened to Wakefield, who was clearly an experienced man? Probably he was sick, but Entwistle implies that only he had faith in the steam engine, that it was not going to blow up -  which is at odds with the fact that Mark Wakefield and Robert Hope were experienced enginemen and had worked together for over a year. Entwistle's account suggests that he was an emergency stand-in for a sick man, and he was clearly driving under supervision.

Furthermore, Entwistle claims he was on the footplate of Rocket, driving under the supervision of George Stephenson. Entwistle here is in error: Stephenson was on the footplate of Northumbrian and his driver was Thomas Creed. Joseph Locke and Mark Wakefield were on Rocket. The inquest into Huskisson's death - which Entwistle claims to have witnessed - states that it was Locke who was driving with Wakefield probably firing. There is no mention of Entwistle on Rocket. Furthermore, Entwistle claims to have driven Rocket back to Liverpool after the accdient. Entwistle's version of events were reported  from the 1890s up to his death, at the end of a very long life: as historians know the further in time an account is removed from the events they purport to report, the less reliable they are, and are often coloured with a sense of self-importance and influenced by what the memorialist has read or has been told. Furthermore, there is also the phenomenon of 'false memory' where someone recalls an event that they may have been told about, but were never involved in.  He also cannot decide in differant interviews whether he was apprenticed to Robert Stephenson & Co. or to the Bridgewater Trustees; he also makes the spurious claim he was involved with building Rocket, in either Manchester or Newcastle. Where Entwistle's account has a grain of truth is the unstable ride qualities of Rocket  because of her diagonal cylinders.

Entwistle's claim was belittled almost as soon as it appeared in the engineering press: "R.B.P." writing to The Engineer in September 1909 notes his claim was 'ludicrous': 'It is at all likely that Stephenson would displace the regular driver of "Rocket", and put an inexperienced boy on the footplate? Is it resonable to suppose that Stephenson had at that time a pick of drivers, and thateven had the supply fallen short, he would have appointed a fireman, not an absolute novice.' The same source, quoting The Morning Herald suggets the driver of Rocket was called White, rather than Mark Wakefield.

The probability is,  therefore,  that Mark Wakefield was the first and regular driver of Rocket - the Liverpool & Manchester operating a One Driver/One Locomotive policy; that he drove her at Rainhill but on the opening day, for some reason, was probably ill. Therefore an emergency substitute had to be found,in the shape of Edward Entwistle, who's story has probably grown with the telling.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Rocketing Along

Why was Rocket called Rocket? And why was it yellow?


 The usual answer is because it was named after Congreve's war rockets. But, would naming a new technology after an engine of destruction - and one which was notoriously unreliable: the Duke of Wellington said he'd only use them to burn down a town - the best way of selling the railways to a sceptical and nervous public? Probably not.

"The Rocket" alias the "Rocket" was a famous express coach, running from Cheapside in London, to Portsmouth,via the circuitous route of Reading, Basingstoke, Winchester and Southampton. It ran six days per week carrying eight inside passengers and four outside. It started running c.1805 and continued to ply it's trade carrying Navy Officers and the "smart set" for "the season" well into the 1830s. It was perhaps the most well known express coach - and considered the fastest - at the time of the Rainhill trials - and was a name which would have been familiar to many who visited, especially those from London. It was as if Stephenson was trying to say "my Locomotive is just as a good, and as safe, as this road coach. Trust me."




But why yellow? Again, the answer comes from stage coaching. The fastest and "smartest" stages were painted yellow and black. We know George Stephenson had Rocket painted yellow at Crown Street "in stage coach style". Painting Rocket yellow was the equivalent of giving it red go-faster-stripes: to the late 1820s mind-set yellow meant speed, efficiency, safety. Rather as today all red cars go fast, thanks to Mr Ferrari.

And the white chimney? Because the colour white meant cleanliness - the "look at how clean and smart this locomotive is", says the white paint "no dirt. no smoke". Again, re-assuring sceptics that the new railways would not be a nuissance, especially given the Liverpool & Manchester Act stipulating locomotives could not make smoke.

What of the other entrants? Well, there was a "Sans Pareil Coach" which ran out of Liverpool all the way to Hull, whilst the "Novelty" ran from London to Birmingham.

A Matter of Class

The Liverpool & Manchester, in introducing coaching stock and it's fares, unsurprisingly based them on existing Stage-Coach ideas. "First" class meant express, for inside passengers. Second-class was a coach - or in this case a train - which stopped at all the intermediate "stopping places". The Liverpool & Manchester also followed Stage-Coach practice by providing accommodation for "Inside" and "Outside" passengers. On a Stage-Coach the outside passenger sat on the roof, but this was not a safe practice on the railways so entire coaches - and trains - for "outside passengers" who paid a reduced fare were also introduced. They were referred to the by Company as the "Blue Coaches" (from their colour).


Class - a matter of comfort, speed... or Both?


But it would be a mistake to say that the enclosed yellow "First Class" coaches were first-class only; whilst they provided the same level of accommodation as a Stage-Coach for "Inside Passengers", we have to remember that Stage Coaches provided both a "First Class/Express" and also setting down service. Entire trains were run of differant types of accommodation and whether they were Express or "setting down".

The timetable for June 1839 makes this distinction quite clear

By first-class train, four inside, Royal Mail Coach 6s 6d
By first-class train, six inside, Glass Coach 6s
By first-class train, six inside, Curtain Coach 6s
By second-class train, six inside, Glass Coach, 6s
By second-class train, Open Carriages 4s 6d
 
In other words, there were three levels of "First Class" ie Express accomodation: by the Mail Coach (of which the L&M had three) which sat four per compartment; by "Glass Coach" which sat six per compartment and by the semi-open "Curtain Coach" which had a glazed central compartment but the two end compartments had leather curtains to keep out the elements, for those passengers who wished to travel at First Class speed, but in an open coach.


If we turn to second class trains, there were two levels of accommodation: the "Glass Coaches" seating six per compartment, fully enclosed or by Open Carriages (each compartment sitting eight).
"First Class" and "Second Class" - not such a matter of accommodation, more of speed.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Christmas Travelling

The desire to see loved-ones at the Christmas Period is nothing new: stage-coaches had been providing that service for decades before the Liverpool & Manchester was founded. But the Liverpool & Manchester, whilst catering for this traffic enabled a democtratisation of Christmas travelling by allowing more people to travel, more cheeply, and quicker.


Coldest in fifteen years

No-one had run a passenger railway seven days a week, 52 weeks per year until 1830 and the winter of 1830-1831 was particularly hard. Metereological data shows that there was an almost continuous frost from 23 December to 6 January with an average temperature of 1.1 centigrade. The Thames froze and lowest recorded temperature recorded was in Greenwich on Christmas Day was -12 centigrade! It was a true 'white Christmas' and is believed to have inspired that of Charles Dickens in his 'Pickwick Papers'. The Morning Herald reported




During the late frost the thermometer in a gentleman’s garden in Cambridge sunk to 6, or 26 below the freezing point.

Last Monday, at Heathfield, a young man, fool-like applied the polished face of a hammer to his tongue, and there kept the same until the frost had so fixed it as to cause blood to follow in its removal.(The Morning Herald – 26 January 1830)

The cold weather brought chaos to existing transport networks via river, canal and turnpike:
This is the severest winter we have had for some years, and since our last we have experienced it in its wildest characteristics. On Wednesday as the Wellington coach was on its way to Sheffield, the coachman and passengers perceived on the road near Mam Tor, two men lying by the wayside, completely overcome by the severity of the weather. One of them was so much weakened that he must have shortly perished, had the coach not opportunely arrived. The other man was only just able to stand. (The Morning Chronicle – 25 January 1830).

The Trains will get through

It was despite the 'great freeze' (as one 'paper reported) that the Liverpool & Manchester continued to run trains between both important northern cities, but the engines were not up to the task. The five-foot single driving wheels of the Planet-class - skittish at best on damp rails - could not 'find their feet'. One newspaper reported:

 Considerable difficulty was experienced... it was found that the wheels of the engine, instead of moving forward, slipped on the rails, and move round without making any progress, causing considerable damage to the machinery...

 Trains on 30 December 1830 were delayed by as much as five hours, and we have to remember that the locomotives of this period had no cab or protection for the crew, and that the first-class coaches although fully enclosed had no lighting nor heating. Pitty the second-class passengers in their 'travelling pneumonia wagons' which resembled nothing more than rows of church box-pews on wheels; the Guards sat on the coach roof, swaddled in  mufflers and watchcoats, blinking agaisnt the snow and frost to see the way ahead. It must have been a truly horendous experience, but such was the desire to travel to see loved-ones at Christmas and New Year that these devoted travellers boarded their trains at Crown Street or Liverpool Road.





The Christmas rush

 Yet, within a decade of the struggle of trying to run the first trains through the Christmas Period, the Morning Post (30 December 1843) was reporting that Christmas travel, and the concomitant rush and delays, had become a de-facto part of life:

 There is generally at Christmas more than the ordinary amount of traffic on the Liverpool & Manchester Railroad; but on Saturday the number of passengers was so great that the Up-trains did not arrive at Manchester until and hour or more beyond their usual time; in the evening, the Up-trains were later still. Many trains departing leaving would-be passengers stranded upon the platforms.
 

 Plus cas change!

But what of Christmas Day itself? Christmas as a public holiday was only really popularised by the likes of Dickens or Harriet Martineau, and travelling on Christmas Day, even before the railways, had none of the stigma attached to Sunday travel (unless it was on a Sunday, of course). The Leeds Intelligencer noted that whilst a reduced service was in operation, first-class tickets were available on the Manchester & Leed Railway to 'giving first-class parties some privilege in travelling at Christmas.'

Thus, from the very beginning of seasonal rail travel, all the rush, delays, crammed carriages were part-and-parcel of the experience. Do they now count  as a Christmas Tradition, or a reflection on the railways' 180 years lack of being able to cope with bad winters and the seasonal rush?


Fines and Punishment

Early Railway Companies, such as the Liverpool & Manchester had various offences worked into their Acts of Parliament which became Bye-Laws, enforcable by the Railway Constables (who were sworn special constables) and offenders were taken before the Magistrates.

These offences included smoking, defrauding the Company by failing to buy a ticket or using an expired or incorrect ticket, or drinking alcohol on Railway Premises. For the staff, however, the system of checks and balances was via fines and bonuses - but more usually the latter.

The Liverpool & Manchester published it's first Rule Book in 1835, with new editions appearing in 1839 and again in 1840: the latter updated in the light of the General Railway Conference which produced a universal system of signalling, largely based on the practice of the Liverpool & Manchester.

The 1839 Rule Book provides the following examples of punishments to warn employees about breaking the rules:

 H. H., engineman of the Milo engine, for running carelessly against a train on Whiston incline-plane, and thereby doing considerable damage; to be suspended three days and fined ten shillings.
Railway Office, 1st March, 1837.

H. H., engineman, W. L., fireman, of the Eclipse engine, with luggage-train. This train followed the six o’clock blue coach-train from Manchester, on Saturday evening, and near Bury Lane ran violently against a coach-train, by which several passengers were seriously hurt, and two first-class coaches much damaged; for this act of gross carelessness, the Directors order that H. H, and W. L. be discharged.
6th Feb. 1837.

J. H., engineman of the Cyclops, bank-engine, for propelling a train of goods on the level-way (on Friday morning, the 16th of June), contrary to the orders of the Directors : discharged from the service of the Company.—-By order of the Directors.
Railway Office, 17th June, 1837.

N.B.—-Every overlooker, engineman, guard, policeman, and gateman employed in the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, shall keep a copy of these rules constantly on his person, under a penalty of a fine of five shillings—By order of the Directors.
March 1839.


Michael Reynolds, locomotive superintendent of the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway provides the following interesting list of fines in his book Engine Driving Life
 
Fined, one day's pay for hanging a hook upon the safety-valve.
Fined, two pounds for locking the safety-valves of his engine.
Fined, one day's pay, for stopping on the road to clean the tubes.
Fined, one day's pay for running through closed gates.
Fined, one days' pay for threatening to throw his fireman off the engine.
Fined, one pound, for having a stanger on the engine.
Fined, half a crown (2' 6d) for smoke nuissance.
Fined, five shillings, for bringing a pig 150 miles without permission.
Fined, one shilling, for breaking a coupling.
Fined, a day's pay for running over three horses, and not reporting it.



An Engineman on the LBSCR would earn 7s per day - 35 bob a week thereabouts - a pretty decent wage, about twice that of an adult male working in a mill, but equal to a skilled labourer or artisan in the major industrial centres.


It's clear that the most serious offence was the most dangerous: interfering with the safety valves. On the Liverpool & Manchester Railway - and all railways subsequently - locomotives had to be fitted with two safety valves, one which was out of the reach of the Engineman and was tamper-proof. Usually, boilers were hydraulically tested to twice or three times (the latter on the Liverpool & Mancheste) working pressure. Wrought iron boilers, made from several small plates were prone to internal corrosion, and it was difficult to carry out an internal inspection by a guttering flare lamp. The Directors of the LBSCR took this as a very serious offence - which indeed it was - docking the driver over a weeks' pay. Other offences whilst serious in themselves did not affect the safety of the train or engine, but rather caused delays, and therefore profits.