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.

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