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.

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