It is full steam ahead for volunteers at the Severn Valley Railway as they prepare for the 250th birthday of the man who invented the locomotive – by sprucing up their recreation of the first passenger-carrying engine.
Subscribe to our daily newsletter!
Bridgnorth, Severn Valley Railway, where a group of men are working on a engine, the Catch me Who Can, originally designed and built by Richard Trevithick (his 250th birthday is coming up). L-R:Front L-R: Brian Jones (Bridgnorth), Charles Lamont from Alcester, back:, Allan Mackenzie from Telford, John Price from Bridgnorth and Michael Grocock.
Mark Rigg from Bridgnorth..
There will be a double celebration at the Severn Valley Railway’s Bridgnorth station this week, as it not only admits its first passengers since the lockdown, but also celebrates 250 years since the birth of rail pioneer Richard Trevithick. Trevithick, born on 250 years ago today, built the first passenger-carrying locomotive at Bridgnorth in 1808, and a team of volunteers at the Severn Valley Railway’s engine shed have spent the past 15 years recreating the famous engine and to prepare for Trevithick’s birthday, the team got their brushes out to give the locomotive a spring clean. Brian Jones, a founder member of the Trevithick 200 society, is hopeful the engine will be finished by the end of the year, although that will depend on fundraising.
Richard Trevithick invented the steam locomotive
The engine, called Catch Me Who Can, operated on a circular track at was known as ‘Richard Trevithick’s Steam Circus’. It was not the first locomotive – Trevithick had designed two earlier engines which were used at collieries in Newcastle and Merthyr Tydfil – but it was the first to be used for a commercial passenger service. It was built at John Hazeldine’s foundry in Bridgnorth Low Town, working in partnership with another locomotive pioneer, John Urpeth Rastrick. It was meant to give the public a spectacular glimpse into the future of transport, and for a shilling a ride, people could experience speeds unheard of at the time, as well as the sounds, sights and smells of the latest steam technology.
Catch Me Who Can, said to be the world's first passenger locomotive,
built at Hazledine works, Bridgnorth, in 1808
But the paying public of 1808 was not ready for the age of the train, and the world’s first passenger rail service closed after just two months. The engine also proved too heavy for the brittle tracks, and while it had some novelty value, people did not take it seriously. Trevithick was said to be so disappointed by the public’s response that he never built another locomotive. It is not known what happened to the original engine, and the only image of what it looked like was an engraving on an entrance ticket.
From left to right, some of the men working on the Catch Me Who Can replica: Michael Grocock, Charles Lamont, Brian Jones, Allan Mackenzie, John Price and Mark Rigg
But a stationery steam engine that was also built for Trevithick at Bridgnorth provided vital clues as to how it could be recreated. The Trevithick 200 group received a £10,000 lottery grant in 2006, and along with a £2,300 contribution from Bridgnorth Town Council, allowed the work to begin. Fifteen years on, Mr Jones says it is 90 per cent complete, although how quickly it will be finished will depend on fundraising. “The main job left to do now is the brakes,” he says. “The original didn’t have any, because it ran on a circular track, but when you’re running in a straight line it is sensible to have them. We’re hoping to have it finished later this year, although we are not putting any time limit on it.”
Charles Lamont from Alcester, Allan Mackenzie from Telford and John Price from Bridgnorth are all working on the replica
Volunteer Charles Lamont said all remaining work could be completed by the team at Bridgnorth, but would take time. “With a bit more money, most of this work could be contracted out, and we could get these final few jobs done much sooner,” he said. To contribute to the fund go to the support page on www.catchmewhocan.org.uk.