Blast from the past - The Stourbridge Lion (Blackcountryman Volume 11,4) by Bill Pardoe

The first locomotive to run on rails in America


August saw the anniversary of the first locomotive to run on rails in America and it was manufactured right here in the Black Country. This article from 1978 tells the fascinating story of the Stourbridge Lion.


Stourbridge, the town which gave its name to all kinds of decorative and ornamental glassware, also became a centre for railway engineering in the early nineteenth century, for some of the world's first locomotive engines were being made there a hundred-and-fifty years ago.


In 1827 the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company, Pennsylvania, became interested in the new development of the steam engine for traction and locomotive use, which was taking place in England at that time. The main reason for their interest was the hauling of coal from the company's mines near the town of Honesdale. In the January of 1828 they sent over to this country a deputy engineer, Horatio Allen, to make exhaustive enquiries concerning the use and power of the engines, and the rails upon which they were to run. The company must have placed considerable faith in Allen's judgment in relying upon him to decide on the suitability of the locomotives. He also carried in his pocket orders for rails and four engines, which must have been quite a gamble, for at that time not a single steam locomotive had ever been seen in the United States.

Horatio Allen's first enquiries led him to the Newcastle works of the Stephenson family, where Robert the son of George Stephenson, was engaged with his father in producing an engine for the projected Liverpool and Manchester railway line, which later was to become the famous Rocket engine. It is quite possible that as they were so involved with that task they were not able to undertake the supply of four locomotives, and so only one, the America, was ordered from them. Allen was without doubt sent by them to the town of Stourbridge, where John Urpeth Rastrick was in partnership with James Foster, the owner of the great ironworks of John Bradley and Company. George Stephenson and Rastrick have often been stated to have been rivals, but this cannot be correct, for in 1825 they worked together on the promotion of the Liverpool and Manchester railway, and in 1829 Rastrick was one of the judges who decided in favour of George Stephenson's Rocket. winning a prize of £500 for the best locomotive engine.

John Urpeth Rastrick, 1780—1856, was a brilliant engineer, born in Morpeth, Northumberland, where he worked with his father, also an engineer, He had made a study of civil engineering, and at the age of twenty-one he entered the Ketley ironworks in Shropshire to learn more about cast iron, which was rapidly coming into use for all kinds of machinery. He later joined a Bridgnorth company, where his knowledge of cast iron and civil engineering enabled him to bridge the River Wye at Chepstow, with a cast iron bridge spanning 112 feet.


After taking out a patent for a steam engine in 1814, he eventually went to Stourbridge, where the firm of Foster Rastrick and Company was formed. Although busy with this company, he still continued to practice civil engineering independently, and was often engaged in reporting to Parliamentary committees in support of railway companies and projected railway lines. The canal companies always offered intense opposition to railway construction, but Rastrick's considerable knowledge and his calm behaviour as a witness gained him respect everywhere. He became a member of the Institute of Civil Engineers, and in 1837 was made a Fellow of the Royal Society.


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