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British Industrial History

Christopher Blackett

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Christopher Blackett (1751-1829), was from the family of Blacketts of Wylam who were a branch of the ancient family of Blackett of Hoppyland, County Durham and were related to the Blackett Baronets. The Blackett family had owned the mining interests in Wylam, Northumberland, for much of the eighteenth century.

The family were closely involved in the development of steam power for the improvement of coal transportation. Blackett played a crucial role in the development of some of the earliest steam railway locomotives to be built anywhere in the world. His interests influenced Timothy Hackworth, who was born in Wylam, William Hedley and Jonathan Forster who worked at Wylam Colliery and there produced the famous early steam engines Puffing Billy and Wylam Dilly

1801 Blackett assumed control of the business and took a great interest in improving the efficiency of the horse-powered five-mile waggonway by which the coal was moved to the offloading point on the River Tyne.

He ordered a steam locomotive from Richard Trevithick for Wylam colliery. It was made in 1805 at Whinfield's ironworks in Gateshead, under the engineer John Steele, who had previously worked on the Penydarren engine and had been sent specifically to oversee the Tyneside engine. Although the engine ran, Blackett did not purchase it, realizing that it was far too heavy for the wooden rails at his colliery. [1] .

Several years elapsed before Mr. Blackett took any more steps to carry out his idea. The final abandonment of Trevithick's locomotive at Pen-y-darren may have contributed to detering him from further effort on this front.

Blackett set up a four-man working group including himself, William Hedley, the viewer, Timothy Hackworth, the new foreman smith, and Jonathan Foster, a "wright". The first step in 1808 was the relaying of the Wylam tramway with cast iron plates, until then a simple timber-way. It was laid as a single line with sidings to enable the laden wagons to pass the empty ones. The new iron road proved so much smoother than the old wooden one that a single horse was able to draw two or even three laden wagons (chaldrons), rather than just one as previously.

1808 Blackett wrote to Trevithick to ask if he would build an engine for the new iron rail system at Wylam. Trevithick declined, saying that he had "discontinued the [locomotive] business, was engaged in other pursuits, and could render no assistance."

1811 Blackett's 4-man team began investigating the adhesive properties of smooth wheels using a manually operated carriage propelled by a maximum of four men; in the same year a single-cylinder locomotive was devised by one Waters, reportedly on the Trevithick model; it was built and tried for a few months with erratic results.

Blackett encouraged his mine engineer, William Hedley, to experiment with steam traction - between 1813 and 1816 horses were replaced by steam locomotives designed by Hedley. Two of these locomotives survive in preservation, much rebuilt, as Puffing Billy and Wylam Dilly.

Blackett remained in charge of Wylam Colliery until his death in 1829. His descendants remained Squires of Wylam until as recently as 1971.

1829 January 25th. Died in his 78th year. [2]

  • The Blacketts of Wylam were a branch of the ancient family of Blackett of Hoppyland, County Durham and were related to the Blackett Baronets. John Blackett (d. 1714) was the grandson of Christopher Blackett of Hoppyland (1612-1675) and the great-nephew of Sir William Blackett. In 1685 he acquired two farms at Wylam, Northumberland, and the Manor estate including the mineral rights, from the exploitation of which the family was to benefit greatly. John was High Sheriff of Northumberland in 1691. His residence was Wylam House.

See Also

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Sources of Information

  • [1] Wikipedia


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