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Robert Stephenson and Co: Pride of Newcastle

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The first locomotive shipped to America from Britain in 1828 known unofficially as the Pride of Newcastle or incorrectly as America. The locomotive was built in the South Street, Newcastle, works of Robert Stephenson and Co.

When Robert Stephenson returned from Columbia in 1827 he found the works at South Street had lost its way due to the preoccupation of his father George with the problems of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. He set about the re-organisation of the works and the production of new designs for their locomotives. The first was a 0-4-0 for the Liverpool and Manchester Company delivered in May 1828 (Works number 11) which was later named Lancashire Witch. This was a major leap forward in that it was the first locomotive to have its cylinders directly driving the wheels in what is now considered to be standard for steam locomotives.

In 1827 the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company decided on the purchase of locomotives for its Gravity Railroad between Honesdale and Carbondale, Pennsylvania. They employed an engineer, Horatio Allen, to visit England and investigate the locomotive practices and possibly make a purchase.

In May 1828 Allen witnessed the first run of Lancashire Witch and in July 1828 was in South Street works discussing the purchase of one locomotive. This was completed and subsequently became works number 12. It was almost identical in design to Lancashire Witch but to a track gauge of 4ft 3” instead of 4ft 8½”. The cost was £580. Allen went on to purchase three more from Foster, Rastrick and Co of Stourbridge (see Stourbridge Lion),

The locomotive was completed in October 1828 and shipped from Newcastle to New York by way of London in the same month. It arrived in New York by the ship Columbia on the 15th January 1829. The Delaware and Hudson Gravity Railroad was at the end of the Delaware and Hudson Canal and in January 1829 the canal would be closed by ice. In consequence, the locomotive was assembled and placed in the care of the Abeel and Dunscombe Foundry of Water St, New York. It became the centre of interest for New Yorkers and was steamed on the 27th May 1829 by raising it on blocks and firing the boiler.

The first of the Rastrick locomotives arrived on the 13th May 1829 and was placed in the care of the West Point foundry.

In the early spring of 1829 neither locomotive had been granted a name. However, in a letter dated 22nd June 1829 Horatio Allen calls the Stephenson locomotive the Pride of Newcastle but it believed the locomotive never carried a nameplate. At some point someone painted a lion’s head on the front of the Rastrick locomotive and this is now understood to have been done in America. As a result this locomotive became known as the Lion, later extended to Stourbridge Lion but again this name was never graced by a nameplate.

The Pride of Newcastle was steamed again on the 22nd June 1829. However, the problems which would beset this engine started to become clear. Unlike the Stourbridge Lion the Pride had some difficulty in making steam which resulted in Horatio Allan modifying the locomotive at the foundry. In a June 1829 letter Allen says that he has raised the chimney of the Pride and fitted a “hot-water reservoir”. It is now known that the chimney modification was to increase the draught on the fire but the “reservoir” was a feed water heater, an efficiency idea proposed by Rastrick but which could only make matters worse for the poor steaming Pride.

By the end of June 1829 Allen and the Chief Engineer of the Company John Jervis began to plan the delivery of the locomotives. Although the canal was now clear of ice there had been frequent breaches of the canal bank which made transit dangerous. The letter of the 22nd June 1829 suggests that the Pride of Newcastle should be placed on the Summit Plain of the Railroad (Rix’s Gap) whilst the other engine (then still not known by its later name) be placed at the head of the canal (Honesdale).

The original idea was for the locomotives to be loaded into two canal boats in New York and these be towed to Rondout Creek where the canal started. However, there was concern about this as the Hudson River was notoriously fickle. Therefore, it was decided to load them onto the steamboat Congress and tow the empty canal boats behind transferring the locomotives at The Strand at Rondout. The steamboat left New York on the 2nd July 1829 with the two partially dismantled locomotives as deck cargo. The steamboat arrived on the 3rd July 1829. The next report is that of the 16th July when the two canal boats with their cargo of locomotives cleared the first lock on the canal at Eddyville. What took some 13 days at Rondout is unclear but is now believed to be difficulty in lifting and loading the locomotives. Much has been stated about the weight of these. Investigation and study of the ship lading and other data indicates that the Pride of Newcastle without tender, coal or water would have been some 6.5tons and Stourbridge Lion 7.5tons, a matter of great difficulty with the limited facilities at The Strand in 1829.

Much has been said about the Pride of Newcastle vanishing from the records from this point onward. In fact a detailed study by Wayne County Historical Society has proved conclusively that both locomotives arrived in Honesdale on the 21st July 1829.

As at Rondout the lifting of the locomotives from the canal boats was a problem. There was no crane at Honesdale capable of lifting them and it was not until the letters of one John Torrey were studied which were written in 1870, that it became clear that a temporary inclined plain was build to haul the locomotives out using a number of capstans. This required the coal shipments to be temporarily suspended which caused the canal management to complain to Jervis.

The Pride of Newcastle being lighter was removed first as the removal of Stourbridge Lion required an additional capstan to be constructed as indicated in the invoices of August 1829. As a result the Pride was assembled first and was ready for steaming by the 25th July 1829.

The matter of the successful run of the Stourbridge Lion can be found under the section dealing with that locomotive and we will just follow the Pride of Newcastle.

It would appear that an attempt to raise stream was made on the 26th July 1829. The details of this will be explained later. It is clear that this was unsuccessful and nothing further is reported on the Pride of Newcastle apart from one reference in the Dundaff Republican newspaper of August 1829 to it be “placed on the ground on the berm side of the canal”. Clearly the engineers had given up on it.

The D&H Canal Co’s experiment with locomotives was unsuccessful and it remained a horse worked gravity line until its closure in the 1890s. The two locomotives remained at Honesdale. In 1834 the Canal Co put up these and the other two from Foster and Rastrick for sale but there were no takers.

It has not been possible to follow the fate of the Pride of Newcastle. The boiler disappeared without trace but the wheels were retained and were recorded as being stored at the canal offices. The cylinders were apparently sold for re-use at a foundry in Carbondale. Later, it would appear that the wheels and at least one cylinder were recovered as the Smithsonian Museum in 1914 tried to reconstruct the parts of Stourbridge Lion using these.

The cylinder and wheels are now on display in the museum correctly labelled except that for a time the museum mounted the cylinder upside down..

Two aspects need to be clarified.

The name America has been bandied about. This originates from historians misreading the title on the Robert Stephenson Description Book dealing with No 12. This book was rewritten circa 1831 by a clerk whose was knowledge was incomplete and for No 12 all he knew was that “No 12 was (for) America”. In 1883 in correspondence with the aforementioned John Torrey, he was told the name was America and when Clement Stretton produced his History of Locomotives in America in 1893 he picked up the same error producing a fictitious drawing of No 12 complete with nameplate. This drawing has details not applicable to No 12 and is dimensionally incorrect and therefore wholly discredited. The legend that the Stephenson engine was called America was therefore well established on both side of the Atlantic despite efforts by the Institute of Mechanical Engineers making efforts in 1923 to dispel the myth.

Now to matter of the “box” discovered by Robert Thayer in a Manhattan junkshop the 1980s as repeated in Railroad Heritage Magazine in 1998. This purports to be an artefact produced in the 1829 to commemorate the steaming of a locomotive called America on the 26th July 1829 and which subsequently blew up. The Wayne County Historical Society have investigated this claim and found that the box is indeed an artefact commemorating the events of July/August 1829 but carved in about 1883 and after John Torrey had been told that the name was America. The carver is not identified but is certainly not David Matthews as is claimed. Interestingly, the locomotive depicted on the box is the De Witt Clinton a 0-4-0 locomotive built in 1830 for the Mohawk and Hudson Railroad by the West Point foundry. In 1883 no image of the Pride of Newcastle existed but it was known that the West Point foundry copied the features of the Pride but provided a multi-tubular boiler which overcame the steaming problem. Knowing this the carver used well publicised image of the Mohawk and Hudson locomotive as the closest rendition.

Finally, the term “Blew Up” has been wrongly identified a being an explosion when the term is slang for raising steam. So the Pride was “blown-up”, that had its boiler lit on the 26th July 1829 but failed to raise sufficient for operation. The reason for this is due to the D&H Co using anthracite, a notorious difficult coal, the feed water heater modification made by Allen and the fact that all the Stephenson engines of that period had the same defect due to the absence of a reliable blast pipe.

In conclusion, the Pride of Newcastle and its sister Lancashire Witch were the forerunners of the locomotive design which became the Rocket of October 1829 whose success at Rainhill proved to be the starting point for all subsequent locomotive designs. In 1883 the veterans of the D&H Gravity Railroad realised that an opportunity had been lost in not persevering with a design which proved so successful in England. A fact that was bemoaned by Horatio Allen in 1885 when he stated, “Had we used the Stephenson engine in August 1829 we would have presaged the events of Rainhill in October 1829”. This is true reason behind the commemorative box.

See Also

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Sources of Information

  • The Pride and the Lion (Wayne County Historical Society 2011)
  • Railroad History Fall-Winter 2009