Stephenson’s Rocket in Truro

Rocket in Truro

On the 20th July 1980 celebrations were being held in Truro for the introduction of British Rail’s new InterCity 125 to Cornwall. The Mayor of Truro, John Farndon, and other local dignitaries were gathered at Truro Railway Station for the arrival of this high-speed, streamlined engine but for many it was another engine that rather stole the show.

Cornwall has strong connections to the stream locomotive. Every Cornishman worth their salt knowns that Richard Trevithick, the inventor and mining engineer, was in fact the father of road and rail transportation. He developed the first high pressure steam engine and the first full-scale steam powered rail locomotive.

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Credit: Mike De Greasley, Trevithick Society

Trevithick built his road locomotive, on a site near present-day Fore Street in Camborne and named his carriage the Puffing Devil. On Christmas Eve 1801 Trevithick demonstrated it by successfully carrying six passengers up Fore Street and then up Camborne Hill to the nearby village of Beacon. It is safe to say that this legacy means that there are a fair few steam engine and train enthusiasts in the county.

Not long after his road test Trevithick went to Tyneside to build an engine for a local mine owner. It has been suggested that George Stephenson (and possibly a very small Robert) met him then, or at least saw his invention, and this led them to an invention of their own – the Rocket.

In Truro

Then, back in Cornwall in the summer of 1980, as everyone waited to see the new Inter-City train, the Rocket (or at least a replica of it), puffed into view.

Rocket in Truro
The Rocket and the Inter-City 125 passing each other on the Truro Viaduct

This little engine, which the images show dwarfed by the modern train, also revolutionised travel. The original was fuelled by coke, it was built in 1829 by George and Robert Stephenson, along with Henry Booth, for the Rainhill Trials held by the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. The Redruth Times decribed Stephenson’s inventions in an article in 1872:

“The first locomotive engine was one made at Lord Ravensworth’s expense, which drew eight loaded carriages, weighing 30 tons, at the rate of 4 miles an hour. The first railway, made under the act of 1820, entered Stockton at a rate of 12 miles an hour, amid universal wonder. In 1930 Manchester and Liverpool railway was opened and Stephenson’s ‘Rocket’ . . . produced a rate of 29 miles an hour.”

Rocket in Truro
The Rocket at Truro Railway Station

The wonderful replica of this steam locomotive and tender, “Rocket” 0-2-2, which was seen in Truro had been built 1979 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Rainhill Trials and is now on display at the Science Museum in London.

Rocket in Truro
The Face Off!

I am not too sure where these images have come from, the original photographs were given to me by an elderly neighbour, but I thought they were too good not to share, especially with the Cornwall Steam and Country Fair in Stithians coming up later in August. This show is well worth a visit by the way. You can see more than 40 working full-sized steam engines as well as vintage cars and tractors, a fair and lots of food and craft stalls! Great fun!

Rocket in Truro

Further Reading:

Truro’s Hidden History – the secrets of our city

The Mystery of Pencalenick Obelisk

Celebrating the Rather Eccentric Mr Knill

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9 thoughts on “Stephenson’s Rocket in Truro

  1. Hi. Would you like to come and visit us at Levant mine, I work there 2 days a week. It’s near Pendeen. We have original 1840s beam engine built in Hayle which has been restored and is working. You could write a blog about it. Anne

    1. I’d would to love Anne, I’ve been meaning to come down for years but never manage, I am free wed, Thurs and Fri next week I think. How much is the entrance charge these days?

  2. While Trevithick and Stephenson’s connections to Cornwall are well known don’t forget Brunel, or Great Uncle Issy, as Mum used to call him.

    His great railway bridge across the Tamar stands as a landmark at the entrance to Cornwall, and the remains of his railway viaducts in Cornwall and the Royal Albert Bridge that connects Cornwall and Devon are equally well known.

    But Cornwall and Brunel have other connections through the steamship, the Great Western. It was a wooden paddle steamer and had a long and distinguished career carrying the rich and famous across the Atlantic for 18 years. It was the largest, most luxurious and fastest ship of its time – and at the helm were two Cornishmen – Captain James Hosken, of Penryn, and Captain Mathew Barnard, from Penzance.

    1. Not one of my best replies. I knew of Trevithick and Stephenson’s connections with Cornwall in general but your post and pictures really brought their connections to life. A fascinating and enjoyable read. And Brunel – I’m sure there’s a story there …

  3. My mother once drove us to the neighboring town so that we could watch the last steam engine in service in our area go by. It was certainly exciting.

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