Station Buffet | Historical


Pioneers of the Railways 1771 - 1833

Richard Trevithick

Born in Illogan, Cornwall in 1771, Richard Trevithick was educated at Cambourne School where he often played truant but was a notable wrestler and weight lifter. Trevithick was six feet two inches high and was known as the Cornish giant.

Trevithick went to work with his father at Wheal Treasury mine and soon revealed an aptitude for engineering.
After making improvements to the Bull Steam Engine, Trevithick was promoted to engineer of the Ding Dong mine at Penzance.
While at the Ding Dong mine he developed a successful high pressure engine by developing the inventions of Thomas Newcomen and James Watt by introducing high-pressure steam to his engines. For this innovation, James Watt declared Trevithick 'deserved hanging'.

In 1797, he made a steam engine for the Herland mine and a year later a high-pressure engine for the Cook's Kitchen mine. From 1796 he experimented with model locomotives. and by 1801 applied his work to the first steam road carriage. Trevithick now attempted to produce a much larger steam road locomotive and on Christmas Eve, 1801, it used it totake seven friends on a short journey. The locomotive's principle features were a cylindrical horizontal boiler and a single horizontal cylinder let into it. The piston, propelled back and forth in the cylinder by pressure of steam, was linked by piston rod and connecting rod to a crankshaft bearing a large flywheel. Trevithick's locomotive became known as the Puffing Devil but it could only go on short journeys as he was unable to find a way of keeping up the steam for any length of time.
Unfortunatley he let it run dry and it exploded outside the Public House where they stopped for a celebratery drink.

In 1803, he applied his work to a railway locomotive built at the Coalbrookdale Ironworks in Shropshire. Although it was the world's first railway locomotive, it does not appear to have ever run. In 1804, while employed at the Pen-y-darren Ironworks in South Wales, his second locomotive, New Castle, became the first in the world to be put to practical use hauling iron. Trevithick was the first to divert the steam exhaust through a chimney to increase the boiler draught - unfortunately, he did not think to patent the idea!

Richard Trevithick soon found another sponsor in Samuel Homfray, the owner of the Penydarren Ironworks in Merthyr Tydfil.
In February 1804, Trevithick produced the world's first steam engine to run successfully on rails. The locomotive, with its single vertical cylinder, 8 foot flywheel and long piston-rod, managed to haul ten tons of iron, seventy passengers and five wagons from the ironworks at Penydarren to the Merthyr-Cardiff Canal. During the nine mile journey the Penydarren locomotive reached speeds of nearly five miles an hour. Trevithick's locomotive employed the very important principle of turning the exhaust steam up the chimney, so producing a draft which drew the hot gases from the fire more powerfully through the boiler.Trevithick's locomotive only made
three journeys. Each time the seven-ton steam engine broke the cast iron rails.
Homfray came to the conclusion that Trevithick's invention was unlikely to reduce his transport costs and so he decided to abandon the project.

Christopher Blackett, who owned the Wylam Colliery in Northumberland now employed Trevithick. A five-mile wooden wagonway had been built in 1748 to take the coal from Wylam to the River Tyne. Blackett wanted a locomotive that would replace the use of horse-drawn coal wagons. The Wylam locomotive was built but weighing five tons, it was too heavy for Blackett's wooden wagonway.

Trevithick returned to Cornwall to develop a new locomotive he called Catch Me Who Can. In the summer of 1808 Trevithick erected a circular railway in Euston Square and during the months of July and August people could ride on his locomotive on the payment of one shilling. Trevithick had plenty of volunteers for his locomotive that reached speeds of 12 mph (19 kph) but once again the rails broke and he was forced to bring the experiment to an end.

Trevithick now found work with a company who paid him to develop a steam dredger to lift waste from the bottom of the Thames. He was paid by results, receiving sixpence for every ton lifted from the river, but found it difficult to make money from his steam dredger and in 1816 he accepted an offer to work as an engineer in a silver mine in Peru. After some early difficulties, Trevithick's steam-engineswere very successful and he was able to use his profits to acquire his own silver mines. However, in 1826 war broke out and Trevithick was forced to flee and leave behind his steam-engines and silver mines. After a unsuccessful spell in Costa Rica, Trevithickmoved to Columbia, where he met Robert Stephenson, who was building a railway in that country, and generously gave Trevithick the money to pay for his journey back to England.

On his return to England he continued with his schemes these included the propulsion of steamboats by means of a spiral whee lat the stern, an improved marine boiler, a new recoil gun-carriage and apparatus for heating apartments. Another scheme was the building of a 1,000 feet cast-iron column to commemorate the 1832 Reform Act.

All these schemes failed to receive financial support and Richard Trevithick died in extreme poverty at the Bull Inn, Dartford, on 22nd April, 1833. As he left no money for his burial, he faced the prospectof a pauper's funeral. However, when a group of local factory workers heard the news, they raised enough money to provide a decent funeral and he was buried in Dartford churchyard.


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