Monthly Archives: February 2017

25 February 1804: Trevithick’s locomotive makes the press

The Cambrian – Saturday 25 February 1804

“Yesterday the long-expected trial of Mr Trevithick’s new-invented steam-engine, for which he has obtained his Majesty’s letters patent, to draw and work carriages of all descriptions on various kinds of roads (as well as for a number of other purposes to which its power may be usefully applied) took place near this town and was found to perform, to admiration, all that was expected from it by its warmest advocates.

“In the present instance, the novel application of steam by means of this truly valuable machine was made use of to convey along the Tram-road ten tons long weight of bar-iron from Penydarren Iron Works to the place where it joins the Glamorganshire Canal upwards of nine miles distance.

“It is necessary to observe that the weight of the load was soon increased from ten to fifteen tons by about seventy persons riding on the Trams who, drawn thither by invincible curiosity (as well as many hundreds of others) were eager to ride at the expense of this first display of the patentee’s abilities in this country.

“To those who are not acquainted with the exact principle of this new engine, it may not be improper to observe that it differs from all others yet brought before the public by disclaiming the use of condensing water and discharges its steam into the open air or applies it to the heating of fluids as conveniency may require.

“The expense of making engines on this principle does not exceed one half of any on the most improved plan made use of before this appeared. It takes much less coal to work it and it is only necessary to supply a small quantity of water for the purpose of creating the steam, which is a most essential matter.

“It performed the journey without feeding the boiler or using any water and will travel with ease at the rate of five miles an hour.

“It is not doubted but that the number of horses in the kingdom will be very considerably reduced and the machine, in the hands of the present proprietors, will be made use of in a thousand instances never yet thought of for an engine.”

The Cambrian was the first weekly newspaper to be published in Wales. It was established by George Haynes and L. W. Dillwyn in 1804 to help promote Swansea’s commercial growth.

The story of Richard Trevithick’s Penydarren Locomotive was probably it’s first ‘scoop’ – appearing in its fifth edition.

Swansea at that time was beginning to develop into a busy commercial and industrial town, with the communications infrastructure that was necessary for the distribution of the newspaper to the minority of English speakers and readers in the principal towns of South Wales.

Copies of The Cambrian – and an array of other historical Welsh newspapers – are available in the National Library of Wales free online resource Welsh Newspapers Online


Steam railway history is made in Merthyr Tydfil

On this day in 1804, Richard Trevithick – the Cornish inventor and engineer – wrote this about the historic journey made by his Penydarren steam locomotive hauling five wagons along the 9 miles of the Merthyr Tramroad.

“Yesterday we proceeded on our journey with the engine; we carry’d ten tons of Iron, five waggons, and 70 Men riding on them the whole of the journey.

“Its above 9 miles which we perform’d in 4 hours & 5 mints, but we had to cut down som trees and remove some Large rocks out of the road. The engine, while working, went nearly 5 miles pr hour, there was no water put into the boiler from the time we started untill we arriv’d at our journey’s end. The coal consumed was 2 Hund’d.

“On our return home abt 4 miles from the shipping place of the iron, one of the small bolts that fastened the axel to the boiler broak, and let all the water out of the boiler, which prevented the engine returning untill this evening.”

This account was later published by Trevithick’s son in his biography of his father.

The ‘lost’ Trevithick Trail

Trees and litter on a 'lost' section of the 'Trevithick Trail' with old ironworks stone walls

The ‘lost’ section of the ‘Trevithick Trail’ at Penyard Hill, Pontmorlais

The Trevithick Trail – according to the official website – “runs for nine miles from Penydarren in Merthyr Tydfil to Abercynon… It follows the line of the early nineteenth century Merthyr or Penydarren Tramroad which linked three of Merthyr’s ironworks to a loading point on the Glamorganshire Canal at a place then called Navigation”.

But try and follow the trail from the start – perhaps from the look-out point that overlooks the Traction Yard (once the site of the former Penydarren Ironworks) – and you’ll find the way blocked and no route signs.

The way is barred after the walk (or cycle ride) down Trevethick Street (wrongly spelled, of course) at The Rink.

A diversion onto Pontmorlais High Street and back through a narrow pathway into a small pass area adorned with a ‘No Dumping’ sign and piles of dumped litter and you might find the route of the old tramroad again.

Wrong. All that’s there is 30 or 40 yards of litter, discarded needles, brambles, tree trunks and trees between old stone walls from the ironworks era and the Morlais Brook.

Neglected and overgrown section of 'Trevithick Trail' - the opening to a lane from Penyard Hill roadway

Forgotten and neglected section of the ‘Trevithick Trail’ at Penyard Hill near Pontmorlais

Surely it’s time that the whole of this upper section of the Trevithick Trail is restored and way-marked so visitors can again follow the route that Trevithick and his Penydarren Locomotive took on that day of 21st February 1804.

Hauling five wagons laden with 10 tons of iron and carrying up to 70 passengers (according to Trevithick’s own account) the steam engine drove the full nine and a half miles of the tramroad in just over 4 hours. History was made.

World’s 1st steam locomotive – successful trials

During the first weeks of 1804, Richard Trevithick was engaged in building steam engines for Samuel Homfray at his Penydarren Ironworks in Merthyr Tydfil.

Within days of completing an engine fit for hammering and pumping Trevithick was writing letters to say how he was fitting it with wheels and adapting it to steam on the Merthyr tramroad.

In February 1804 Trevithick carried out the first trials of his Penydarren Locomotive on the cast iron rails of the tramroad.

“Last Saturday, we lighted the fire in the Tram Waggon and worked it without the wheels to try the engine…

“Monday we put it on the Tram Road. It worked very well and ran up hill and down with great ease… we have plenty of steam and power,” wrote Trevithick.

A few days later Trevithick writes wrote about more extensive trials. His new locomotive had steamed two miles along the rails of the tramroad – this would have been as far as Pentrebach – and back. The engine had hauled a load of ten tons in wagons.

“The Tram Waggon has been at work several times. It works exceeding well and is much more manageable than horses,” boasted Trevithick.

“The public is much taken with it.”

Trevithick said that he was planning to make a smaller locomotive to pull wagons on the tramroad.

“I intend to make a smaller engine for the road as this has much more power than is wanted here. This engine is to work a hammer.”

Trevithick also writes about a bet between ironmasters in Merthyr Tydfil – his own patron Samuel Homfray of the Penydarren Ironworks one of them. He said that the stakes were 500 guineas.

Trevithick’s Penydarren Loco – “momentous”

‘In February 1804, the world’s first ever railway journey ran 9 miles from the ironworks at Penydarren to the Merthyr-Cardiff Canal, South Wales. It was to be several years before steam locomotion became commercially viable, meaning Richard Trevithick and not George Stephenson was the real father of the railways.

‘In 1803, Samuel Homfray brought Richard Trevithick to his Penydarren ironworks at Merthyr Tydfil in South Wales. Homfray was interested in the high pressure engines that the Cornishman had developed and installed in his road engines.

‘He encouraged Trevithick to look into the possibility of converting such an engine into a rail-mounted locomotive to travel over the newly laid tramroad from Penydarren to the canal wharf at Abercynon.

‘The first run was described in some detail by Trevithick:

“…we proceeded on our journey with the engine, and we carried ten tons of iron in five wagons, and seventy men riding on them the whole of the journey… the engine, while working, went nearly five miles an hour; there was no water put into the boiler from the time we started until our journey’s end… the coal consumed was two hundredweight”.

‘We cannot underestimate the importance of Trevithick’s locomotive.

‘In 1800, the fastest a man could travel over land was at a gallop on horseback; a century later, much of the world had an extensive railway system on which trains regularly travelled at speeds of up to sixty miles per hour. This remarkable transformation, a momentous occasion in world history, was initiated in south Wales in that February of 1804.’

National Museum of Wales

Picture shows the replica of Trevithick's 1804 Penydarren Locomotive in main heavy industry gallery at the National Waterfront Museum, Swansea

The working replica of Trevithick’s 1804 Penydarren Locomotive is on public display at the National Waterfront Museum in Swansea

Picture of the main entrance and front of the modern, glass-walled National Waterfront Museum building in Swansea

The National Waterfront Museum in Swansea – main entrance

Front view of Penydarren Locomotive showing boiler, flywheel, drive wheels and engineer

The Penydarren Locomotive – a full size replica of Trevhitick’s 1804 original – under steam at the Mational Waterfront Museum, Swansea