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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

Saturday 21st February – cycling, walking on the Trevithick Trail

This Saturday it’s Trevithick Day – the 211th anniversary of Trevithick’s world first steam engine journey for nine and a half miles along the iron rails of the Merthyr Tramroad.

We have helped organise informal and fun cycling and heritage walk opportunities at three points on the Trevithick Trail – one of Wales’ premiere cycle, riding and walking routes.

At 10am on Saturday cyclists will set off from Puddlers’ Bridge and the Trevithick artwork at Pentrebach for Abercynon – following the route of Trevithick’s steam locomotive along the Merthyr Tramroad for much of the way.

Also at 10am, Huw Williams of Merthyr Tydfil Heritage Regeneration Trust will lead a short heritage walk along the section of the Trevithick Trail (and Taff Trail) from Quakers Yard to Goitre Coed and back.

At 10.45am, the cyclists and walkers will make their way to Navigation, Abercynon, where a heritage information board will be unveiled.

Trevithick supporters will then make the short walk to Abercynon railway station to unveile more heritage boards and a blue plaque in memory of John Ewington of Abercynon whose stand against his railway bosses sparked off the historic Taff Vale Railway strike of 1900.

The Mayor of Merthyr Tydfil Cllr Brian Mansfield and the Mayor of Rhondda Cynon Taf Cllr John Watts will lead the event – signing a joint declaration of support for the Trevithick Day celebrations.

Steam drama at the Senedd

Today the exciting heritage drama ‘Steam’ – telling the story of Richard Trevithick, the world’s first steam railway locomotive and the iron workers of Merthyr Tydfil – was staged brilliantly at the Senedd in Cardiff Bay.

Trevithick_Steam-at-Senedd tree NatLibrary_training 106a

At the same time Merthyr Tydfil Heritage Regeneration Trust announced proposals for a Trevithick heritage railway that could be sited at the historic Cyfarthfa Ironworks furnaces.

The heritage trust commissioned ‘Steam’ – and the new costumed drama was performed by the students today (Monday, 2nd June 2014) in a lunchtime performance sponsored by Huw Lewis, AM for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney.

Created by the students at REDHOUSE, the Old Town Hall, Merthyr Tydfil, ‘Steam’ tells the story of how Richard Trevithick came to Merthyr Tydfil and built his pioneering Penydarren Locomotive, It became the first steam engine to haul a load on rails when he drove it for nine and a half miles along the Merthyr Tramroad from Penydarren to Abercynon in 1804.

At the Senedd, Morgan Chambers, Chairman of the heritage regeneration trust, said:

“Students from The College Merthyr Tydfil have created a brilliant short drama. More than that, they have been on a journey back to 1804 and discovered the industrial heritage of Merthyr Tydfil they knew little or nothing about.

“At the trust, we are excited about how these young people have embraced our Trevithick Project. So today, we are announcing the next stage – promoting plans for a new heritage railway in Merthyr Tydfil at the Cyfarthfa Furnaces – itself an historic site of world significance whose potential has been overlooked for too many years.”

Today also saw the launch of ‘Iron and Steam’ – a new five minute video filmed by The College Merthyr Tydfil and also commissioned by the heritage trust as part of its ‘Trevithick 2014’ project.

You can watch ‘Iron and Steam’ at AOTV on Vimeo:

People’s festival for Merthyr Tydfil?

We’re asking people if they would like a new Summer Heritage Festival in Merthyr Tydfil – a people’s festival that takes Richard Trevithick’s pioneering work on railway steam engines as its theme.

What do you think of the idea?

We’ve asked people if they would like to see a free street festival with music, singing, drama, arts and crafts and ‘Tales of Old Merthyr’ in the town centre.

The answer was ‘YES’.

Several people said: ‘The town needs livening up.’

We are also looking at the possibility of bringing steam traction engines of all sizes to the town centre and to Cyfarthfa Park.

But a Summer Heritage Festival will only come about if we can find local people willing to give up their time to help organise and run it.

And if we can find organisations willing to finance, fund and support a festival.

Merthyr Tydfil Heritage Regeneration Trust is going to continue its work in looking for the backing that will make a new summer festival a reality.

Get in touch with us through this website – go to the ‘Join Us’ page – by sending us your details.

We’ll get back to you to let you know how the campaign is going.

The world’s first steam railway engine – 210 years on

210 years to the day after the world’s first steam locomotive ran on an iron tram road a new drama how retold the story of Richard Trevithick, the Penydarren Locomotive and how the railways began.

‘Iron and Steam’ – a short play about how Trevithick developed his high pressure steam engine to run on the iron rails of the Merthyr Tramroad – was given its premiere in Merthyr Tydfil.

Students from The College Merthyr Tydfil acted the drama for audiences at Theatr Soar and for children at Edwardsville Primary School and Cyfarthfa Junior School.

Audiences – young and old alike – were thrilled as the students took on the roles of:

  • ·     iron workers at Cyfarthfa, Dowlais, Penydarren and Pentrebach,
  • ·     the powerful iron masters – Crawshay, Guest, Homfray and Hill
  • ·     Richard Trevithick and
  •     Davies Giddy, an eminent politician and scientist of the time.

Trevithick Day started in Abercynon where a new sign to mark the start of the Trevithick Trail was unveiled – close to the former Glamorganshire Canal headquarters at Navigation House (now the Celtic Carvery at Navigation Inn).

Children at Edwardsville Primary School enjoyed the premiere of Steam – and then the school’s gardening club planted five fruit trees to celebrate the start of a Keep Wales Tidy environmental project along the nine and a half miles of the Trevithick Trail/old Merthyr Tramroad.

Choral group ‘Merthyr Aloud’ opened the main celebration event at Theatr Soar in Pontmorlais – a venue just a stone’s throw from the tramroad along which Trevithick drove the Penydarren Locomotive on 21st February 1804.

After another loudly applauded performance of ‘Steam’ from the students of The College Merthyr Tydfil (based in REDHOUSE The Old Town Hall), there was a session of ‘Any Trevithick Questions’.

A panel of Phil Hosken, Chairman of the Trevithick Society, Joe England and Huw Williams tried to answer questions like:

What happened to the 1,000 guineas in cash said to have been staked by Crawshay and Homfray in a bet on Trevithick’s adventure?

What was the exact design of the Penydarren Locomotive? Do the records show this?

Did Trevithick run one of his earlier steam engine on rails at Coalbrookdale?

Why is Trevithick now regarded as the pioneer of high pressure steam engines?

Why did Trevithick abandon his trials – leaving the way open for the Stephensons to develop commercial railway locomotives?

Finally, the drama students from The College gave their third performance of the day to children and staff at Cyfarthfa Junior School at Merthyr Tydfil’s Cyfarthfa Park.

Trevithick Day programme – and just six days to go

We have an exciting programme lined up for you at the Trevithick Day at Soar event on Friday, 21st February 2014 – on the 210th anniversary of the historic journey by Richard Trevithick and the Penydarren Locomotive for nine and a half miles along the Merthyr Tramroad.

This is the link to our invitation and programme flyers for Trevithick Day at Soar.

Programme for Trevithick Day at Soar

Flyer with information on the programme for Trevithick Day 2014 event at Theatr Soar on Friday 21st February 204

Flyer with programme for the Trevithick Day at Soar heritage event being held on Friday 21st February 2014

If you want to come along there are some places still available for this event – it starts in Theatr Soar at 11am on Friday, 21st February 2014.

Go to our ‘Join Us’ page on this website and send us your details and email address.

For more news on all things Trevithick, his steam locomotives and Merthyr Tydfil in 1804 keep in touch on this website.

Recently, people in Wales took part in two debates – one in The Western Mail and the other at the Hay Festival – to find the most important place in Welsh history.

Did you know that Merthyr Tydfil came out on top? Merthyr, its iron masters and iron works and people like Richard Trevithick with his steam locomotives and high pressure steam engines changed not just Wales but the world.

Trevithick Heritage Day – 7 days to go

Trevithick Heritage Day is a heritage festival event to celebrate the 210th anniversary of the world’s first railway steam engine – the Penydarren Locomotive – at Merthyr Tydfil.

You can reserve a seat in Theatr Soar, Pontmorlais, for a FREE and entertaining arts and heritage programme that starts at  11am on Friday, 21st February.

The event includes:

             an exciting new short drama

             Welsh choral singing

             ‘Any Trevithick Questions’ – with a panel of heritage experts

             a new Trevithick steam engine video

Trevithick Heritage Day at Soar

11am Arrivals – teas and coffees

11.30am Merthyr Aloud

11.40am ‘Trevithick and the Iron Masters’ – drama performed by students from The College Merthyr Tydfil

12.00pm ‘Any Trevithick Questions?’ – quiz our panel of experts

12.30pm Buffet and thanks

1pm Departures

Trevithick Heritage Day at Soar is organised by Merthyr Tydfil Heritage Regeneration Trust in association with Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council

Book your FREE place – visit the Contact Us page on this website, fill in your details and press send to email the organisers.

Or email or contact a member of the Merthyr Tydfil Heritage Regeneration Trust.

Trevithick Day – we’re talking to Merthyr Business Club

Only 38 days to go to Trevithick Day and the 210th anniversary of a world-changing event  – Richard Trevithick’s epic steam locomotive journey from the Penydarren Ironworks in Merthyr Tydfil to Abercynon.

This as an opportunity to tell the special story of how the ironworks forged the community of Merthyr Tydfil. That changed Wales.

The invention, building and testing of a steam locomotive in Merthyr Tydfil by Richard Trevithick led to the birth of the railways. It changed the world.


A memorial to Richard Trevithick and his Penydarren Locomotive at Pontmorlais, Merthyr Tydfil – close to the old tramroad where the steam engine ran on 21st February 1804

Today we are sharing the latest news of our project with the Merthyr Business Club.

Telling them they can join in on Trevithick Day – we’ll be posting more about that very soon.

But we also have the news that the Merthyr Tydfil Heritage Regeneration Trust is investigating the feasibility of building a working replica of Trevithick’s Penydarren Locomotive to run on rails here.

Celebrating our heritage

On 21st February we will be linking up with The College Merthyr Tydfil to stage a dramatic re-enactment of scenes from the ironworks of 1804.

Trevithick Day 2014 aims to raise the profile of Merthyr Tydfil – and help change perceptions as well. It will be a reminder that Merthyr Tydfil can be a special place to visit –  the place where the railways were born. We have unique heritage sites and buildings that have the potential to amaze visitors.

One example of this is the Trevithick Trail. It follows in the tracks of Trevithick’s first ever steam railway journey of nine and a half miles along the old Merthyr Tramroad.

web200a TrevithickTrail_21Feb13 + Mog_ 133

Some of the old stone setts (sleepers) are still in place on the old Merthyr Tramroad. Heritage Trust Chairman Morgan Chambers on a Trevithick Day 2013 stroll.

This is just the start. We hope that local businesses and organisations recognise the importance of Trevithick Day 2014 as we plan to make this an annual event.

Trevithick locomotive off for repair

The Penydarren locomotive was yesterday (Monday, 23 September 2013) winched out of the National Waterfront Museum in Swansea for a 130 mile road trip to Porthmadog for repairs and maintenance.

The seven tonne steam engine – a conjectural working replica of Richard Trevithick’s original 1804 locomotive – was hoisted up onto a modern low loader for the journey.


At the Ffestiniog Railway’s renowned Boston Lodge Works the Penydarren replica will undergo repair, maintenance and a full boiler inspection.

The loading operation – carried out under supervision of the National Museum of Wales’ Heavy Industries Curator Robert Protheroe Jones and Boston Lodge Works Manager Tony Williams – took just two hours.

First, the Penydarren – named after the Penydarren Iron Works at Merthyr Tydfil where Trevithick built and ran the original – was winched out of the museum along its specially built iron railed track. It rolled down a slight ramp

Then the chimney was unbolted and lifted off.

After that the body of the locomotive was hoisted up onto the flat bed of the low loader.

Finally, the tender was lifted up. Locomotive and wagon were secured and the long road journey began.

The Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways is celebrating 150 years of narrow guage steam railways with its ‘1863 and All That’ vintage steam festival running for three days from Friday 11 October to Sunday 13 October 2013. Full details and how to book for places are available on the railways’ website .




Bradley Wiggins, Tour of Britain pass site of world’s first railway steam engine

The sun came out today for Sir Bradley Wiggins and the cyclists racing on Stage 5 of the Tour of Britain through Merthyr Tydfil and the Brecon Beacons.

No time to waste with a look at the historic site of the Penydarren Iron Works as the tour riders cycled past and up the old incline towards Dowlais.

Tour_of_Britain_Incline_Top_MT 044a

Some of the crowd – including pupils from Cyfarthfa High School – are cheering for ‘Wiggo’ as the peloton with the Sky team at the front pedals up the hill.

A stone’s throw away is the site of the old ironworks where Richard Trevithick built the Penydarren locomotive to pull wagons of smelted iron for nine and a half miles along the Merthyr tramroad to the Glamorganshire Canal basin at Abercynon. I wonder if Sir Bradley, Mark Cavendish and the others know? It was back in 1804 and two decades before bicycles were invented.

Tour_of_Britain_Incline_Top_MT 045a

Here they go past. That’s Sir Bradley @bradwiggins in the yellow jersey, isn’t it?

Tour_of_Britain_Incline_Top_MT 046

And that’s Mark Cavendish in the white jersey.

Tour_of_Britain_Incline_Top_MT 049

It’s a bit of a puff if you’re near the back.


Tour_of_Britain_Incline_Top_MT 054a

And they’re off towards Dowlais and then to Cwmbargoed – where the coal that powered Trevithick’s steam engine was mined. Oh no, one rider’s stopped because of a puncture. But he get’s another bike and sets off to catch up.

Trevithick 2014 project launch in Penydarren

A heritage project that will celebrate Richard Trevithick’s pioneering steam locomotives and the world’s first ever railway journey is officially underway.

‘Trevithick 2014’ was launched by the Mayor of Merthyr Tydfil Councillor Graham Davies at the site of the former Penydarren ironworks from where Trevithick’s steam engine set out in 1804.

Mayor and heritage volunteers at the Penydarren Iron Works site for Trevithick project launch

Mayor of Merthyr Tydfil officially launches the Trevithick 2014 project at Penydarren

The project will work on reviving the legacy of Trevithick – and on celebrating the 210th anniversary of his nine and a half mile journey along the iron rails of the Merthyr tramroad on 21 February 2014.

“The history of that first railway journey has largely been forgotten outside of Merthyr Tydfil,” said Councillor Davies. “We want to gain more recognition for the tremendous contribution that this town made to the railways of the world.”

Philip Hosken, Chairman of the Trevithick Society, said, “Trevithick invented the steam engine we know today. Every steam engine since has the same features – including the cylindrical boiler. Trevithick used high pressure steam to drive the pistons and his dream was to make steam engines that would replace the horse.”

Philip Hosken, Trevithick Society Chairman, speaking in Merthyr Tydfil

Philip Hosken, Chairman of the Trevithick Society, at Penydarren Iron Works site in Merthyr Tydfil

Trevithick’s pioneering work began when he made model steam engines in Cornwall. His first steam engine with wheels ran successfully in Cambourne in 1801. He did more pioneering work in London and in Coalbrookdale before travelling to Merthyr to build steam engines for the Penydarren ironworks in 1803.

Within months he was running a steam engine on the rails of the Merthyr tramroad – and it hauled five wagons with ten tons of iron and 70 passengers the tramroad’s full distance on 21February 1804.

“You have nine and a half miles of golden tramroad – that should bring people from around the world,” added Mr Hosken. “Steam enthusiasts don’t know what a jewel you have here.”

Morgan Chambers, Chairman of the Heritage and Regeneration Trust, said that special celebrations are planned for Trevithick Day next year.

Picture of Morgan Chambers and Graham Davies at the Trevithick 2014 project launch

Heritage Trust Chairman and Mayor of Merthyr Tydfil Graham Davies

He said that the heritage trust was working with the Merthyr Model Engineering Society – which runs the popular passenger-carrying miniature railway in Cyfarthfa Park.

The project launch was held at the Penydarren Ironworks viewing point which gives visitors information on:

  • the history of the works
  • Trevithick’s historic first steam engine journey and
  • the network of early tramroads in Merthyr Tydfil.

The Trevithick 2014 project is managed by the Merthyr Tydfil Heritage and Regeneration Trust with funding assistance from Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council.

Mayor and heritage volunteers at the Penydarren Iron Works site for Trevithick project launch

Mayor of Merthyr Tydfil officially launches the Trevithick 2014 project at Penydarren

We walk in the tracks of the world’s first railway steam engine

Today – Thursday, 12 September 2013 – we walked in the track of Richard Trevithick’s world first steam engine railway journey of 1804.

Our walking tour started at 1400 from outside the old Navigation Inn (now the Celtic Carvery) at Abercynon and followed the route of the Merthyr Tramroad norther as far as Pontygwaith.

A group of a dozen walkers outside the former Navigation House (now Celtic Carvery) in Abercynon

Walkers at the start of the Open Doors tour of the Trevithick Trail south outside the historic Navigation House (now Celtic Carvery) in Abercynon

This covers almost three miles of the old tramroad – we saw the stone setts that supported the iron rails that carried the world’s first steam railway locomotive on the bridle path and cycle track as we neared Pontygwaith.

A cinder walk and cycle path passes through green leafed trees and bushes. To the right is a glimpse of the river Taff.

The Merthyr Tramroad runs alongside the river Taff near Quaker’s Yard. Both the Taff and the Trevithick trails and cycle paths follow the same route at this point.

The trail passes through one arch of Brunel’s Goetre Coed viaduct – built for the Taff Vale Railway in 1840 and still used by passenger trains to and from Merthyr Tydfil.

A metalled track passes under a stone arch - there's a much larger arched bridge behind trees to the left

The Trevithick Trail passes under one arch of Brunel’s later stone viaduct built to carry the Taff Vale Railway

A plaque on the arch remembers Brunel’s achievment in building the viaduct across the Taff Valley, the Merthyr Tramroad used by Trevithick in 1804 and the river Taff.

Grey stone of a railway viaduct arch with a plaque remembering Brunel

A plaque on Brunel’s massive Goetre Coed viaduct for the Taff Vale Railway

We stopped at Pontygwaith Farm and – courtesy of Diana and Ray – enjoyed a cup of tea in the surroundings of their fine gardens. These are open to the public in the summer as part of the National Gardens Scheme.

Ray told our tour group of a dozen – plus tour leader Rob Thomson (creator of this Trevithick 1804 website) – about the historic finds made at the farm. He explained how Pontygwaith was the site of one of Wales’s biggest pre-industrial revolution iron foundrys – and how Cromwell’s soldiers ravaged it in the Civil War because it produced arms for King Charles 1’s Royalist forces.

After that the tour continued up a steep section of the Taff Trail before heading back for the return leg to Abercynon following the track of the old Glamorganshire Canal.

The canal – built for Richard Crawshay, the iron industry’s most powerful and wealthy men and owner of the Cyfarthfa Works and other ironmasters in 1790 – carried much of the iron produced in Merthyr Tydfil to market.

The whole area is rich in the heritage of Merthyr Tydfil’s iron works – in Trevithick’s time the largest centre of iron production in the world – of the later deep mine coal industry and of railway and canal transportation.

At Abercynon we found the remains of lock number 16 on the canal in a garden – it was one of 17 locks that stepped down the hillside to an aqueduct carried the waterway over the River Taff.

We will be holding the walking tour again on Sunday next, 12 September 2013, again at 1400 and also starting and returning to the Celtic Carvery (former Navigation Inn) in Abercynon. The route is six miles and includes a steep gradient – the whole tour (which will not go ahead if the weather is inclement) will probably take between 3 and 4 hours.

The tours are organised by volunteers from the Merthyr Tydfil Heritage Trust in association with Open Doors Wales, Merthyr Tydfil CBC and Rhondda Cynon Taf CBC.

Trevithick Day – 21 February 2014

Trevithick Day 2014 will be celebrated in a special way – remembering that it will be 210 years to the day since Richard Trevithick’s Penydarren Locomotive made the world’s first railway journey.

Merthyr Tydfil Heritage Regeneration Trust is co-ordinating events on that day – and you and your family and friends can join in.

Trevithick’s engine steamed for nine and a half miles along the iron rails of the Merthyr tramroad from the Penydarren ironworks to the canal basin at Abercynon.

In the past few years it has become traditional to mark the anniversary with events along the Trevithick Trail – the footpath and cycle way that follows the line of the original tramroad. For several miles you can walk, cycle, ride and in places even drive along the very same route that Trevithick and his crew of 70 men followed on that February day.

If you’ve got an idea for a walk, an event or a ride on the trail – perhaps only along a short distance of it – then get in touch.

We will be posting up details and arrangements for everything that’s happening on Friday 21st February 2013.

Join us in following in the tracks of railway history!

Heritage Trust inspects the Penydarren locomotive

We took the opportunity of our visit to the National Waterfront Museum in Swansea to catch up on the latest news of the famous Penydarren locomotive replica on display there.

The Heritage Trust team was met by Robert Protheroe Jones, curator for heavy industries at the museum – part of the National Museums of Wales.


The large black iron boiler, the chimney stack and the massive flywheel – probably the most distinctive feature of Richard Trevithick’s 1804 railway locomotive – are familiar from pictures, paintings and contemporary designs.

Yet the world’s first railway engine (well, actually a full size working conjectural replica made in Wales in 1981) is still an inspiring sight. It’s a monster of a machine. Could this seven tonne beast have pulled wagons, a load of iron and 70 passengers for over nine miles?

Penydarren loco Waterfront cropped_2 26-06-13

Robert Protheroe Jones, an expert on the replica and the history of Trevithick’s original steam engine, says ‘Yes’.  Over the years he was supervised dozens of days of steam running – and knows its workings well.

There is special training and guidance for the museum staff who drive the engine. There has to be. It’s not like later machines.

“The ride is not smooth,” says Robert Protheroe Jones in a paper on the Penydarren locomotive replica. “The locomotive and tram are not sprung and possessing only one cylinder the ride is a series of lurches and pauses.

“The flywheel assists in continuing the momentum of the engine when the (single) piston pauses to reverse its direction of travel.”

There are no brakes or buffers – just as there were none in Trevithick’s original machine. The flywheel has another use – hauling down on it can get the engine under way again after a stop.

Here’s a link to a video of the Penydarren locomotive of 1804 in action.

Trevithick steam engine in action today

A six tonne conjectural replica of the first steam engine in the world to haul a load on iron rails has pride of place in Wales’ National Waterfront Museum at Swansea.

It’s a massive machine made in iron back in 1981 using the steam locomotive plans and designs of engineering pioneer Richard Trevithick.

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

The replica has been run under steam first in Cardiff Bay and more recently at the Waterfront Museum at intervals ever since.

When it’s in motion it’s a great sight – trundling along a four foot wide near standard guage length of track outside the modern quay side museum building.

Here’s a link to a video of the Penydarren locomotive of 1804 in action.

On 21st February 1804 the Trevithick designed and built locomotive – basically one of his innovative high pressure steam engine laid on its side with wheels attached – steamed out of the Penydarren ironworks in Merthyr Tydfil pulling five wagons with a load of 10 tonnes of iron. Also aboard were 70 passengers.

Engine and train steamed for nine and a half miles along the flanged iron rails of the Merthyr tramroad to Abercynon – reaching speeds of over four miles per hour but having to make a number of stops because of overhanging trees and a low tunnel.