The Stourbridge Lion
By Dr. Paul Collins, contributor
Did you know that the first locomotive to run in America was built in Stourbridge? Dr. Paul Collins tells the story of 'The Stourbridge Lion' - and why we should be proud of its heritage.
8th August 1829 - historic first run
'The Stourbridge Lion? Wasn't that a pub in Enville Street?'
Ask people in Stourbridge what the 'Stourbridge Lion' was and you might get either a blank look or the above reply.
Repeat the question on any main street in America and, chances are, you'd be told that it was the first locomotive to run in the USA.
Quite why the singular distinction of having produced the first locomotive to turn a wheel on a commercial railroad in the United States remains such a mystery to the residents of Stourbridge is unclear, but the fact remains that, 180 years ago, the town's ironworks produced two locomotives that earned their place in history.
Stourbridge town today
They were the work of engineer John Urpeth Rastrick, who between 1819 and 1831 was a partner with James Foster, heir to John Bradley & Co, in Foster, Rastrick & Co. Northumberland born Rastrick had worked with steam engine and locomotive pioneer Richard Trevithick and continued his interest in their development.
By the early 1820s Foster, Rastrick & Co had added '& Steam Engine Manufacturers' to their name and by 1828 Rastrick was working on a steam locomotive to work a railway linking collieries at Shutt End with the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal at Ashwood.
Called 'The Agenoria' – after the god of industry – when this ran on 2nd June 1829 it was the first locomotive to work in the Midlands or south of England. Today, it is the oldest complete locomotive in the National Railway Museum in York.
While working on the Shutt End Railway, Horatio Allen, who was touring England to acquire locomotives for the Delaware & Hudson Canal Co, visited Rastrick.
Stourbridge Lion replica - Honesdale, PA
Allen was briefed to acquire a locomotive to work a section of his company's part canal/part railroad scheme. He'd already bought one from Robert Stephenson & Co, but, clearly impressed with The Agenoria, he ordered three from Rastrick!
Coming to America
The Stephenson locomotive – named 'America' – arrived first and was steamed, raided on blocks, in a New York warehouse.
Then, with the Foster, Rastrick locomotive was moved to Honesdale, Pennsylvania, where the railroad began. Perhaps for no other reason than the Stephenson locomotive had been tried, the Foster, Rastrick one was assembled and prepared to test the railroad.
During this someone painting the boiler front noticed dents which reminded him of a lion's head. So, the locomotive was from Stourbridge – why not the 'Stourbridge Lion'?
Remains of the Lion - Washington, DC
On 8th August 1829 a nervous Horatio Allen boarded the Lion's footplate and set off for a run. However, the track was made from local hemlock timber capped with an iron strap and, at 11½ tons, the Stourbridge Lion was twice as heavy as specified.
The inevitable happened: the track creaked and cracked, scaring Allen so much that he abandoned his run two miles in and walked back! Repairs were made and another run attempted on 9 September 1829, with the same result.
Nonetheless, a first is a first, and it was the track that failed not the locomotive.
So the Stourbridge Lion earned its place in American history. It is something that every Black Country person should at least have heard about, and also be very proud of.
Note: The remains of the Stourbridge Lion are on display in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.
last updated: 30/09/2009 at 12:39