THE 'CORNISH GIANT'
|The bicentenary of a gigantic engineering
celebration of the bicentenary of an engineering invention, Inside
Out looks at the key achiements of Richard Trevithick.
21st 1804 was a momentous day in the history of rail travel.
The "Penydarren" (brainchild of Cornish engineer Richard Trevithick)
became the first locomotive ever to haul a load on rails the nine and a
half mile journey from Merthyr Tydfil to Abercynon in Wales.
"Penydarren" as much a leviathan as Trevithick
The engineering genius of Richard Trevithick was immense, and, in every
way, Richard Trevithick was a giant of a man.
At 6ft 2in he was known as the "Cornish Giant" and, at the young
age of 18, could throw a sledge hammer over the top of a railway engine
It was while
working with his father, at the Wheal Treasury mine in Cornwall, he first
showed a talent for engineering. He made improvements to the mine's Bull
Steam Engine and was eventually promoted to engineer of the Ding Dong
mine at Penzance.
The locomotive era
talents were further harnessed when he developed a high-pressure engine
to raise the ore and refuse from mines in Cornwall and South Wales. But
he also began experimenting with the idea of producing a steam locomotive.
heat was always on with his experiments
locomotive came first and by 1796, he had produced one that worked.
He made the
boiler and engine into a single unit; hot water being put into the boiler
with a red hot iron inserted into a tube below. This caused steam to rise
and the engine set in motion.
went on to try and manufacture a much larger steam road locomotive and
on Christmas Eve, 1801, he used it to take seven friends on what was perhaps
the very first "joy-ride".
Devil", as it became known, could only travel short distances as
it was unable to keep up steam for very long. The principle behind the
drive was simple - a cylindrical horizontal boiler with a single horizontal
cylinder set into it.
was the cutting edge of engineering of its time
was propelled in and out of the cylinder by pressure of steam and was
linked by piston rod connected to a crankshaft bearing a large flywheel.
of travelling distance did not deter Trevithick. Nor did the lack of enthusiasm
of London scientists.
succeeded in getting sponsorship in 1803 from a company named Vivian &
After a short honeymoon period in London between Trevithick and the company,
the new locomotive hit insurmountable technical problems which prevented
it pulling any carriage at all.
It was because
of this that Vivian & West and Trevithick parted company.
But, being the tenacious man he was, Richard Trevithick quickly found
another benefactor in Samuel Homfray, the owner of the Penydarren Ironworks
in Merthyr Tydfil.
all his 'vision', he died a penniless man
And so it
was that in 1804, Richard Trevithick was to make his mark with his Penydarren
With its single vertical cylinder, 8 foot flywheel and long piston-rod,
it managed to haul 10 tons of iron, 70 passengers and five wagons from
the ironworks at Penydarren to the Merthyr-Cardiff Canal.
speeds of a staggering five miles an hour. But it only ever made three
journeys. The cast iron rails, on which it ran, broke on each excursion.
The project then came to an abrupt end.
Blacket, who owned the Wylam Colliery in Northumbnerland became Trevithick's
employer, and as such employed his engineering prowess too.
a five mile wooden rail line from the Wylam Colliery to the River Tyne
on which pit ponies hauled the coal.
It was Blacket's hope that the Wylam locomotive, that Trevithick had developed,
would change all this too.
But it was
so heavy; it couldn't be used on the wooden track.
financial backing, Trevithick abandoned plans to develop a steam locomotive.
Royal Mint have commemorated Trevithick
Instead he became motivated by the money he could make developing a steam
dredger that extracted waste from the Thames riverbed.
pioneers such as George Stephenson argued that Trevithick's early trials
were fundamental to the development of locomotive travel, as he continued
to experiment with new ideas.
all the trials, experiments and developments failed to receive significant
financial backing, and Richard Trevithick died in extreme poverty at the
Bull Inn, Dartford, on 22nd April, 1833.