This is the first of a new series of occasional feature articles, sometimes looking at particular aspects of new builds, and sometimes looking at areas beyond the regular scope of the site.
In its regular coverage, this site focuses on locomotives that could feasibly operate services on a preserved line, and not the smaller engines – replicas of very early locomotives – that are in use on museum sites across the country. This article will take a one-off look at this category of museum replicas – as ever, focusing only on standard gauge (with a few minor exceptions), and looking only at fully functioning, operable replicas (again, with one or two necessary exceptions) of locomotives originally built in the UK.
It must be noted at the outset that none of the engines discussed here are really true replicas: concessions to modern safety practices, if nothing else, have required modification of all of them, and some are not based on verifiable contemporary technical information at all.
Nonetheless, there is plenty of interest here. Some of these replicas are straightforward heritage and museum projects; identifying and understanding others requires historical detours, through the high Victorian pomp of the British Empire, the pioneering days of rail preservation, early cinema, and even Nazi Germany…
There are numerous areas of uncertainty in the below, so if you have additional information about replicas of this sort that can fill the gaps, please do add it in the comments.
Stephenson’s Rocket has attracted more attention from replica makers than any other locomotive, and over a longer time period. It is therefore the obvious place to start. According to this National Railway Museum information sheet, a total of nine full-size replicas have been constructed, from 1881 to 1979, albeit only three of them operable.
It’s not totally clear where these figures of nine and three come from, but New Build Steam has been able to identify two of the three working replicas, and possibly the third as well.
The first working replica of Rocket was constructed in 1929 by Robert Stephenson and Company, who were of course the locomotive’s original creators. It was commissioned by Henry Ford, presumably inspired by the centenary of the Rainhill Trials, and exported to America where he used it on his own private track within his Greenfield Village museum in Dearborn, Michigan. That museum is now the Henry Ford Museum, and the replica remains an exhibit in it, having last been steamed in 1949. It can be seen on test in Darlington, prior to export, in this short silent film. Although a worthwhile contemporary record of the replica’s construction, and contrasting Rocket with one of the company’s latest locomotives, the film promotes the hagiographic view of George Stephenson as the principal originator of steam traction, in a way that today seems almost comically heavy-handed. Many of the replicas of other engines discussed later in this article were constructed partly in an effort to counter this simplistic but entrenched popular mythology.
The drawings made for the 1929 replica went on to further use. Three more replicas were built over the next few years, two of them for export. One is at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, and is apparently non-functioning but with rotating driving wheels. Could this be the second of the operable replicas? Either way, it has survived a recent round of disposals of locomotive exhibits by the museum, and its future there seems assured.
The other two replicas were sectioned from their creation. One of these, also built in 1931, went to the Science Museum in Kensington, and is now on display at the NRM in York. The fate of the other, built in 1935, is more obscure. It was built for the Museum of the Peaceful Arts in New York, which later became the New York Museum of Science and Industry, and moved into the Rockefeller Center. The collection appears to have had a complex history, and the Rocket replica found its way into other hands. A locomotive listed as a sectioned replica of Rocket came up for auction in 2004 and reportedly sold for USD42,000. This correspondence suggests there’s a privately-owned Rocket in the Los Angeles area, whose restoration has encountered setbacks, while other fragmentary online reports speak of a Rocket replica in the hands of a car collector (which fits – the 2004 auction seems to have been primarily a car sale), being ‘restored’ to operable condition. Overall, it looks as though this replica is still around and being worked on – it remains to be seen whether, and when, it will emerge into public view again.
The 1929 drawings would be used again fifty years later in the construction of another working replica, but before we get to that we need to look much further back in time, and take a look at the issue of non-working replicas. The LNWR constructed at least one non-working, full-size replica of Rocket – and may have built more than that. Numerous sources suggest that there were multiple such replicas, for instance Denis Dunstone’s ‘For The Love of Trains’ (Ian Allan, 2007).
Some sources refer to the LNWR’s Chief Mechanical Engineer from 1870 to 1902, Francis William Webb, having one built to mark the centenary of Stephenson’s birth in 1881. It’s also known than such a model was exhibited at the ‘Shipperies Exhibition’ – or more properly, the International Exhibition of Navigation, Commerce and Industry – in Liverpool in 1886. Following the fashion for grand imperial exhibitions, this was the first such event to be held outside London and was opened by Queen Victoria on May 11th of that year. Liverpool was arguably the empire’s principal port at the time, and the exhibition was a large, lavish affair, boasting ‘an African village, 50 natives of India and Ceylon and camel and elephant rides’. The extensive buildings that housed it are now long gone, seemingly along with all popular memory of it. However, this article from The Engineer, February 1887, which notes that the Rocket replica was displayed at the exhibition, specifies that Webb had it made ‘last year’. Of course, although this is a contemporary source it could still be mistaken – perhaps this was just the same model as in 1881, rather than an additional one.
LNWR publicity material continued to feature images of a replica Rocket for several decades subsequently, such as this postcard. Almost certainly the still photograph of Rocket seen in the film about the 1929 replica is of an LNWR model too. This publicity photo, taken to mark the construction of the 5,000th engine at Crewe (a member of the George the Fifth class, coincidentally now the subject of a new build project) shows it posed next to a presumably LNWR replica of Rocket (the date was 1911, not 1900 as per Getty’s erroneous caption). In 1930, a replica of Rocket, which Dunstone claims survives, was displayed at an LMS exhibition, also in Liverpool, for the centenary of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. Could this be one of the Robert Stephenson and Company replicas, pre-export, or was it an LNWR model?
In the absence of clearer documentary evidence, or even a photograph showing multiple replicas together, New Build Steam is sceptical of claims that there were numerous LNWR models. A single replica whose date of origin is confused in the historical record seems the more likely prospect. The significance of all this to working replicas arose in Clapham: a Rocket replica, seemingly of LNWR origin, stood on a raised platform outside the British Transport Museum in Clapham (the museum’s collection later being split between the National Railway Museum and London Transport Museum). If there was more than one LNWR replica, the fate of the others remains obscure: but we do know that when M.G. Satow came to construct a working replica in 1975, he salvaged the metal components from the Clapham exhibit for use in his machine, including the frames (with modifications), trailing and tender wheelsets, upper chimney and ‘sundry other bits and pieces’. The wooden components had rotted away.
In his article about the project for Railway Magazine in October 1979, Satow dates the replica to 1881 – hence the confusing possibility of replicas from both 1881 and 1886. It is Satow’s machine that operates at the NRM in York today (making it the second replica in the museum, in addition to the 1931 sectioned model). Construction was started in 1975 after the completion of his replica of Locomotion No.1 (for which see below), and proved a difficult project: in particular Satow and his team had to contend with health and safety standards that grew more stringent seemingly while it was underway; an all-welded boiler was needed, with cosmetic additions to make it appear authentically riveted. However, it was completed in 1979 and, after a substantial overhaul that was completed in 2010, remains operational today. Despite the extensive nature of the recent work, presumably at least some of its components still date from the LNWR’s construction in the 1880s.
A footnote on Rocket replicas: it is sometimes claimed that a replica was made for use in the Buster Keaton film ‘Our Hospitality’ (1923), but in truth this was a prop only vaguely resembling Rocket, and not a functioning steam locomotive, as can be seen in this clip. It also turned up in The Iron Mule (1925) , but appears not to exist today – presumably it was simply discarded at some point as an old movie prop.
Rainhill Replicas and beyond…
The 150th anniversary in 1979 of the Rainhill trials, and in 1980 of the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, sparked much interest. The BBC’s programme on the Rocket 150 cavalcade is available via its iPlayer service, and Granada also produced a regional documentary on the Rainhill-era railway. Broadcasters have occasionally returned to the subject: the BBC’s Timewatch produced a ‘re-staging’ of the Rainhill trials at the Llangollen Railway in 2003, using replicas constructed for the prior celebrations (although the inevitable compromises in design made to satisfy modern safety requirements rendered the project essentially worthless as a ‘re-match’). A further re-enactment was held at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester in 2005. So next, we turn to the replicas of Rocket’s two main rivals at the Rainhill trials: Sans Pareil and Novelty.
The replica of Sans Pareil is one of the more straightforward replicas discussed here. It was built in 1979 by apprentices at British Rail’s Shildon workshop, and first steamed in April 1980 for the Liverpool and Manchester Railway anniversary celebrations. Since the NRM’s Locomotion site opened at Shildon in 2004, the replica and original have both been on display there.
Substantial work would be needed to make the replica operational again, however. Anthony Coulls of the NRM explains in this post on the National Preservation forum that the boiler was originally made out of ‘a piece of uncertified pipe’. The boiler inspector was happy to pass it while the engine remained in service, but when other repairs became essential the boiler certificate lapsed. He also makes clear that the NRM would like to get it running again if funds allow, and would ideally add cosmetic improvements to make it look more authentic.
Two replicas exist of Novelty, one functional and one not. They have rather less straightforward histories than the replica Sans Pareil.
The working version was built by Locomotion Enterprises in the Springwell Workshop of the Bowes Railway, again for the 1980 celebrations. However, as can be seen in the BBC footage of the cavalcade, it took part only in a well wagon rather than running in its own right – the reason appears to have been unusually narrow treads on its wheels.
In 1982 the replica Novelty was sold to a museum in Sweden, and appears to have remained there until being brought back to the UK in 2002 for the Timewatch programme. Numerous modifications and repairs were made to allow it to take part in this, including to the wheels. It was subsequently returned to Sweden, but visited Manchester for the MOSI event in 2005, and was also exhibited in Nuremberg in 2010 (an event also attended by the NRM’s working Rocket replica).
The Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester is home to a second, non-functioning replica… which isn’t, in fact, wholly a reproduction. The original locomotive’s wheels and one cylinder were incorporated in the replica when it was built in 1929 (again, presumably to celebrate the Rainhill centenary), and the second cylinder and some original motion parts were added when the replica was overhauled in 1988. It is currently displayed in the museum with moving parts operated by an electric motor.
Locomotion (more properly, Locomotion No.1)
Three replicas of pre-Rainhill era locomotives operate on the Pockerley Waggonway at Beamish open air museum. The oldest is the replica of the Stockton and Darlington Railway’s Locomotion No.1 of 1825. This was the engine constructed by M.G. Satow, which earned him the commission for the Rocket replica – although by his own account, Locomotion was an arduous project that he was reluctant to repeat. Its construction period, from 1973 to 75, seems fairly short by the standards of many heritage rail projects, however. Like the Rainhill replicas, it was built for 150th anniversary celebrations – in this instance, the opening of the S&DR. Satow documented its construction in the book ‘Locomotion — concept to creation: the story of the reproduction 1973–1975’ (Beamish: Locomotion Trust), with L.S. Wilson.
While most museum replicas involve a measure of modern engineering, with only modest quantities of contemporary technical information available, the ‘Steam Elephant’ is surely among the most speculative of these locomotives. The original was built for the Wallsend Waggonway and is now considered to have been designed by John Buddle and William Chapman. However, its existence was obscure for many years, until a watercolour sketch depicting it was exhibited in 1965, and an oil painting based on it was shortly afterwards donated to a local school. At the time of these discoveries, it was assumed to be one of George Stephenson’s early experimental locomotives. Nor is it even clear that it was contemporaneously referred to as the ‘Steam Elephant’ – a piece of text written by Stephen Oliver in 1834 coins the phrase (‘The great coalfield of Newcastle appears likely to be exhausted within two hundred years. Shares in railway companies will then be at an awful discount and steam elephants will inevitably perish for want of food!’) but there is no reason to suppose this is a reference to this particular engine, which by this time had been moved to the Hetton collieries, and may not even have been in service any more.
The replica (or perhaps it might be more accurate to say lookalike) was built by Alan Keef, a firm that normally specialises in narrow gauge or miniature rolling stock (indeed, it has built over 80 locomotives since 1968 – steam, diesel and electric – which illustrates how the concept of ‘new build’ does not apply neatly in the world of narrow gauge, still less is it a novelty). After a period of research and design, construction commenced in 1999 and was completed in 2002.
The third replica locomotive operating on the Pockerley Waggonway is Puffing Billy, which was built in 2005, again by Alan Keef.
Another, much older, replica of this engine exists in the perhaps unlikely location of the Deutsches Museum Verkehrszentrum, in Munich. It was specifically built for the museum when it was opened in 1906.
Although it was built for museum exhibition, it appears to be a functional locomotive. Currently its moving parts are operated by compressed air, but in 1934 it was seemingly fired up and operated for an industrial film made for German national railways called ‘Das Stahltier’ – ‘The Steel Animal’ (it’s always possible that its operation on the film was a practical special effect, but if nothing else the story is an interesting one). The film offered a fairly celebratory history of railway engineering, up to the current state of the art. However, it ran afoul of the political situation at the time: it gave fair credit to non-German innovators in the history of railways, and did not include any significant Nazi propaganda elements. Accordingly, it was banned and never exhibited until after the war – even then, it appeared to exist only in shortened versions. It is now available on DVD, apparently of the full version – if any reader has seen it and would care to offer a review or further information on the role of the Puffing Billy replica, it will be gratefully received (via the comments, social media, or email).
For all its success, Rocket was quickly eclipsed in terms of performance by its successor, the Planet class. The Friends of the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry embarked on a project in 1986 to construct a replica for use on the museum’s demonstration line, and it began operating in 1992. It is still in use at the museum, and was recently seen on the ITV drama ‘Victoria’, for which it was moved to the Mountsorrel branch of the Great Central Railway – lineside footage of the filming can be seen here on Youtube.
Beyond the locomotives outlined above, the other museum replicas are of very early locomotives by Richard Trevithick, and are somewhat speculative reconstructions. It’s also not clear, in some cases, what gauge the originals ran on – although, as the standard gauge of railways had not been set in Trevithick’s day, we’ll stretch a point and include them here for completeness.
Most straightforwardly, a new version of Trevithick’s final locomotive, Catch Me Who Can, is being built at the Severn Valley Railway, with the project having commenced in 2008, the bicentenary of the original’s famous demonstration on a circle of track in London. It seems well advanced, and was sufficiently complete to be sent to Holland for exhibition a couple of years ago.
The Blist Hill Museum in Ironbridge operates a version of a Trevithick locomotive apparently designed for use in the ironworks at Coalbrookdale, on a tramway with a gauge of three feet. The replica has been based on a drawing held by the Science Museum, which is inferred to be of this engine.
Finally, the National Waterfront Museum in Swansea houses a replica of Trevithick’s Penydarren locomotive of c.1804, which worked on the 4ft 6in Penydarren tramway. The replica dates from 1981 and was initially, like its forebear, prone to breaking its track due to excessive weight.
The video below shows one of its occasional steaming days at the museum.
Last, and in truth probably least, is the non-working replica of a GWR Dean single – included here because it is fairly well known and does occasionally attract comments on this site and social media. It was fabricated in 1982 for the Tussauds ‘Railways and Royalty’ exhibition at Windsor and Eton Central railway station. Although adorned by some genuine ex-GWR fittings courtesy of the Great Western Society, it is wholly non-functional. Its tender was created from a London, Brighton and South Coast Railway example; when it was disposed of, the Brighton Atlantic group took the axleboxes, but have had to make new fronts for them, the originals having been machined off for the fitting of dummy GWR fronts. Beyond that, this replica has no contribution to offer to any form of new build project. The Great Western Society announced in 2013, however, that it was investigating the possibility of a project to construct a functional Dean Single. No confirmation that it will proceed has so far followed.
Additional Rocket photo by Thomas’s Pics on Flickr.