Rainhill Civic Society

The Rainhill Locomotive Trials of 1829

The Liverpool and Manchester Railway, the first successful passenger carrying railway in the world, was begun in 1826. Routed around the estates of the Earls of Sefton and Derby, the line crossed the Liverpool - Warrington turnpike road at Kendrick's Cross, in the centre of today's Rainhill Village. The oblique angle at which the line crossed the road led to the construction of the Skew Bridge, still standing today, which itself was the first of its kind, built of local sandstone blocks each carefully curved and shaped.

Even though the construction of the line was well under way in 1829, the means of powering the railway had still not been decided. Some people favoured haulage by fixed engines and ropes while others advocated the "locomotive". George Stephenson, the Engineer of the line was in favour of locomotive power but some members of the L&M board strongly held the opposing view. Following a report by Messrs. Walker and Rastrick, consulting engineers, it was decided to offer a prize of 500 for the successful construction of a locomotive engine which could meet strictly laid down specifications.

A competition was to be held at which the best designs would be tested. The site of the Trials, as they became known, was a completed section of level line at Rainhill, 9 miles from Liverpool. Locomotives were brought by sea to Liverpool, assembled there and carried to Rainhill by horse-drawn wagons. Only three serious contenders reached the starting line on October 6th, 1829. They were Timothy Hackworth's "Sans Pareil", Braithwaite and Ericsson's "Novelty" and Stephenson's "Rocket".

The trials were held before a vast concourse of spectators and the atmosphere was like that of a race meeting. Grandstands were erected alongside the tracks (just as they were to be 150 years later when visitors from all over the world came to for the "Rainhill 150" celebrations). The clear winner was Stephenson's "Rocket" which hauled a specified load 40 times over a distance of one and three-quarter miles and, in fact, reached a speed of 30 miles per hour. Rocket also demonstrated its ability to climb the nearby Whiston incline unaided, proving that static winding engines were unnecessary.

Rocket's design proved to be the only one at the trials which could be successfully developed further and its principles were embodied in all subsequent steam locomotives.

The railway was finally opened by the Duke of Wellington on September 15th 1830. It was the first full scale inter-city railway exclusively powered by locomotives and providing a service for both passengers and freight. Its double track throughout and its strict timetable formed the prototype for subsequent railways throughout the world.

Acknowledgments to Derek Houghton, notes written for the 1979 "Rainhill Trials Celebration Committee".

The Rainhill Railway Museum, housed in an old railway coach adjacent to the Library in View Road, Rainhill, has displays and documents describing the Trials and the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. This museum is maintained by Rainhill Railway and Heritage Society. The Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester contains the building which formed the original Manchester terminus of the Railway. The Liverpool Museum also has much of interest relating to the Railway, including an early locomotive, the "Lion".

The Society's booklet "Transport Through Rainhill" gives more information about the Trials. This can be found on our Publications page.

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