Friday, April 13, 2012

Happy Birthday, Richard Trevithick - Who?

Trevithick's steam circus.
In 1808, Richard Trevithick (1771 - 1833) publicized his steam railway locomotive expertise by building a new locomotive called 'Catch me who can.' He ran it on a circular track just south of the present day Euston Square tube station in London. The site in Bloomsbury has recently been identified archaeologically as that occupied by the Chadwick Building, part of University College London.
Admission to the "steam circus" was one shilling including a ride and it was intended to show that rail travel was faster than by horse. However, the venture suffered from weak tracks and a lot of black smoke. Public interest was limited.
Trevithick was disappointed by the response and designed no more railway locomotives. It was not until 1812 that twin cylinder steam locomotives, built by Matthew Murray in Holbeck, successfully started replacing horses for hauling coal wagons on the Middleton Railway from Middleton colliery to LeedsWest Yorkshire.
If you look closely at the sketch or click on this link to see the enlarged photo on Wikipedia, you will note that many of the men are still sporting the old-fashioned coats worn by the "fops" and not the more stylish cutaway favored by Beau Brummell, a style of dress that we associate with Mr. Darcy.


  1. How interesting--I love reading about RR history because I know how much it transformed the world.

  2. I can't find the post to reference it, but after reading your thoughts on the book you read about hygiene in the era, I would probably welcome the smell of black, acidic smoke. Though it may have been damaging to your lungs, I'm sure it smelled better than the body odor that permeated London. I remember one of the walking tours we took mentioned that privies (were they called that then?) were set up like fishing docks over the Thames, basically turning it into a running sewer.

    Dinner, anyone? :-)

  3. Thanks, Jane. I'm fascinated by the railroads as well. In fact, I'm working on a non-fiction book about a RR wreck in 1888 in which one of my distant cousins was killed: Mud Run, PA.

    Angie, If you want to find out just how disgusting London was because of all the "stuff" in the air and in the river, you should read: The Ghost Map. Because of the introduction of flush toilets, the Thames, which had always been a sewer, was overwhelmed. Don't read it before or after you eat. :)

  4. Interesting! And as I read Angie's and your comments about "stuff" and the Thames, it just adds to the long list of why I am glad I did not live back then! Yuck! :P