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History - Timothy Hackworth

Timothy Hackworth,

The name of Timothy Hackworth will always be identified with Shildon in County Durham but, like his contemporaries George Stephenson and William Hedley, Hackworth's roots were on Tyneside. He was born on 22 December 1786, at Wylam, Newcastle to John Hackworth, foreman blacksmith at Wylam Colliery. He left school at the age of 14 and served a seven year apprenticeship at the colliery, under his father, who said that his son:

"...gave early indication of a natural bent and aptitude of mind for mechanical construction and research, and it formed a pleasurable theme of contemplation for the father to mark the studious application of his son to obtain the mastery of mechanical principles, and observe the energy and passionate ardour with which he grasped at a thorough knowledge of his art"

He completed his apprenticeship in 1807 and was installed as foreman in the position occupied by his father, before his death 3 years previous. One of his early projects was the construction of Puffing Billy for William Hedley.

In 1816 he took up a position at Walbottle Colliery, where he remained for 8 years. During this time he was ‘loaned’ to the Forth Street works, whilst George Stephenson was away on business for some months. On his return George Stephenson was so impressed with the way the works had been run during his absence that he offered Timothy Hackworth one-half share of his own interest in the business. Hackworth declined the offer. Hackworth returned to Walbottle in the latter part of 1824, but did not resume his position at the colliery.


To Shildon

On the strong recommendation of George Stephenson he was recruited as the S&DR's first locomotive foreman in June 1825, four months before the opening.

Hackworth's Royal George - 1827

“This engine was altered from a Locomotive of the “Puffing Billy” type by Timothy Hackworth and commenced working in October 1827.

“The boiler was a plain cylinder 13 ft. long and 4 ft. 4 in. in diameter.

“The return flue of the Wylam Engines was adopted and a liberal amount of heating surface thus obtained. There were six coupled wheels 4 feet in diameter, and the cylinders, which were placed vertically at the end opposite to the fire place, were 11” diameter, the stroke of the piston being 20 inches. The piston rods worked downward and were connected to the first pair of wheels. These were without springs so that the pistons should not jump the wheels up and down but the middle and back pairs of wheels carried their load through stout springs.”

In the record books for May 13th, 1825, the following appointment is recorded: John Dixon reports that he has arranged with Timothy Hackworth to come and settle on the line, particularly to have the superintendence of the permanent and locomotive engines. The preliminary arrangement as regards salary is £150 per annum, the Company to find a house, and pay for his house, rent and fire.

Hackworth remained in Shildon the rest of his life, where he devised practical solutions to many unprecedented problems posed by the first railways, including a double-acting winding gear for inclines, and the robust ‘plug wheel’ for steam engines.

The Royal George outside Hackworth's home in New Shildon.

“...He entered upon the duties of a locomotive engineer under circumstances of great difficulty and discouragement. Skilled artisans were then few in number and difficult to obtain. Machinery for turning and fitting had not been brought to anything like its present perfection, and the work was consequently of a rude and imperfect kind; while it was also necessary to construct the early locomotives of slender materials. The Sans Pareil [see below] was a marvel of mechanism considering the conditions under which it was made.” - J.S. Jeans, 1875.

There is evidence to support the belief that Timothy Hackworth was the driving force behind the ultimate success of the locomotive and without him the S&DR may have faced financial ruin. It was he who had the difficult task of repairing and maintaining the unreliable locomotives of the Railway. But he designed and built Royal George, a far superior engine at the time, which indeed saved the day for locomotive traction on the S&DR.



Although not an oficial entry (it was heavier than the rules allowed), Hackworth built Sans Pareil for the Rainhill Trials of 1829, which were designed to find a locomotive to work on the Liverpool & Manchester Railway.

However, Hackworth's workshop facilities were still fairly rudimentary at this time and he was forced to contract-out much of the work on the Sans Pareil. Some parts, including - crucially - the cylinders, were manufactured by his great rival, Stephenson.

Ironically, during the course of the trials a cylinder blew, leaving Stephenson's Rocket to win the competition and establish its place in history. Sabotage? It's only natural to consider the possibility, but there's absolutely no evidence; at that time, cylinders exploded with alarming regularity.

Hackworth, however, had the last laugh. Although the Sans Pareil lost out to Rocket, it was an excellent engine and it continued to run as a locomotive until 1844, then was used as a static engine until 1863. Rocket, by comparision, was withdrawn from service after a couple of years on the Liverpool & Manchester line.


Soho Engine Works

When Hackworth left the direct employment of the company in 1840 to set up as a general engineer and locomotive builder and repairer in his own right, he established the ‘state of the art’ Soho Engine Works at New Shildon. There he built model terraced housing for his employees as well as his own home, now converted into the ‘Timothy Hackworth Victorian and Railway Museum’. A staunch Methodist, Hackworth's concern for the spiritual and social welfare of the men and their families led him to provide a chapel and the world's first railway institute.

The New Masons Arms in Shildon, with a plaque (which includes a picture of Royal George) indicating the entrance to the now-closed Shildon works.

The village of New Shildon grew around his works and home, and as the importance of the S&DR became more prominent, it combined with Old Shildon to become one of the major railway engineering towns in the world.

When, in 1830, Pangborn compared the work of Stephenson and Hackworth, he wrote: “Timothy Hackworth is original, is actually of himself improving the locomotive in essentials as no other man is doing, and is incomparably in advance of George Stephenson in everything which may be truly said to lay claim to distinction. He has and is stamping a character upon the structure of the locomotive of the very highest importance...”

And later, in 1830, he wrote: “Hardly any two of Hackworth's engines have been alike. Stephenson, on the other hand, when getting hold of a good idea, repeats it over and over again. The result is Stephenson is making lots of money and Hackworth is not; but the latter is compelling locomotive designers all over the world to step right lively to keep up with him.”

Shildon is understandably proud of its favourite adopted son. Streets, institutions, and public houses bare his name. His influence on the life of Shildon can still be felt today. A life-size statue stands in the town centre and everywhere Royal George appears as am emblem and an unfficial coat of arms.

Timothy Hackworth died on 7 July 1850 and lies buried in the graveyard of St John's, Shildon's parish church, where a tombstone records his many achievements.

The source of most of the information on this page is the book
First in the world: the Stockton and Darlington Railway by John Wall
and “The Timothy Hackworth Story” on the Age of Steam Web site.