Tuesday, 31 July 2012

"Engines that bend"

A new book discussing the origin of the articulated railway locomotive has recently been published: the most famous "bendy" engine being the  Garratt (or Beyer-Garratt) built by the Gorton firm of Beyer, Peacock & Co. and I thought I would take this opportunity to highlight the Unitarian progenitors of the idea. 

Mid 19th century Unitarians were characterised with an optimistic outlook, both social and religious. For them ‘the truth’ was a real, tangible and a shining beacon of hope. Truth meant freedom from the oppression of tyranny, corrupt political, social and religious systems. They 'thought outside the box' and challenged existing ideas. They earnestly believed that they had been tasked by God to bring reform and to see and bring out the best in all people. Unitarian theology of the period suggested that God was all-loving and benevolent, that ‘eternal damnation could not possibly exist’ because it went contrary to God’s purpose of promoting human progress and therefore happiness. People were not considered inherently evil but Sin was believed to arise from when mankind fell into the ignorance of God’s supreme moral laws; heaven was also a very real place – hell, of course, was not - which had to be built on Earth and not waited for in any afterlife. Many of the great Victorian social reformers and thinkers such as Charles Dickens, Harriet Martineau, Elizabeth Gaskell, Charles Darwin and Florence Nightingale, were inspired by, but not necessarily were, Unitarian values of freedom, tolerance and equality.

As you can see from the photograph, a Garratt locomotive consists of two "engine units" with a massive boiler slung between them; both "engine units" articulate allowing the locomotive to negotiate the tightest curves.

Beyer, Peacock & Co was founded by Richard Peacock and Karl (Charles) Beyer in 1852 on land which had formerly been "Open fields and strawberry gardens" (Oh! How Gorton has changed). Richard had been apprenticed to Daniel Gooch of the GWR and had latterly been Locomotive Superintendent of the Manchester, Sheffield & Ashton-under-Lyne Railway, latterly the Great Central Railway. Peacock, was a Unitarian and attended Gorton Chapel, which he rebuilt as Brookfield Church 1869-1870 as an act of thanksgiving for his eldest daughter surviving tuburculosis. When he died he was interred in an enormous vault at the West end of the Church and a bronze plaque was erected by his employees on the outside of the Chancel.

But the idea of an articulated locomotive was not new; the Garratt is the most famous and most successful of them!

The idea also occured to the Leeds railway engineer James Kitson, who, like Peacock, was also a Unitarain - he was a member of Mill Hill, Chapel, Leeds. James Kitson had established his firm in 1835, in Hunslet. He had been apprenticed to Matthew Murray of Leeds who together with John Blenkinsop (another Unitarian) had designed and built the unique steam engines for the Middleton Railway, Leeds in 1812 which is now celebraing the bicentenary of commercial steam. Kitson's idea for an articulated locomotive was based on the idea of a Frenchman, Jean-Jacques Meyer. Unlike the Garratt where both "engine units" were articulated and pivotted, the Kitson design had the front "engine unit" articulated whilst the rear "engine unit" was fixed in the frame and did not articulate. The advantage of the Kitson articulated locomotive was that it had the same power as the Garratt but was not at long and did not overhang curves as much.

Thus two Unitarian railway locomotive engineers had come up with two similar, yet very differant, solutions to the problem of getting large - often very large - locomotives to neogiate very tight curves.

But the essential design of the steam locomotive, with a multi-tube boiler and a blast pipe (so that the harder the engine works the more vigorously the fire is drawn due to the exhaust steam being blasted up the chimney causing a vaccuum in the smoke box) owes its origins to two Unitarains: George Stephenson of Newcastle and Henry Booth of Manchester. Whilst Stephenson is often creditted with the multi-tube boiler etc, it was in fact Booth who suggested the idea to Stephenson for the construction of his famous "Rocket".

 Stephenson was also friends with Rev. William Turner of Newcaslte - also a Unitarian - to whom R V Holt suggests "Stephenson owed much". Turner's father, another William, was born in Wakefield, was pastor at Westgate Chapel  and opened the second avowedly  Unitarian place of worship in Britain, at Mosely Street, Manchester. William Turner Jnr. and Stephenson saw the possibility of the steam locomotive as more than a toy when they viewed the locomotive at Killingworth Colliery, near Newcastle. The antipathy between Stephenson and his rival at the Rainhill Trials of 1829, Timothy Hackworth and jealousy over who was creditted with the invention of the blast pipe may not hav e just been professional. Hackworth was a very dour teetotal Wesleyan Methodist and very conservative politically whilst Stephenson was very much a "self-made-man" and a Unitarian (to Hackworth, therefore a heretic) to boot!

The Unitarian John Blenkinsop who pioneered rack-and-pinion railways as a solution to overcoming the lack of adhesion o early steam locomotives (they had to be light so they didnt break the brittle cast iron track) and his locomotives were built by Matthew Murray of Leeds.

Thus Unitarian inventors have been pioneers of the railway, especially its motive power and they were present at and involved in all the crucial developments of the steam locomotive.


  1. Can you email me detauils of the book w ehabve a guy wanting but no listing on amazon or brit books in print we are info@formbybooks.co.uk

  2. Hi, could you please email the details of the book to us also please. cotsbookstore@tiscali.co.uk

  3. Its David Joy "Engines that Bend" Atlantic Publishers. Released 24th August.