Photo: replica of the Pen-y-daren loco, on show at Railfest 2004. Courtesy of the National Railway Museum
In 1804 a Cornish engineer called Richard Trevithick invented a machine that would change the world. After working in a Penzance tin mine and watching horses struggling to pull the loaded wagons he developed a locomotive to do the job for them.
He had created the first ever steam locomotive, sometimes called the Pen-y-daren. On its first nine-mile journey it hauled ten tonnes of iron, 70 passengers and five wagons.
Trevithick never achieved fame or fortune with the locomotive but his design is now recognised as the beginning of steam travel.
2004 is the 200th anniversary of the first running of the Pen-y-daren, and there are events taking place around the country to celebrate the history of steam travel in Britain.
Photo: Railfest 2004 is one of the UK's biggest railway festivals organised by the National Railway Museum. Courtesy of the National Railway Museum.
The main event is Railfest 2004. It is being held at the National Railway Museum in York, the largest railway museum in the world. The event runs from May 29 to June 6.
A full size replica of Pen-y-daren will be the star of the show. It will be on display along with a collection of other famous locomotives, including Stephenson’s Rocket, which won the Rainhill Trials to find the best steam locomotive for the Liverpool to Manchester Railway.
Another train that will be at Railfest, and on display for the first time, is a recreation of a GWR Saint class engine. The Saint class was introduced in about 1910 and its design influenced many subsequent steam locomotives.
Photo: 100 years ago the City of Truro became the first steam locomotive to hit the 100 mph mark. Photo: Nick Gregory. Courtesy of the National Railway Museum
2004 is not only the 200th anniversary of Trevithick's triumph. It is also 100 years since the locomotive City of Truro reputedly first hit the 100mph mark on its dash from Plymouth to Exeter. The train tackled the difficult route and ferocious climbs in just 56 minutes.
In May 2004 the City of Truro recreated the journey as part of the 2004 celebrations - though not at 100mph.
If you can’t get to Railfest try one of the many rail museums and heritage railways around the country. Whether you prefer to explore artefacts from the time of steam or experience the puffing and clanging of a working steam locomotive there are plenty of places to visit.
Photo: the NRM in York houses a vast collection of famous engines, some of which will be taking part in the forthcoming celebrations © National Railway Museum
Scotland and the North
There are so many places to explore the contribution railways have made to the north of England’s past. Some of the greatest railway pioneers, including George Stephenson and his son Robert, were from the north of England.
George and Robert Stephenson started Robert Stephenson and Company to build locomotives in 1823, the first company of its kind. They built the Locomotion in 1825, which was used in the opening of the Stockton and Darlington railway.
The Darlington Railway Centre and Museum is located on the route of the Stockton and Darlington Railway, the world’s first steam worked public railway.
Photo: Darlington Railway Centre and Museum
The Stephenson Railway Museum was named after the father and son team. It is home to Billy, a forerunner of their world famous locomotive Rocket. It tells the story of railways in the region, which have seen continuous development since the 18th century.
Railways were developed because of a need to move coal from the pits to the coast. Originally a network of wooden rails were used with horses dragging the heavy wagons but these were replaced with iron rails and steam-powered locomotives.
Photo: 0-4-0 saddle tank built by Andrew Barclay's in 1949, the only steam locomotive bought new for Bowes Railway still to survive © Dave Hardy. Courtesy of Bowes Railway
George Stephenson was the engineer of the Bowes Railway, which was opened in 1826, one of the world’s first railways. It was originally a colliery railway built to carry coal and at its peak handled over one million tons of coal each year.
Today the Bowes Railway is the only working standard gauge rope hauled railway in the world. On working days steam train rides take visitors to the hauler house and workshops. There is also an underground locomotive display.
Photo: Monkwearmouth Station Museum. Courtesy of Monkwearmouth Station Museum
For a journey back to the time of Victorian rail travel, Monkwearmouth Station Museum is a good place to visit. This Victorian railway station recreates rail travel in the past. You can see goods wagons and a guards van in the railway sidings and there are also photographs and railway models on show.
The Embsay and Bolton Abbey Steam Railway also has a selection of restored Victorian carriages. If you want to find out what it was like to travel in Victorian times why not hitch a ride on a train pulled by a steam locomotive.
Photo: Courtesy of Embsay and Bolton Abbey Steam Railway
In Scotland, the Maud Railway Museum has an assortment of railway memorabilia on display at the former Maud Railway Station.
To find out more about Scottish Railways click on this link to visit the Scottish Railway Preservation Society website.
Photo: Courtesy of Maud Railway Museum
South, Wales and the Midlands
In 1833 Isambard Kingdom Brunel was appointed as engineer to build the Great Western Railway (GWR) that was to run between Bristol and London. In the South, Wales and the Midlands there are some impressive museums exploring the Great Western Railway and a selection of heritage tracks set in beautiful locations.
STEAM – Museum of the Great Western Railway is on the site of the Great Western Locomotive Works at Swindon, where many GWR steam locomotives were built.
A brilliant place to explore railways, STEAM was awarded a Special Commendation for European Museum of the Year in 2002. It tells the story of the people who built, operated and travelled on the Great Western Railway.
Photo: STEAM - museum of the Great Western Railway
Another place to explore the Great Western Railway is the Didcot Railway Centre, which lies about halfway along the route. It boasts a unique collection of GWR steam engines, coaches, wagons and small artefacts. Visitors can ride in 1930s carriages on two short demonstration lines.
Housed in an 1878 GWR warehouse, The Kidderminster Railway Museum has one of the largest collections of signalling equipment in the country. It contains a vast range of railway artefacts, mostly from the days of steam travel, which includes clocks, signs, timetables, and rolling stock.
Birmingham was on the route of the Great Western Railway and has a history of making carriages. The Birmingham Railway Museum is now known as Tyseley Locomotive Works Visitor Centre. At the centre you can see a large selection of locomotives and ride on a vintage steam train.
Photo: Stepney with the four Metropolitan Railway coaches at Horsted Keynes in the early 1960's. Note the third rail still in place for the BR electric service. Courtesy of the Bluebell Railway
To experience a steam train ride and admire beautiful scenery the West Somerset Railway is a good place to start. It runs through 20 miles of Somerset scenery. There are ten restored stations along the route and many include signal boxes, engine sheds, museums, steam engines and other rolling stock.
To the east, the Bluebell Railway is nestled in the Sussex countryside. The nine mile line was the UK’s first preserved standard gauge passenger railway.
A key attraction for the less locomotively inclined may be the Golden Arrow Pullman train - you can book a table and enjoy a slap up meal most Friday and Saturday evenings and sometimes for Sunday lunch.
Photo: the SER O1 in action at the SECR Centenary Gala WeekendPhoto © Jon Horrocks. Courtesy of the Bluebell Railway
In Wales, the Ffestiniog Railway - the oldest independent rail company in the world - winds its way through the stunning scenery of the Snowdonia National Park. The line runs from the historic mining town of Blaenau Ffestiniog, past forests, lakes and waterfalls. It was originally built to transport slate between Portmadoc and Blaenau Ffestiniog but later carried passengers.
If you can’t make the trip to Wales and travel on one of their steam trains through the Snowdonia National Park you can visit their website by clicking on this link to find out all about them and what you’re missing.
Photo: the Ffestiniog Railway runs from the sea at Porthmadog over 13 miles to Blaenau Ffestiniog, where hundreds of years of slate mining has radically altered the skyline.
The Welsh Highland Railway in Portmadog is celebrating a birthday of its own this year, it will be forty.
James Hewett from the Welsh Highland Railway, Portmadog said: "We've plenty to celebrate. In forty years we've built up the successful railway you see today from nothing. In 1964, Gelert's Farm was literally just a farm. Since then we've restored the only surviving original Welsh Highland steam locomotive, and some original carriages, and have been operating longer than the old Welsh Highland itself did!"
Photo: the route of the Welsh Highland Railway runs through some of the most beautiful countryside in the UK. Courtesy Ben Fisher/Welsh Highland Railway
In an attractive rural location, Rutland Railway Museum is a preserved industrial steam railway. Small locomotives recreate quarry railway operations and provide a unique picture of the local iron-ore industry.
Visitors can travel the length of the museum in a passenger coach. A quarry locomotive shed has also been rebuilt where progress on locomotive and wagon restoration can be viewed. Industrial railway films can even be watched in a former parcels coach used as a mini cinema.
Photo: a typical Leighton Buzzard Railway passenger train awaits departure from Page’s Park station. F38, the award-winning restored ex-RAF coach, is nearest the camera. Courtesy of Leighton Buzzard Railway
Leighton Buzzard Railway is one of England’s leading narrow gauge heritage railways. It was built in 1919, using surplus materials from the war department, to serve the local sand and quarrying industry.
Visitors today can experience a ride on one of the trains and see what public transport was like in the 1920s
Photo: Courtesy of Leighton Buzzard Railway
If you want to find out more about how museums and heritage railways around the country are celebrating the 200th anniversary of steam Rail 200 is a good place to start planning what to see and do. From Railways At War Weekend at the Peak Railway in Derbyshire to a Steam Gala at Llangollen Railway there is so much going on to mark the bicentenary. Click here to visit the Rail 200 website and find out what is going on near you.
Another great site to check out is the UK Heritage Railway Association’s website, which is a guide to the heritage railway scene in the UK and Ireland and includes details of special events, trains and operating days for all steam railways.