Steam Powered Elephant Unveiled At Beamish

By David Prudames | 21 March 2002
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Left: an original oil painting discovered in a local school, 1820

With a huge trunk-like chimney, the 'Steam Elephant' has brought engineering history stampeding into the 21st century at the award-winning Beamish Open Air Museum in Northumbria.

A replica of a standard gauge locomotive dating back to the earliest years of steam power will be unveiled as the latest living exhibit at the museum on Thursday March 21 to cannon and musket fire from Hartlepool Marines and the 68th Regiment of the Light Infantry.

Right: the Steam Elephant in action

A team of dedicated staff constructed the replica using only contemporary illustrations, an oil painting and the original account book for the building of the engine.

The project was begun in October 1999 in the north of England with an estimated cost of £200,000 before heading to an engineering works in Ross on Wye for final construction and boiler testing.

Now, with drivers trained and testing complete the engine is ready to steam into Beamish on the museum's 1825 era railway to be unveiled by Sir Neil Cossons, Chairman of English Heritage and Patron of The Locomotion Trust.

Left: the oil painting played played a central role in the building of the Elephant

The Steam Elephant engine was originally designed and built in 1815, by William Chapman and John Buddle for use at the Collieries at Wallsend, Washington and Hetton. It was operational until the 1840s since when it has not been seen or heard of.

In 1834, a writer, Stephen Oliver, noted the Steam Elephant: "The great coalfield of Newcastle appears likely to be exhausted within two hundred years. Shares in railway companies will then be at an awful discount and steam elephants will inevitably perish for want of food!"

Established in 1970, Beamish is dedicated to re-creating North-East life at two major points of its history: 1825, before the Industrial Revolution changed it forever and 1913, when the heavy industries were at their peak. It is England's first regional open air museum and receives around 350,000 visitors each year.

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