Warren's book on locomotive building by Robert Stephenson & Co.

This seminal contribution to locomotive history was augmented by a major lecture presented at the Stockton & Darlington Railway Centenary Celebration in 1925 (see below). Warren's life is recorded mainly in an Institution of Locomotive Engineer's obituary.

Warren, J.G.H.
A Century of Locomotive Building by Robert Stephenson & Co., 1823-1923. Newcastle: Andrew Reid, 1923. (reprinted David & Charles with introduction by W.A. Tuplin in 1970). 461pp. extensive index.

C.F. Dendy Marshall called it an excellent work: see his Two Essays

Table of Contents
George Stephenson
The Two Stephensons
The First Railroads
The First Rail Locomotives 1804-1814
George Stephenson's First Locomotives 1814-1825
The Stockton and Darlington Railway
Edward Pease
The Foundation and Development of Robert Stephenson & Co.,  1823-1859
The First Locomotives on the Stockton and Darlington Railway,  1825-1829
The First Locomotives in France 1828-1829
The 'Lancashire Witch' 1828
The First Locomotives for America
And Some Remarkable Designs 1828-1829
The Liverpool and Manchester Railway
The 'Rocket'
The Rainhill Trials
The Firebox of the 'Rocket'
The Blast Pipe
The Canterbury and Whitstable Railway
The 'Rocket' Type
The 'Northumbrian'
The Opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway: the 'Planet'
The 'Planet' Type and Some More Experiments
Hackworth and Stephenson Locomotives on the Stockton and
Darlington Railway 1830-1840
The Stephenson Locomotive in America ....
The Six-wheeled Locomotive, Robert Stephenson's Patent, 1833-1841
Brunel and the Broad Gauge
The Long-boiler Locomotive, Robert Stephenson's Patent, 1841-1845
The Evolution of the Stephenson Link Motion
The Gauge Experiments and the Stephenson Locomotive 1845-1860
Later Developments of Robert Stephenson & Co. 1859-1923
The Modern Steam Locomotive

Tuplin's Introduction is extremely interesting:
The 'Table of Contents' shows that for the period 1823 to 1859 this book devotes an average of ten pages to each year. From 1859 to 1923, however, the average is over three years per page. This difference reflects, or perhaps emphasises, the relative importance of the developments that took place in the steam locomotive during those periods. The pioneer, Trevithick in 1804, and his successors in the next twenty years took the momentous first step of discovering how to build a combination of steam- engine and boiler light enough and compact enough to propel itself along rails and moreover to pull (or to push) some pay-load as well. Today when the necessary materials, tools and techniques are readily available to build a steam locomotive for any job by simple routine it is hard to imagine the full extent of the difficulties, doubts and dangers that beset those who, with no experience to go on, produced the first locomotive engines that would work at all. By 1840 or so main principles had been well established, and locomotive designs were merely variations on a theme that was never superseded whilst steam was the motive power.

So it is appropriate in any general history of the steam locomotive to expand on what went on in the early years even at the expense of skimming over the refinements of the succeeding century. Similarly in writing of the work done by the firm of Robert Stephenson & Co it is natural to dwell on its first twenty years because it was during that period that it showed its greatest distinction. Brief mention is made of Trevithick, Blenkinsop, Murray, Hedley and Hackworth but space could hardly be spared for examining the highly vexed questions about the dependence of George Stephenson's work on that done by his predecessors and contemporaries in producing locomotive engines. An interesting detail is that he associated with Losh in carrying locomotives on 'steam springs' before suitable steel springs had become available.

Numerous quotations in this book from Nicholas Wood impress on one that here was a man who, even in those very early days, had acquired a masterly grasp ofthe fundamental physics and mechanics of the steam locomotive. His record of the Rainhill proceedings and his descriptions of the locomotives are models of careful observation and lucid comment.

The Rainhill Trials are described in satisfying detail and to anyone who has the impression that the steam locomotive originated at that time, it is salutary to be reminded that Stephenson had built fifty-five engines before the Rocket. That locomotive was victorious at Rainhill not so much because of excellence in design (although it was very good in that respect), but because it completed the trials without breaking down. The reason for this was the detail 'know-how' acquired by the Stephensons in building and running locomotives during the preceding fifteen years.

It is gratifying to read of the clemency shown by the judges to the unsuccessful competitors in allowing them time to repair breakdowns and to make repeated attempts. Apart from turning out some smoke, Stephenson's Rocket alone complied with all requirements and needed no concessions; it was a clear and indisputable winner of the contest.

Braithwaite and Ericsson's engine Novelty might well have won if it had stayed the specified course of 70 miles. Twenty trips in each direction over a measured length of 1¾ miles must have been fatiguing even for the spectators. It was an early demonstration of the 'push and pull' procedure that some British railways began to use some eighty years later.

Combining for the first time a fire-tube boiler, a double-wall-firebox, blast- induced draught and two outside cylinders, the Rocket of 1829 was the first of what became the world-standard type of steam locomotive. Within a single year, however, Stephensons had produced the Planet with outside frames, two inside cylinders (nearly horizontal), a smokebox formed as a forward prolongation of the boiler-barrel, which extended backwards in the shape of a double-wall-firebox, whence hot gases reached the smokebox by way of a large number of fire-tubes in the barrel. The quickly-conceived Planet with both wheels and cylinders inside the frame introduced a construction widely used in Britain for seventy years or more. But it was the 'Rocket' style, with wheels and cylinders outside the frame that eventually prevailed.

The book describes some experimental work in the ten years immediately after the building of the Planet. In particular a design produced in about 1832 for piston valves shows very advanced thinking. Even eighty years later some experienced designers had not caught up with it.

The means of moving a valve in a steam engine in appropriately timed relation to the motion of the piston was a mechanism offering scope for ingenuity in design in 1830 and indeed for many years afterwards. The laboured steps by which the seemingly obvious 'link-motion' was reached are typical of development in mechanical engineering. The simplest solution of any problem is the best but it is rarely found quickly. To decide now from the evidence who invented the 'link-motion' is almost impossible but it was certainly neither of the Stephensons. The term 'Stephenson link-motion' means that the mechanism concerned was developed in the Stephenson works and whilst this is a legitimate interpretation of the wording, it is not the natural one and so it is a little misleading.

The opening sentence of the chapter on 'The Blast Pipe' suggests that the author would rather not have mentioned it; he adds that some writers frankly avoided it. The spirited cartoon dated 1876 gives a vivid impression of the violence of the controversy that raged from time to time as to whether the blast-pipe was invented by Hedley, Hackworth or Stephenson in or about i 8 iz~.. It is hard to see any point in such wrangling as Trevithick's published use of the principle in his locomotive of i 804 invalidated any claim by any successor to be 'the original and true inventor. The Patent Office would not have been fooled for a moment. In a letter sent to The Engineer as late as 1858 Robert Stephenson mentioned that Hackworth's blast-pipe in the Sans Pareil (competitor at Rainhill) was so effective as to throw solid fuel from the chimney whereas later (and better) locomotives were so well designed that they 'steamed' with very gentle blast. In other words Trevithick's mild blast-pipe did all that was necessary!

In the experimental three-cylinder double-frame engine built by Stephensons in 1833 for the York, Newcastle & Berwick Railway the two outer cylinders were placed between inner and outer frames and the outer crank-pins were in a common axial plane at right angles to that of the inner crank-pin. The total volume of the outer cylinders was equal to that of the central cylinder. The object of this arrangement was clearly to eliminate the swaying action of the reciprocating parts but the total unbalance and the fluctuation of driving effort were as great as in a two-cylinder engine of the same power. This locomotive seems to be Stephensons' sole lapse from the simplicity of the two-cylinder engine. There was a similar solitary exception in the 999 locomotives built to British Railways' standard designs between 1951 and 1960.

During its later period the firm of Robert Stephenson & Co lost its initial prominence. It had pointed the way and led the way and others were gradually persuaded to see that the best thing they could do was to follow it. So Stephenson's became just one of a group of British competitors expanding in number and size, to build some locomotives for Britain but many more for export. For nearly a century the larger British railways produced most of their own locomotives and only rarely bought any from private builders. The last locomotives to be built for British Railways (90-ton two-cylinder 2-10-0s) had highly-pitched boilers that inspired someone to call the engines 'space-ships' and this was perhaps unwittingly apt, as they were in main principle, just enlarged and extended 'Rockets'.

Hilton (Locomotive Mag., 1947, 53, 44) resolved an error relating to the builder of the White Horse of Kent supplied by Robert Stephenson & Co. to the SER.

Report on railways in England in 1826-27 by Carl von Oeynhausen and Heinrich von Dechen; translated and reviewed E.A. Forward. Trans. Newcomen Soc., 1954, 29, 1-10. Disc.: 11-12.
Report by two Prussian mining engineers who visited the United Kingdom to study the railways hero. The Report appears to have been unknown to British writers until 1921 when J.G.H. Warren found a reference to it which led to the discovery of the original report in Archiv fur Bergbau und Huttenwesen, 1829 Volume 19. A preliminary survey showed it to be extremely valuable, as it contained more complete descriptions of the Stockton and Darlington Railway, and the Hetton Co1Iiery Railway, than appear elsewhere; while it contained detail previously unknown. The parts dealing with the Stockton and Darlington Railway, its locomotiws and stationary enaines, were translatcd by H.W. Dickinson for Warren who induded them in his Century of locomotive building by Messrs. Robert Stephenson and Co., published in 1923.

Warren, J.G.H. The evolution of the locomotive engine. J. Instn Loco. Engrs., 1925, 15, 509-75. 55 diagrs.
This was a densely worded abstract of Warren's lecture illustrated by slides, most of which were reproduced with the paper. The slides have been reproduced well in the pdf version of the paper and the following records the illustrations, their sources if stated, and sufficient detail to assist the researcher to find the relevant section of this seminal contribution to locomotive history.

Warren, J.G.H. The blast=pipe controversy in the light of present knowledge. J. Instn Loco. Engrs., 1933, 23, 219-24.
with refernces to original documents: and especially in relationship too Rocket at Rainhill

Obituary (Journal Institution of Locomotive Engineers)

James Graeme Hepburn Warren was born on August 30th, 1875, at Bawdrip, in Somerset, and died at the end of March, 1935, at the age of 59. He was elected a Member of the Instution of Locomotive Engineers in 1918 and an Honorary Member in 1933. He served his engineering apprenticeship at Neilson, Reid and Co., of Glasgow, from 1893 to 1898.' In 1899 he joined Kerr, Stuart and Co. as a locomotive draughtsman, remaining there until 1904, when he became chief draughtsman to Robert Stephenson and Co., under the late J. M. Galt, with whom he remained until his retirement, owing to ill-health, in 1923. He was a man of many interests other than in locomotive engineering, but he will be best remembered for his literary work in the production of "A Century of Locomotive Building," which was published when Stephenson's celebrated their centenary in 1923. It is a work of outstanding merit both for its literary qualities and thoroughness. Always a keen student, he was able to devote the whole of his time after his retirement to his many and varied interests, such as music, heraldry, wood carving, architecture and gardening. Residing in. Bath, he was a member of the Somerset Archreological Society, the Bath Literary Society, and a trustee of the Holburne of Menstrie Museum of Art in Bath. Besides these he was a director and later chairman of the Wrightlington Colliery Co. and vice-chairman of the Chancery Lane Safe Deposits and Office Co. (J. Instn Loco. Engrs, 1933, 23, 443. John Marshall adds that he was responsible for the drawings of the replica broad gauge North Star and for the preserved Lion..


Home page