Timothy Hackworth

Hackworth was born in Wylam, Northumberland, on 22 December 1786 and died in Shildon, Co Durham, on 7 July 1850. He was a pioneer of steam locomotion. He was the eldest son of John Hackworth, who from 1782 until his death in 1802, was foreman blacksmith at Wylam colliery. He was educated at Wylam village school and at 14 began training under his father. From 1802 his training was supervised by Christopher Blackett (proprietor of the colliery) and in 1807 he became foreman smith, remaining at Wylam until 1816. During this period he was concerned in the design and construction of the early locomotives built at Wylam (see Jonathan Foster and William Hedley). In 1813 he married Jane Golightly at Ovingham. Both were devout Methodists, Timothy becoming a lay preacher.

In 1816 he moved to Walbottle colliery near Newcastle as foreman smith. On the opening of the Forth Street Works of Robert Stephenson & Co at Newcastle in 1824 he was asked to supervise the works during the absence of George Stephenson on the Liverpool & Manchester Railway and of Robert in South America. Reluctantly Hackworth agreed, and thus supervised the construction of the first locomotives at this works: it was Hackworth who suggested coupling the wheels of S & D locomotives No 1 Locomotion and its three successors with outside rods and return cranks instead of chains. He declined to take a share in the works, and in 1825 he was appointed to the S & DR to take charge of locomotivs and machinery. He established his headquarters at New Shildon. He first built the stationary winding engines for the Brusselton and Etherley inclines.

In 1827 he built the first six-coupled locomotive, Royal George, at Shildon. It was also the first locomotive on which the cylinders drove directly onto the wheels, and it was the first completely reliable locomotive on the S & DR.

Learning of the forthcoming Rainhill trials on the Liverpool & Manchester Railway in 1829 he designed and built a light 0-4-0 named Sanspareil, again with vertical cylinders driving directly onto the rear wheels, and with a return-flue boiler. It had to be withdrawn from the competition because of a cracked cylinder casting (the cylinders had been cast at Robert Stephenson & Co.), but when repaired the engine worked on the Bolton & Leigh Railway until 1844. It was then used at Coppull colliery near Chorley (see Daglish) for driving a pump, and for light winding, until 1863. After overhaul and restoration it was presented to the Science Museum, London, by John Hick (qv) of Bolton.

In 1829 Hackworth designed coal staithes on the Tees at the new town of Middlesbrough. To carry the S & D Middlesbrough extension across the Tees he designed a plate-girder bridge, then a completely new idea. Despite thorough testing in model form the design was rejected by the directors who adopted a suspension bridge designed by Capt Samuel Brown RN (1776-1852), erected in 1830. As Hackworth had predicted, it was a failure, and its replacement by Robert Stephenson's cast iron bridge in 1842 was also unsatisfactory (see J. Harris). Hackworth's next locomotive was the Wilberforce class 0-6-0 of which six were built in 1831-2. They had vertical cylinders at the rear driving cranks on a fixed shaft connected to the wheels by coupling rods, so allowing all axles to be sprung. They had 'return multitubular fire-tube' boilers with a heating surface of about 500ft2. In 1833 he entered into a new contract with the S & D in which he became responsible for the working of the locomotives and workshops but remained free to operate his own business as a builder of locomotives and stationary engines. He opened new workshops, foundry and built houses for workers, and put his brother Thomas in charge of the new works. Thomas remained there until 1840.

Throughout this period from 1827 Hackworth was studying the use of steam expansively, providing lap on all his slide valves. In 1835 he built a new engine for the Black Boy incline, with a cylinder 40in diam x 30in stroke, using a 'double trunk' principle in which the connecting rod was pivoted at the piston and worked inside a large tubular piston rod. It was in use until 1874. In 1836 he built a 2-2-2 for the Russian government using the same 'double trunk' principle. In 1838 he introduced an improved type of 0-6-0 in which inclined cylinders at the rear drove the front coupled wheels by long connecting rods. One of this type, the Derwent built by Kitching of Darlington in 1845, is preserved at Darlington. However,  three 0-6-0s built by Hackworth in 1838 for the Albion Coal Mining Co in Nova Scotia, reverted to the earlier design with vertical cylinders over the rear wheels. One of these, Samson, is preserved at New Glasgow, Nova Scotia.

In 1840 he gave up the S & D contract and concentrated on his own Soho Engineering Works at Shildon where he built locomotives, stationary engines and boilers. His son John became works manager. His last engines for the S & D were two 0-6-0s, similar to Derwent, built in 1842. In 1846 he began an order for twelve 2-2-2s for the London & Brighton Railway to a design by John Gray who, however, made so many alterations to the design that the final delivery time passed before the order could be completed. As a result Gray was dismissed, Hackworth's last locomotive was the 2-2-2 Sanspareil (No 2) to his own design embodying all his experience. It was purchased by the York, Newcastle & Berwick Railway in 1854, becoming No 135, and gave excellent service, running at speeds up to 75mph with trains heavy for the period. It was broken up in 1881. Marshall considered that Hackworth has an assured place in locomotive history as the first to establish the steam locomotive as a thoroughly reliable machine. Throughout his 25 years at Shildon he took an active interest in the welfare of his employees and their families as Holcroft makes very clear:

The biographers of Timothy Hackworth not only relate his triumphs in mechanical engineering, but lay stress on his life as a Christian and philantropist. At the age of 24 he became a member of the Weslyan Society, and was a local preacher and class leader until the period of his death. When he came to Shildon, Durham, there were no facilities for worship, but in three years a commodious chapel was built and there were no less than 34 local preachers; and all this progress took place under the guidance of Hackworth. Every moment of his life was pressed into service, either professionally or in the performance of some good work.


Young makes two substantial claims that tend to become buried: that Hackworth developed the spring-loaded safety valve (previously weighted safety valves had been used) and the distinctive cast iron driving wheel. In the 0-6-0-type he was also responsible for introducig the typical British freight locomotive. In North East England descendents of the type remained in service hauling coal until the end of steam. Hackworth had a key role in making steam traction a routine form of motive power. He also assisted in the development of Shildon.

Lowe considered that Hackworth should be credited with the blast pipe; six-coupled locomotives, the spring-balance safety valve; cylinders being placed under the smokebox; eccentrics to work feed pumps; the use of waste steam to preheat the feedwater; steam drying chamber in boiler; separate crankshaft hung in bearings fixed between frames, and equalising beams.

Pearce (p. 4) states "Many writers have decried Timothy Hackworth, saying that he was 'stuck in a groove', and that he added little to locomotive design after the "Royal George". Some have even said that he produced nothing better than a series of crude 0-6-0 mineral engines with return tube boilers, but this is manifestly untrue. He had the patience and pragmatism to realize that there was little point in change for its own sake, and that if a thing worked well and economically it was silly to elaborate on it, but there is no doubt of his design ability or inventiveness, where called for. He left a far greater legacy to future locomotive development than is generally admitted, and much greater acknowledgement of this is long overdue.

Carpenter in his ODNB entry stated that "Hackworth was one of the great pioneers of the steam locomotive and the eminent railway engineer D.K. Clark stated in 1855 that no single individual had, up to the year 1830, done so much for the improvement of the locomotive. He had the reputation of a kindly man, much respected by those who worked for him."

Hill has attempted to make strong claims for Hackworth's innovative ability, but spoils his case by claiming that George Stephenson "plundered" his ideas and spied on the activity at Wylam with the aid of a horse provided by his employers. A further problem is that Hill makes use of rather thin sketches employed by Stretton in his Development of the locomotive without warning the reader about the reliability of Stretton's writings.

Le Fleming's succinct summary notes that Hackworth was appointed to the Stockton & Darlington Rly. in 1825 he was the world's first locomotive superintendent. To keep the very primitive locomotives going was a task of exceptional difficulty. As the first to encounter many defects, his experience was invaluable to the early builders. Traffic on the S. & D. Rly. was confined to slow-moving coal trains which makes a weekly locomotive mileage of 600 in 1829 the more remarkable. His locomotives were the first to compete successfully with horses and up to 1830 he was pre-eminent in promoting their practical success. His actual inventions were many but unfortunately they later became the subject of bitter controversy. His Royal George of 1827 was the first 0-6-0 and the most powerful locomotive of its day. He was amongst the first to use coupling rods, the coned blast pipe, inside cylinders with crank axle, short-stroke pumps, spring-loaded safety valves and a rudimentary feed-water heater. His son, John W.Hackworth, patented his radial valve gear in 1859 and the name has become generic for gears of this type.


7233 Rotary engine [two-cylinder] 22 November 1836

Carpenter, George W. biography Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
Guy, Andy Early railways: some curiosities and conundrums  64-78
Thomas Wardropper greatly assisted with the relative success of the Stephenson locomotive supplied to Russia for the St Petersburg & Pavlosk railway in 1836: Wardropper's diary also notes that the other locomotives supplied by Hackworth, accompanied by his 16 year old son John Wesley Hackworth, and another by Cockerill experienced serious problems
Hill, Norman. Timothy Hackworth's essential place in early locomotive development. Rly Arch., 2007 (16), 4

Pearce, Thomas R.
The Locomotives of the Stockton and Darlington Railway. Historical Model Railway Society. 250pp.

See  early pages
George Smith. 'Dear Timothy ...': fragments from the Hackworth Family Archive. Backtrack, 2013, 27, 82-5.
Hackworth Family Archive is held in the National Railway Museum
Young, Robert, Timothy Hackworth and the locomotive. Transactions of the Newcomen Society, 1921/1, 2, 70-87
Young, Robert. Timothy Hackworth and the steam locomotive. 1923. 408pp.
See Ottley 378. Rutherford notes several errors in Backtrack: (vol. 9 p. 534) see 9-528. Reissued as part of the150th Anniversary celebrations by Shildon Town Council in 1875.
Portrait: Dendy-Marshall, C.F.  The Rainhill Locomotive Trials of 1829. J. Instn Loco. Engrs., 1930, 20, 1080 (Fig. 12) (Paper No. 269)

Thomas Hackworth

Brother of Timothy Hackworth: involved with George Fossick in Fossick & Hackworth which constructed locomotives in Stockton from 1839 until retirement of Thomas Hackworth in 1865 (Lowe). Pearce (pp. 1-2) states that Thomas Hackworth entered into business with Nicholas Downing to establish Phoenix Iron Work in Shildon in about 1832: this was taken over by Gilkes, Wilson in the 1860s..

John Wesley Hackworth

One of Timothy Hackworth's three sons and six daughters; the eldest of whom, John Wesley Hackworth (born Walbottle on 8 May 1820 and died in Sunderland on 13 July 1891 Marshall), carried on the business after his father's death. Marshall notes that in October 1859 he patented a form of variable expansion radial valve gear for locomotives. In 1854 he had patented a hoisting machine and in 1857 an improvement to blast furnaces. In his later years he lectured on locomotive history and attempted to enhance his father's status..

Updated 2013-01-23
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