The Lancashire Witch – Stephenson’s pre-Rocket locomotive.

Lancashire witch


The Lancashire witch locomotive was a precursor of Stephenson’s Rocket. Above all, the first locomotive-driven railways started appearing in the mid-1820s. As a result, locomotive design progressed rapidly. Robert Stephenson led the way with his pioneering cylinder designs. Lancashire witch was the almost forgotten link between Locomotion and Rocket.

The Lancashire witch Locomotive

In 1828, Lancashire Witch was the first Stephenson locomotive to use inclined cylinders. Consequently, by 1829, Rocket was to use the same incline angle of 45 Degrees. Conversely, Locomotion (1825) had vertical cylinders.

The Lancashire Witch was intended for the L&MR but was transferred to the Bolton & Leigh railway, in 1828, for its opening run.

The Bolton & leigh railway

In 1824 a group of Bolton business men were looking for an alternative to the increasingly expensive canals. As a result a committee was founded to promote a railway from Bolton to the Leeds and Liverpool canal at Leigh.

The committee approached Robert Stephenson to survey a route. However, he was busy with the L&MR at the time. As a result he asked his colleague Hugh Steel to assist. Normal practice at the time was to use rope hauled inclines with stationary engines.

1n the 1820’s railways were looked upon with suspicion by landowners and especially by the canal companies. Consequently there was considerable opposition to the proposed railway. Moreover, even the L&MR bill failed on its first reading, in 1825. Therefore the committee submitted a bill they thought would pass rather than anything too ambitious. This avoided crossing the canal at Leigh, effectively making the line a canal feeder. The line began construction in 1826.

Opening of the line

The line opened on the 1st of August 1828. The inaugural train consisted of 13 wagons and a passenger coach. This was hauled by Lancashire Witch at a speed of 5mph.

Railway owners were still nervous about hauling passengers by steam, consequently, horsepower was used until the Liverpool and Manchester Railway opened in 1830. Passengers were first carried on the Bolton & Leigh Railway in 1831. The coach mentioned was loaned from the L&MR. The below extract is from the Bolton Chronicle of the 1st of August 1828.

About a quarter past 12 o’clock the new locomotive constructed by Messrs Stephenson and Co., of New-castle-upon-Tyne, started from Pendlebury Fold, near Hulton Park. Six waggons were attached to the engine completely filled with gentlemen; also a coach of beautiful structure in which we observed Mr and Mrs Hulton and several other ladies and which is intended at some future period to convey passengers on the railway.

The bolton chronicle 1828

Lancashire Witch compared with Rocket

There were several differences between Lancashire Witch and Rocket. Above all was the boiler. ‘ Witch used a large single tube boiler with two side flues. Rocket had a multi-tubular boiler providing a much larger heating surface.

Another key difference was the use of a single set of large driving wheels with no coupling rod. Lancashire Witch still had coupling rods.

Finally, Stephen used a blast pipe on Rocket. This fed exhaust steam into the base of the chimney, creating a partial vacuum. This sucked more air through the fire increasing its output.

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