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Shildon Locomotion

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Joined: June 2010

Shildon Locomotion

Post by writerinthenorth » Sun June 9th, 2013, 11:25 am

Shildon in County Durham may be the the only place I've been to where there seem to be more car parking spaces in the town than people. I was there this weekend to visit Shildon Locomotion, the North East outpost of the National Railway Museum, where I'll be doing some talks and readings on Sunday 11 August. I specifically wanted to go this weekend because the museum is literally rolling out some working replicas of the the engines that competed in the Rainhill trials, along with one or two important originals - locomotives featured in my novel Mr Stephenson's Regret.

My book on the Stephensons aside, I am no railway buff. Nevertheless I almost cried when I stepped into the railway yard alongside the museum to find an exact life-size replica of The Rocket being stoked up and ready to go. The engine (made for the 150th anniversary of the Liverpool-Manchester Railway opening) looked exactly as it does on the front cover of my book, and I felt as if I was meeting one of the central characters of my novel in the flesh.

The Rocket moved off down the track, giving me my first full view of Locomotion No.1 parked behind it, and not the replica this time but the original engine, standing in almost the same spot from which it started its historic journey on the opening day of the Stockton and Darlington line.

When I am doing talks I almost always read from the pages that cover the Stockton-Darlington opening. I looked upon the fine black engine yesterday, in company with less than a dozen other visitors to the museum, and thought of the 40,000 and more who turned up on 27 September 1825 to witness the iron lady's maiden trip. Appropriately enough, as I stood watching and thinking, one of the modern trains of the Tees Valley Line came tearing by in the background, carrying passengers on the same historic route. A couple of minutes later a replica of The Planet (the first Stephenson engine to cover the Liverpool-Manchester route in less than an hour) brought a carriage-load of visitors into the museum yard the exciting way, by rail under steam power.

Timothy Hackworth's Sans Pareil is also at the museum, both as a replica in its Rainhill livery and the original engine, looking starker but even more grand. I was also delighted to see among the artefacts a recipe book written in longhand by Betty Stephenson, George's second wife. Betty is perhaps my favourite character in the novel, a warm encouraging presence behind her husband and the person who introduces Robert to the finer things in life - music, poetry - which were largely missing from Robert's upbringing by the more prosaic George before Betty came into their lives.

Along with many other locomotives of varied vintage, plus Timothy Hackworth's cottage and other attractions, Shildon Locomotionis inspiring, well worth a visit and, amazingly, is free. Perhaps some of you could come along on Sunday 11 August when I'm doing a day of talks and readings there. If so, please come up and say hello.

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