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Sunday, 9 October 2011

"Love it as though it were a human being" - Edward Entwistle, the First Driver of Stephenson's Rocket

The Liverpool and Manchester Railway (L&MR) opened on the 15th October 1830. It was the world’s first intercity railway, and while the Stockton to Darlington had broken new ground in 1825 by being the first to convey passengers, the L&MR was the first to look and act like all the railway companies that came after it. Its stations had all the features we would associate with rail travel today, its trains were hauled solely by steam engines and there were the first timetable. Of particular note was that the first train was hauled by the winning design of the company’s competition to find a suitable form of traction. This was George Stephenson’s Rocket.

What I have just recounted can be found in any railway book covering this period. However, what receives less attention is the staff that manned this pioneering railway. Thus, in my research this week I came across the story of Edward Entwistle, the man who drove the L&MR’s first train. Indeed, this led me to a number of other sources that has allowed me to reconstruct much of his life.

Entwistle was born on the 24th March 1815 at Tyldesley Banks near Wigan in Lancashire. While some accounts say that he was apprenticed to the Duke of Bridgewater’s Manchester works at the age of eleven, his own account made no mention of this. Rather, it seems that he was apprenticed at Robert Stephenson’s Newcastle works for seven years. It was here that Rocket was constructed, and Entwistle had a good mechanical mind and helped in the construction of various parts and the locomotive’s assembly.[1]

While Rocket had helped move materials during the construction of the line, its first day of glory came on the 15th October 1830 with the L&MR’s opening. Entwistle was in luck that day when the driver chosen to drive the inaugural train pulled out. Thus, like most very early railwaymen, he received his position purely on the basis of recommendation. Robert Stephenson asked his works foreman whether he knew of a good man to drive the train. The foreman could not, yet asked the great engineer whether he would be willing to try the apprentice, Entwistle. [2] After Stephenson had submitted him to a detailed examination, the fifteen year old Entwistle was allowed to step up onto the locomotive’s footplate. In 1907 he recalled:

“I stepped into the cab, pulled the throttle; the steam hissed, the wheels creaked and groaned, and amid the cheers of thousands upon thousands of people we started on our journey. Slow at first, but soon more rapidly until we were bowling pleasantly along the country, with the continual accompaniment of cheers and shouts.”[3]

Luckily, Entwistle was not at the helm when the Member of Parliament for Liverpool, William Huskison, was run over by Rocket later that day. Indeed, the distinction of being the first train driver to kill an individual goes to another noted engineer, Joseph Locke.[4]

After the line’s opening Entwistle remained the Rocket’s driver, driving it the thirty-one miles between Liverpool and Manchester in the morning and returning in the evening. However, after two years, and still only at the age of seventeen, he had had enough of the work. It was hard graft and every day he was exposed to the elements. Stephenson accepted his resignation, and as the engineer was impressed with the teenager’s performance, found him a position on the Duke of Bridgewater’s sailing vessels (This is possibly where the confusion about his apprenticeship originated from.) He stayed on these vessels for six years.[5]

At the age of twenty-two Entwistle emigrated to the United States. Initially times were hard and all he could earn was a dollar a day as the engineer on the steamer Troy which operated in the Hudson River and Long Island sound. However, when the boat was decommissioned, Entwistle took the engines and set up a rolling mill. In 1844 he moved to Chicago and worked as an engineer on stationary engines and boats. Lastly, he became the engineer at two major mills and retired in 1889 to a farm he had bought in 1845.[6] He died in 1909 at Des Moines, Iowa at the age of 95.

It is interesting to note that with Entwistle we find the start of a phenomenon that all train drivers, from then until the current day, have experienced; that of great affection for the machines that were in their charge. He recalled that while Rocket was primitive, he was “still loyal to that old engine, and love it as though it were a human being.”[7] How many drivers through the ages could express a similar sentiment?


[1] Otago Witness, 7 August 1907, p.78
[2] The Yorkshire Herald and The York Herald, Saturday, August 15, 1896 p. 12
[3] Otago Witness, 7 August 1907, p.78
[5] Otago Witness, 7 August 1907, p.78
[6] Hird, Frank, ‘Driver of the first passenger train,’ in Lancashire Stories, (London, 1994), p.15-16
[7] Otago Witness, 7 August 1907, p.78

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