Saturday, 31 January 2015

The 'Blast Pipe Letter' July 25th 1928 - George Stephenson to Timothy Hackworth

The letter often referred to as 'The Blast Pipe Letter' was a letter sent by George Stephenson to Timothy
Timothy Hackworth from a family portrait.
, then Superintendent and engineer for the Stockton and Darlington Railway Company, dated Liverpool 25th July 1828 and which can be 'interpreted as evidence that Hackworth invented the Blast Pipe, an invention that helped to make Stephenson's locomotives so successful. " (Quote from Museum Topics via Friends of NRM - National Railway Museum).

The purpose of  this post is not to argue the case ( I am not an engineer or an expert on the 'Blast Pipe') but to tell a Hackworth family history story relating to this letter and a later one from Robert Stephenson - 1829,  will be the subject of a subsequent post..

The Joan Hackworth Weir (nee Parsons) Collection is largely the material that has come down to us via Timothy Hackworth's son John Wesley Hackworth who was Joan's great grandfather, via John's son Albert Hackworth and his daughter Winifred Parsons (nee Hackworth) - ie one line of the family tree from Timothy. The material was added to by some of the descendants and material, along the way has been shared with other sides of the family or otherwise been donated to NRM.  The 'Blast Pipe letter' came down to Joan as we shall see and Joan donated the letter to NRM via her cousin Jane Hackworth Young, who, with her father reginald Young, pioneered the Timothy Hackworth Museum. Jane and NRM archivist Alison Kay outline the fascinating story behind the 'Blast Pipe letter' -

Here is a facsimile of the 'blast pipe letter' from NRM Friends Museum Topics -

And here is a transcript of the Blast Pipe letter from Robert Young's book Timothy Hackworth and the Locomotive. Stephenson was still using bellows rather than a blast pipe evidently.

John Wesley Hackworth from a family
From Museum Topics by Jane Hackworth Young and Alison Kay
" John Wesley Hackworth inherited the letter after his father's death and used it a great deal as evidence in his campaign for recognition, but after he died it was temporarily lost. It had been reported that the letter was exhibited in London resulting in panic within the family that the letter must have been 'surreptitiously abstracted' from John Wesley Hackworth's belongings. The family wanted to send the letter to the World Columbian Exposition (also known as the Chicago World Fair) where other Hackworth items were being exhibited - in the end it turned out the 'stolen' letter was a copy and it is unclear and it is unclear whether it ever made it to Chicago.

When the letter was found, it was passed along, with other documents, to the eldest grandson of Timothy Hackworth, Albert Hackworth (John Wesley Hackworth's son) who lived in America. After his death, custody was passed to his cousin Samuel Holmes, also in America. Robert Young needed original sources when writing his book and was helped by Samuel who sent a number of documentsUntil it (was) safe to cross the ocean". Samuel Holmes' widow arranged for the letter to be transported from a safe in New York to Albert Hackworth's daughter, John Wesley Hackworth's granddaughter Esther Alderslade in 1921. The letter passed from Esther to Joan Hackworth Weir and Joan donated it to the NRM in 2004 through cousin Jane Hackworth Young."
World Columbian Exposition (Chicago World Fair)
and transcriptions to him; however transport of the blast pipe letter back to the UK was delayed by World War 1, "

It's amazing to think such a historic letter was was once in this small case of Hackworth material from which I'm drawing much of the material on this site! joan was born in Thornaby on Tees, lived in Stokesley and latterly in Great Ayton, along with the blast pipe letter, until 2004 when it was donated to NRM.

Along the way, from John Wesley Hackworth onwards, the family, while protecting the letter from getting 'lost' again, used the letter in arguing the case for Timothy Hackworth's claim to having invented the blast pipe, in the press and magazine articles. Some of the cuttings / articles are shared below along with cuttings showing how the publication of the letter in 2004, was received.

What was the Blast Pipe and what was it's Importance?
Robert Young illustrates Blast Pipe on Royal George
Robert Young, in Timothy Hackworth and the Locomotive (p210, Cht X11), defines its function this way "The blast pipe enabled full boiler pressure to be maintained under all conditions when the locomotive was running, by the action of the draught produced by the exhaust steam. The mere throwing of this steam into the chimney, either by one or two eduction pipes, did not constitute a blast pipe. To direct the waste steam of a locomotive into the chimney is a natural way to get rid of it. The object of a chimney is to convey dust, smoke, vapour and smell high into the air out of the way, otherwise, why have a chimney at all? The considerable volume of exhaust steam from 2 cylinders discharged directly into the atmosphere would have enveloped the driver, obscured his vision and constituted a nuisance and a was common knowledge that the fire brightened when the intermittent steam escaped from the pipe in the chimney, just as resulted from the bellows what was not known was that this pipe could be so designed and adjusted that the exhaust steam sufficed to provide all the draught necessary for efficient haulage. Because the discovery appears to us, after the event, one of great simplicity, some have difficulty in believing that a quarter of a century elapsed from Trevithick's engine to Hackworth's Royal George, before the real value of exhaust steam was revealed.

No question of the invention of the steam blast appears to have arisen for many years after Rainhill
Hackworth's Royal George had the first true Blast Pipe.
competition. All the railway world knew of Hackworth's use of it there, through previous application in the Royal George, was not generally known. When the "Chapter in in the History of of Railway Locomotion" was published in the Practical Mechanics' Journal, in 1850, the facts were given in some detail. There were at this time many people living who were well acquainted with the early locomotive, and that after knowledge, which always grows as time obscures the real circumstances, had not reached it's full fruition. But in 1857 was published the "Life of George Stephenson" by Samuel Smiles, a popular and imaginative writer, with a large following, wherein a number of surprising assertions were made- "

Robert Young goes on to analyse the claims of earlier blast pipe's by earlier engineers with what Timothy Hackworth did. As Robert Young's book is not as widely available as it should be, I'll illustrate this with a PDF of the relevant text from the book for those interested.

Below - cartoon pen and ink sketch by S.T. Richardson 'The Battle of the Blast Pipe' published in 1876 entitled ' The World's First Railway Jubilee'. It burlesques the voluminous and heated correspondence which appeared at that time on the subject of the invention of the blast pipe. The central figure is John Wesley Hackworth. From Robert Young's book Timothy Hackworth and the Locomotive.

Robert Young explains the difference (in the PDF below) between Timothy Hackworth's claim to have invented the blast pipe and that of other engineers. (Click the arrow in top right of the pdf to enlarge the window).

In the above piece by Robert Young, says "when the Chapter in the History of Railway Locomotion was published in the Practical Mechanics Journal 1850, the facts (about the Blast Pipe) were given in some detail. There were, at this time, many people living who were well acquainted with the early locomotive and afterwards time obscured the real circumstances...

The PDF file below is that tract / article Chapter in the History of Railway Locomotion. in it the author refers to the blast pipe in Timothy Hackworth's Royal George, which preceded the Rocket and was the first custom built engine to change the fortunes of the S & D Railway Company and turn the focus away from stationary engines or horse drawn carriages.

"In naming the novelties brought out in the Royal George, we must not forget to add that she possessed the first short-stroked force pump, as also the first set  of adjustable springs for the safety valves, instead of weights." before discussing the 1928 letter from George Stephenson to Timothy Hackworth.

Below are two letters to the press / tracts from John Wesley Hackworth in his campaign to argue his father's case. Robert Young tells us that "While other children were spinning tops, John was spragging the wheels of the coal wagons, for his father who was superintendent of the S & D Railway, as they reached the bottom of the incline or riding on the locomotives. he went on the Royal George on its trial trip and knew as much about it as most of the men and a good deal more than some of them. he thus began early his training as an engineer and never dreamt of any other career. At 17 Timothy Hackworth was confident in him enough to send him St Petersburg to assemble and present the first locomotive commission by the Tsar of Russia."

John Wesley Hackworth used the Blast Pipe letter in 1876 in his arguments against Samuel Smiles. This letter was published in the Times and subsequently distributed as a tract, printed in Priestgate, darlington, where John had his Engineering works. Note -  (You may need to download it and open it on your computer to expand it - the print is pretty small!).

This was a letter was published in the London Daily Chronicle 1885 by Wylam, which i think I'm right in saying was John Wesley Hackworth - Joan Hackworth Weir's great grandfather.

You can read an article by Robert Young for The Engineer March 3rd 1922, a year before his book on Timothy Hackworth was published, here on this site

Joan Hackworth Weir (Nee Parsons) at 5 years old at the 1925 Railway Centenary with the older Hackworth relatives..

Below Jane Hackworth Young at Shildon with the 'Blast Pipe Letter' in 2005

Joan Hackworth Weir in her 80's with her grandsons at  Locomotion in Shildon 2005 (Northern Echo Photo)
Joan Hackworth Weir nee Parson is on the right with the hat and glasses. Joan was born in Thornaby on Tees in 1920 and later moved to Stokesley and then Great Ayton in North Yorkshire. In the picture is two of her grandsons - Kyle and Kristian Teasdel along with other relatives.

Letter from Jane Hackworth Young to Joan Hackworth Weir confirming donation of the Blast Pipe letter and other items to the museum.

Some of the cuttings from 2005 when the 'Blast Pipe Letter' was donated by Joan Hacworth Weir and presented to NRM by her cousin, and Timothy Hackworth Museum pioneer - Jane Hackworth Young.

From the Northern Echo Saturday July 30th 2005

Here is a transcript of the Northern Echo article - 

Did Stephenson deserve the title of Father of the Railways?
Northern Echo Saturday July 30th 2005

A rediscovered letter has raised serious doubt that George Stephenson really deserved the title of Father of the Railways. The controversial letter was sent Stephenson to Timothy Hackworth, fellow pioneer of the world's first passenger train from Darlington to Stockton. 

It has been donated by Timothy Hackworth's great grandchildren to the national Railway Museum based in York and Shildon, in County Durham. The letter's re-emergence rekindles one of the longest arguments in railway history. 

The letter confirms that Stephenson was still using inefficient bellows to power his engines more than six months after Hackworth introduced the breakthrough blast pipe technology that paved the way for reliable steam-hauled trains.

Built in 1827, Hackworth's the Royal George locomotive featured a blast pipe and succeeded in saving the Stockton and Darlington Railway £532 compared with the cost of horse-drawn trains.

But it was Stephenson who took credit for the blast pipe break through after his revolutionary locomotive - Rocket - built by his son Robert, won the Rainhill Trials of 1829 and hauled the first inter-city from Liverpool to Manchester the following year. 

Colin Divall, professor of railway studies at the University of York said "Fans of stephenson have always argued that the replacement of the bellows with the blast pipe, which was a distinguishing feature of the Rocket, was George's idea, but this letter seems to cast some doubt on that. 

There were only three key changes in the design of early locomotives that made subsequent engines more efficient than horse power, one of which was the blast pipe.

And of course, it was this breakthrough in efficiency that set the railway revolution in motion and helped earn George Stephenson the nickname Father of the Railways.

However the blast is almost certainly the case of the same device being invented by two people more or less at the same time."

Hackworth's descendants have long extolled the ingenuity of their ancestor and believe the letter proves that he is indeed the 'unsung hero' of yesteryear.

Jane Hackworth Young, great great granddaughter of Timothy Hackworth, who has been the main instigator of the transfer of the collection which includes the letter to NRM said "We believe people simply assumed at the time Stephenson had invented the blast pipe. That assumption continued through the years and George Stephenson was happy to take the credit. Gradually though, thanks to developments such as Locomotion: The National Railway Museum at Shildon, both historians and the General public are beginning to recognise my great great granddad's contribution to railway history,. Jane added: "I remember my father used to keep several large trunks in the loft of my childhood home and whenever I came across them he would always try to explain to me how significant the contents were.

He was an engineer himself and took very seriously my grandfather's family wishes that the family's railway treasures would one day be accessible to the public within a museum we're delighted that the National Railway Museum will at last receive this important historical collection."

It is hoped that the treasured letter, along with the rest of the NRM's archive collections, will become part of a proposed £3m project called Search Engine.

If the museum is successful in its bid for backing via the Heritage Lottery Fund, the controversial document will be fully accessible to visitors for the first time.

Helen Ashby, head of knowledge and collections at NRM, said "It's important that people continue to engage in this and other historical debates and this is why we feel so strongly that the nation's hidden archives should be made available for the public to access on a daily basis.

The blast pipe is positioned just below the chimney in the smokebox on a locomotive.

After it has been used in the cylinder to power the wheels, spent steam is released through the blast pipe and escapes into the atmosphere with a characteristic 'chuff chuff' sound.

As the steam rushes from the blast pipe, it takes some air in the smokebox with it, thus creating a partial vacuum, which draws fumes and hot gases through the boiler from the firebox. This makes the fire hotter and creates more steam, thereby increasing the power of the locomotive."

Timothy Hackworth was born in 1786 and took a large role in the creation of the locomotives Puffing Billy, Locomotion, The Royal George and Sans Pareil, for which he most famous. He died in 1850.

In addition, the Hackworth collection includes hundreds of letters between his children which throw light on the social history of the times and also the passport that enabled Hackworth's son, John Wesley Hackworth, to leave Russia after he had delivered his father's engine - the first in Russia - to the Tsar.

From Evening Gazette - Middlesbrough 5th August 2005

By George, It's a Mystery

5th August 2005 Evening Gazette
Keith Newton

As detective stories go, this one has been running longer than any mystery by Agatha Christie.

It first surfaced more than 175 years ago and has been puzzled over ever since.

It revolves around one of the great inventions of the Industrial Revolution, when technological advances were racing ahead as rapidly as today, features some great names and giants of the age, and happened right here in the Tees Valley.

Enter steam engines Locomotion, Rocket, and Royal George, railway pioneers George and Robert Stephenson and Timothy Hackworth, and an invention first used on the world's first passenger steam railway, Stockton-Darlington Railway.

This changed the pattern of world transport forever and made sure George Stephenson was crowned "Father of the railways".

The lingering question, however, has always been - did George do it?

Or was it Timothy Hackworth his arch rival and sometime employee? The evidence has always seemed blurry.

The distinctive device in question is no forgotten creation, long lost in the mists of history but a piece of engineering that still plays a vital role on all steam engines running today.

What is it? The blast pipe - the lengthy tube that allowed steam locomotives to run more efficiently and pull heavier loads than before.

It guaranteed there would never again be any doubt that steam power would always outrun horse power.

"It keeps the fire burning brightly which makes sure the boiler produces lots of steam," explains Colin Divall, professor of railway studies at York University. Before it came on the scene, engines used bellows.

"The blast pipe takes exhaust steam from the cylinders and makes it travel faster. As it shoots out, it draws smoke from the smoke box with it.

"This causes a vacuum and the only place air can come from to fill this vacuum is through the fire where the oxygen in the air is burned.

"This raises the temperature of the fire, causing the engine to work much more efficiently," says Colin as we stand beside the replica of Rocket in the National Railway Museum at York.

"The basic design of Rocket is the same as all these others here."

We are here as the railway museum is taking delivery of Hackworth family papers from Timothy's great, great grandchildren led by great, great granddaughter Jane Hackworth Young who lives in Teesdale.

They include a letter that refuels the fiery debate and suggestions that maybe George took the credit after nicking Hackworth's idea.

It all hinges on Royal George, the loco that saved the Stockton-Darlington Railway, stopped it from switching to horse-pulled trains, and secured the future for steam. How? It had a blast pipe.

Locomotion, complete with bellows, had opened the Stockton-Darlington Railway in 1825. Hackworth had worked on its design with Stephenson.

"They were both ingenious engineers and they were friendly rivals for the most part as they were working mainly for the Stockton-Darlington," says Colin.

"Stephenson was also very good at blowing his own trumpet. Hackworth was more reticent, a modest man."

Which brings us to the blast pipe. "Locomotion was very inefficient and kept breaking down, as did the other two engines on the Stockton-Darlington," says Colin.

"The company was planning to return to using horse-pulled trains when Hackworth said 'Give me a chance and I will build you a reliable engine.' He did. In 1827, he built the Royal George.

"It featured a blast pipe. But it was Stephenson who took the credit for the blast pipe breakthrough after his revolutionary locomotive Rocket, built by his son Robert, won the Rainhill Trials of 1829.

"The following year, it hauled the very first inter-city train from Liverpool to Manchester."

"The letter from Stephenson to Hackworth shows that in 1828 Stephenson was still using a different device to make the fire burn more brightly."

Did he use Hackworth's invention from Royal George, add it to Rocket and claim it as his own?

"When Timothy Hackworth was working on Stephenson's Puffing Billy at Wylam, Stephenson came round and said 'What's that little man you have in your chimney?' He meant the blast pipe. That was in 1814. Timothy was even then trying to find out how to make engines more powerful."

The railway museum hopes the treasured letter, the other Hackworth papers, and the rest of its archive collections will become part of a proposed #3m plus project known as Search Engine.

It has applied to the Heritage Lottery Fund for finance and, if successful, the letter will be accessible to visitors for the first time.

Does it all mean George is a bit of a fraud? "I'm not totally convinced he wasn't using a blast pipe as well," ventures Colin.

"The letter states Stephenson was using bellows to burn coke and I think this was significant as he is talking about a coke burning loco.

"It's possible he was already using a blast pipe in a supplementary way. I'm not saying he was, just that the wording of the letter does not rule it out.

"It's still a mystery but I say we don't have definite proof. My guess is they may well have come up with the idea at the same time.

"When they died, they were both very wealthy men and Hackworth had a successful career as a maker of solid, reliable engines."

The most famous of these is the mighty Sans Pareil, which used to be in the Timothy Hackworth museum at Shildon and now dominates the Welcome building at its successor in the town, the National Railway Museum offshoot ironically called Locomotion.

Hackworth went on to build most of the early engines used after Royal George on the Stockton And Darlington Railway, some of which were running as late as 1875.

So a score draw then? Or perhaps a defeat. "I'm not sure we know just who invented the blast pipe," says Colin.

* The real Locomotion is at Darlington Railway Museum; the real Rocket is in the Science Museum in London. There are lots of replicas around. The Locomotion museum even has a replica of its own Sans Pareil. The revolutionary Royal George was scrapped long ago.
Yorkshire Post Wednesday August 3rd 2005

This article is much the same being taken from a common press release presumably. 

Transcript of the above article Yorkshire Post Wednesday August 3rd 2005
Papers Put Historians on the Right Track over Rail Rivalry.
Julie Hemmings
The designer of the Rocket rail engine, George Stephenson, is regarded as the father of the railways - but he may just have been a better publicity man than his fellow Victorian innovators.

Papers donated to the National Railway Museum (NRM) in York are likely to reignite the debate over who created the breakthrough technology that made reliable steam locomotives possible.

A letter dated July 25th 1928, to fellow engineer Timothy Hackworth confirms that Stephenson still was using inefficient bellows to help power his engines. This was more than 6 months after Hackworth built his locomotive The Royal George, in 1827, featuring a blast pipe, which saved the Stockton and Darlington Railway some £532, compared to the cost of horse drawn trains.

However, Stephenson took credit for the blast pipe innovation after his locomotive The Rocket, built by his son Robert, won the Rainhill Trials of 1829 to haul the the first intercity train from Liverpool to Manchester the following year.

The blast pipe is a simple device which creates a partial vacuum, enabling the locomotive's fire to burn more strongly. It speeds up the production of steam, giving the engine more power.

The professor of railway studies at York University, Colin Divall, said : Fans of Stephenson have always argued that the replacement of bellows with the blast pipe, which was a distinguishing feature of the Rocket, was George's idea, but this letter seems to cast some doubt on that.

"However, the blast pipe is almost certainly an instance of the same device being invented by two people at more or less the same time."

The great great granddaughter of Timothy Hackworth, Jane Hackworth-Young said Stephenson, with his business and public relations nose, was happy to take the credit for the innovation. She said: Gradually though, both historians and the general public are beginning to recognise my great great granddad's contribution to to railway history."

Miss Hackworth-Young, from Teesdale, recalls that as a child, trunks full of family documents were stored in the loft at home, including letters between Hackworth's children which tell much about the social history of the time.

Hackworth was born in 1786 and played a large role in creating the locomotive Puffing Billy, Locomotion, The Royal George and Sans Pareil, for which he is most famous. He died in 1850.

Documents handed over to the NRM collection include the passport that enabled Hackworth's son, John Wesley Hackworth, to leave russia after he had delivered his father's engine - the first in Russia - to the Tsar.

Full steam ahead for old debate.

New papers received by the National Railway Museum in York will add fuel to the fire of a debate that has long smouldered in rail circles between admirers of George Stephenson and devotees of his contemporary Timothy Hackworth.

Whether it will ever be resolved as to which of these great engineers was responsible for the revolution that enabled steam locomotives to become more economical than horse drawn trains is open to doubt. But the very fact that the debate rages is testimony to the spirit of invention and endeavour that made this country the railway pioneer.

It also raises a question that may have be even harder to answer than the Stephenson-Hackworth conundrum, why considering the levels of ingenuity that made Britain the envy of the world 200 years ago, is this country now saddled with a transport system that most passengers would consider a relic from another century?

From the Guardian

From the Guardian September 1996

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