On the 8th October 1829, Robert Stephenson’s steam locomotive The Rocket won the Rainhill Trials and secured a prize of £500 and the contract for Robert Stephenson and Company to produce locomotives for the new Liverpool & Manchester Railway that opened the following year. Although not the first steam locomotive, it is notable for being the first to bring together a number of innovations that made it the basic template for subsequent steam engines.
A specific set of rules had been produced for the Rainhill Trials which, among other things, emphasised speed, reliability, and a low weight. The Rocket was built specifically to take account of these rules, with Stephenson realising that the relatively light haulage demands meant that a small and nimble locomotive with only moderate pulling power would be more successful than a heavier engine with greater strength.
The approximately 1-mile stretch of track at the Rainhill section of the line was straight and flat, so although it posed no significant challenges to the competitors, it allowed the judges to see all locomotives in an identical setting. Each engine was required to run up and down the section twenty times, meaning that they travelled a distance roughly equivalent to the full journey from Liverpool to Manchester.
Of the ten locomotives entered into the competition only five turned up to the first day on the 6th October. By the end of the competition only the Rocket had completed the full competition without suffering any damage, despite reaching speeds in excess of 25 miles per hour while hauling a train of 13 tons.
The British MP William Huskisson died as a result of a fatal accident on the opening day of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway.
The Liverpool and Manchester Railway was created in order to link Manchester, a major industrial city in the north west of England, with the nearby port of Liverpool. Intended to lower the cost of transporting imported cotton to the Manchester textile mills, the 35-mile railway was an incredibly expensive project as it was the first railway to use locomotives to haul goods and passengers.
William Huskisson was the MP for Liverpool, and fought hard to secure parliamentary representation for the new industrial towns. As former President of the Board of Trade he also had an acute awareness of the likely positive effects of the creation of the railway.
The Liverpool and Manchester railway used four equally spaced rails along the length of the route. George Stephenson, the designer and builder intended that under normal circumstances this would allow two-way traffic using a pair of rails in each direction, but also meant that the centre two rails could be used in case of a wide load or a problem with one of the outer rails.
The railway was opened on 15 September 1830 with great fanfare. Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, the Prime Minister, was riding in a special carriage when his train stopped to take on water. Having invited Huskisson over, the passengers noticed the prototype engine Rocket approaching on the adjacent track. Huskisson attempted to climb into Wellington’s carriage, but the door swung open and the approaching locomotive crashed into it. Huskisson fell on to the track and Rocket ran over his right leg and thigh. He died of his injuries later that evening.
On the 16th August 1819, the Peterloo Massacre occurred at St Peter’s Field in Manchester when a group of over 60,000 protesters were charged by cavalry. An estimated 15 people died, and approximately 700 others were injured.
The protesters had gathered to hear the radical speaker Henry Hunt demand parliamentary and social reform. Britain was caught in the midst of economic depression and the textile industry, concentrated in the industrial centres of northern England, was particularly badly hit. Factory owners cut wages by as much as two-thirds which, combined with the increased price of grain due to the Corn Laws that imposed tariffs on cheaper imports, led to workers facing famine as they could no longer afford to buy food.
They also lacked political representation. The millions of people who lived in the Lancashire mill towns were represented by just two Members of Parliament due to out-of-date constituency boundaries and, due to the limitations of voting rights, they weren’t eligible to vote anyway. These inequalities became a target for radicals, who quickly gained working class support.
Contemporary accounts say that the crowds were peaceful and in good spirits when they assembled on the morning of the 16th August. However, the chairman of the magistrates was concerned by the enthusiastic reception when Henry Hunt arrived, the ordered the local Yeomanry to arrest him. Caught in the crowd, the cavalry began hacking with their sabres. The melee was interpreted by the magistrates as the crowd attacking the yeomanry, and more cavalry were sent in. The crowd dispersed within ten minutes, but eleven people died on the field.