Novelty  0-2-2WT  St Helen & Runcorn Gap Railway


Power Classification
DesignerJohn Ericsson & John Braithwaite
Weight – Locomotive
Driving Wheels
 Boiler Pressure
Tractive Effort
Valve Gear

Novelty was built to complete in the Rainhill Trials in 1829 which was held to select a locomotive designer for the engines to run on the Liverpool & Manchester Railway. The trials were won by George Stephenson with Rocket.

Novelty was the crowd’s favourite to win the Trials. This may be because it looked like a steam carriage (which people associated with speed and improvements in transport) or it may be because it did not look like a typical colliery engine of the time. In the demonstration runs that took place on the first day of the trials, Novelty did not disappoint, managing a speed of around 28mph.

On the second day of the trials the blower failed and repairs had to be made. When Novelty next ran the water feed pipe burst and more repairs had to be made, which seem to have included a seal on the boiler. After undertaking hasty repairs to the seals the boiler failed again and the locomotive was withdrawn from the trials.

It is worth noting that it is believed that the locomotive builders (John Ericsson and John Braithwaite) had only been made aware of the trials shortly before they took place and they had very little time to design and build Novelty. The designers had previously been associated with building horse drawn fire engines which were equipped with steam pumps.

The significance of Novelty is that it is regarded as the first ever tank engine which had a unique design.

Novelty was constructed in the London Workshop belonging to Braithwaite and transported to Liverpool by boat. There was no time to test Novelty in London before transportation, and following test runs at Rainhill before the trials, modifications were carried out with the help of Timothy Hackworth.

The boiler used on Novelty was designed by John Ericsson. The design was very scientific for the era but proved to be very hard to build and maintain compared with the boiler design adopted for Rocket and most steam locomotives since.

The most prominent feature for the boiler is the vertical copper firebox. Within the vertical vessel was the inner firebox and the space between the two was filled with water (to a level just about the same as the driver’s ankle). (Coke) fuel was added from the top, where a tube passed down through the top of the firebox. This firebox construction was not dissimilar to some types of vertical boiler, but this was only part of Ericsson’s design.

Like George Stephenson, Ericsson understood that a large area was needed to extract heat from the hot gases. This he did in a long horizontal tube filled with water which ran under the full length of the engine. Within the horizontal section was a tube carrying the hot gases, this formed an ‘S’ shape so the gases made three passes through the water. This ‘S’ shaped tube was also tapered causing the gases to speed up as they cooled down.

The resulting boiler was the shape of a hammer and was required to be fitted to the frame before the footplate, cylinders or blower could be added.

The boiler used a ‘Forced Draught’ provided by a mechanical blower which forced air along a pipe and into the sealed ashpan (below the fire). Very few steam locomotives have ever used a forced draught like this, the main reason is that in order to add fuel either the draft must be stopped or some form of airlock fitted. Novelty used an airlock to feed the fuel in, but there was still a chance of flame and hot gases being blown into the face of the fireman.

The blower was driven from the rods linking the cylinders to the wheels, thus the draught was proportional to the speed of the engine, not to how hard it is working as with a blastpipe. It is assumed that either the blower was worked by hand when the engine was standing or the drive wheels were lifted off the rails.

Water was forced into the boiler using a pump driven off one of the cylinders (this was normal practice at the time).

At this time, engineers were worried about uneven wear on pistons and cylinders when they were mounted horizontally, so most were mounted vertically, but vertical cylinders driving directly on the wheels (as on Sans Pareil) caused problems with poor riding and did not work well with the springs.

It is easy to think that Novelty is an 0-4-0 locomotive as it had equal sized wheels, however is actually an 0-2-2WT. Only the wheels under the firebox were driven, the other wheels were not normally connected to the drive, although they could be coupled by a chain ‘when necessary’.

After the Rainhill Trials Novelty was transferred to the St Helens and Runcorn Gap Railway and worked there for a few years. During its time there (around 1833) it received new cylinders and a new boiler.

Somehow, all the wheels and both cylinders (assumed to be the original one not those from the 1833 rebuild) survived.

During 1929 the original wheels and one cylinder were incorporated into a full scale, non-working model that is now on display in the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry. This early replica was rebuilt in 1988 and currently includes batteries and an electric motor to allow it to move, although the steam components are non-functional.

No other British locomotives are known to have been built in this style. Comparisons are made with 20th-century vertical-boilered engines, such as those by Sentinel of Shrewsbury, but in fact the principles were very different.

Home BaseCurrent StatusOwner
Science Museum – ManchesterStatic displayNational Railway Museum NRM Object Number{1929-866}
Novelty at Manchester Museum of Science & Industry – July 2017

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