Rocket  0-2-2  Liverpool & Manchester Railway

rocket original
Original in the Science Museum
rocket replica
Replica built by George Stephenson showing the original design.
Power Classification
DesignerRobert Stephenson
CompanyLiverpool & Manchester Railway
Weight4t 5cwt
Driving Wheels4ft 8½ins
Boiler Pressure50psi
CylindersOutside – 8in x 17in (Later reduced to 8in x 16½in)
Tractive Effort825lbf
Valve Gear

This is probably the best known of all famous early locomotives.

Robert Stephenson built the Rocket for the Rainhill trials of 1829 to select locomotives to run on the Liverpool & Manchester Railway which it won.

Rocket was the world’s first steam locomotive to combine a multi-tube boiler with draught induced by exhaust steam, the principle upon which more than 600,000 steam locomotives subsequently built operated. The cylinders on later engines were placed at the front close to the smokebox.

Rocket was the only locomotive to complete the trials. It averaged 12 miles per hour (achieving a top speed of 30 miles per hour hauling 13 tons, and was declared the winner of the £500 prize. The Stephensons were accordingly given the contract to produce locomotives for the Liverpool & Manchester Railway.)

Within a few years, the Rocket had been much modified. The cylinders were altered to a near-horizontal position, compared to the angled arrangement as new; the firebox capacity was enlarged and the shape simplified; and the locomotive was given a drum smokebox. These arrangements can be seen in the engine today. Such are the changes in the engine from 1829 that The Engineer magazine, circa 1884, concluded that “it seems to us indisputable that the Rocket of 1829 and 1830 were totally different engines”.

It worked on the Liverpool & Manchester Railway until 1836, when it was sold for £300 to James Thompson for work at the Naworth collieries in Cumberland. The railway was also called the Lord Carlisle’s Railway and the Brampton Railway. This railway was a ten-mile-long track branch railway line on the borders of Cumberland and Northumberland, that ran from Brampton Town to Lambley on the Alston Line via three intermediate stations, Brampton Junction, Kirkhouse and Halton Lea Gate. The line also connected via spurs to eight collieries.

It was withdrawn around 1840 and it was then stored in a shed at Kirkhouse until 1851 when it was moved to Stephenson’s works in Newcastle for preparation for a move to the Great Exhibition. It never made an appearance at the exhibition, although the reasons are not known, but remained at the works until it became part of the collection at the Patent Museum in 1862.

The Papent Museum subsequently became the Science Museum in London where it remains on static display. Its only time away from the Science museum was in 1990 when it was on display at the National Railway Museum in York whilst work was undertaken in the Science Museum.

In 2018 the original Rocket will spend some time in Newcastle before moving to the Museum of Science & Industry at Manchester in September. It is planned to move Rocket to the York Railway Museum in about three years time (2021).

In June 2018 the locomotive left its long term home at south Kensington and was transported to Newcastle for the Great Exhibition of the North. It will be based at the Discovery Museum in Newcastle until September 2018 when it will be moved to the Museum of Science and Industry at Manchester until April 2019.

In September 2019 Rocket was put on public display at the National Railway Museum at York which is now its permanent home.

Home BaseCurrent StatusOwner
National Railway Museum – YorkStatic displayNational Railway Museum NRM Object Number{1862-5}


Rocket in the Science Museum, London – May 2017
Rocket at the National Railway Museum at York – October 2019


  • A number of replica locomotives have been built including the one by Robert Stephenson which was displayed at the 1930 Cententary Exhibition at Liverpool.
  • There are at least two other replicas of Rocket in the USA, both built by Robert Stephenson and Hawthorns in 1929, one is at the Henry Ford Museum in the Metro Detroit suburb of Dearborn, Michigan, the other at the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago.
  • In 1923, Buster Keaton had a functioning replica built for the film, Our Hospitality. Two years later, the replica was used again in the Al St. John film, The Iron Mule, directed by Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. The subsequent whereabouts of the replica are unknown.
  • The NRM commissioned the building of a working replica of Rocket for the 150th anniversary of the opening of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway in 1980. Several major concessions had to be made with regard to original construction techniques in order to conform with health and safety, eg a fully welded boiler.

NRM Object Number{1979-7002}

  • In 1979 a further, working replica Rocket was built for the Science Museum by Locomotion Enterprises for the 150th anniversary celebrations. It has a shorter chimney than the original to the clear the bridge at Rainhill as the trackbed is deeper than in the 19th century, giving less headroom. This, and a cut-away replica built in 1935, are now based at the National Railway Museum at York.

NRM Object Number{1935-87}

Rocket replica at Rainhill as part of the Rocket 150 cavalcade – May 1980
Rocket replica at the National Railway Museum at York – 1989
Rocket replica at Tyseley open day – June 2011

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