I was responsible for a bit of a kerfuffle at work. Poor Nick at Work suffered at the hands of a huffy curator when he suggested that, perhaps, some chap called Dewrance built the Rocket. That’s the famous Rocket that George and Robert Stephenson designed and had built.
I’d better explain since, not only did John Dewrance occupy quite a bit of my time a few weeks ago but he continued to occupy it today as well.
John Dewrance was an engineer. A very good engineer who, it appears, was put in charge of the Engine Shops at Edge Hill on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway back when it first opened. (For those unaware of the fact, the L&MR was the first purpose built railway line in the world to have trains running on steam power rather than being hauled by a horse.)
The railway was opened in 1830 and John worked there, it seems, almost from the beginning (maybe even from the beginning but I can’t find any exact dates). The Rocket was built in order to run on the L&MR – it won the Rainhill Trial competition – and was completed in 1829, just before the railway opened.
This is all very well and good and John could easily have not only known the Stephensons, he could also have been there in his capacity as knowledgeable and respected engineer, however…there’s no proof. The other thing is that John Dewrance, in 1835, was entering into a partnership with Joseph Woods in an engineering firm in London. Joseph died in 1842 and John did the obvious thing. He took over the partnership and called it Dewrance and Co.
And so it remained for many years. After John died, the company was run by his son, John (he was knighted so we can call him Sir John to avoid confusion). It was the company of Dewrance and Co that set me on this wobbly road. They gave the museum a few handfuls of valves, meters and packed asbestos cocks.
And it was Sir John who provides a link to the early railways with a letter on file which came from him regarding two framed drawings of his father’s design for the Bird class (2-2-2) of locomotives used in the north. (This should not be confused with the Bird class 4-4-0 locomotives used on the Great Western railway which used the more comfortable wide gauge of Brunel.)
This sort of thing is a bit of a minefield. I know next to nothing about trains (except for the Rocket which I often stop to admire as I walk through the museum) and was hesitant to mention as contentious a claim as the Rocket being built by someone called John Dewrance, especially given it is, possibly, the most important locomotive in the world. But I know it’s important to relay this sort of discovery to Nick at work and he gets excited enough to Ask an Expert when I do.
The Expert was very dismissive and asked for any proof of the assertion. So, today I typed up a short essay and sent it to Nick at Work so he could forward it onto the Expert. I guess I’ll find out his learned opinion at work next week.
Oh, and before I forget, John Dewrance actually lived at Greenhills House in Tilford, not far from us. In fact, we pass it every time we walk at Hankley.
UPDATE: Peter Dewrance (see comment below) wrote up a short history of the Dewrance connections as promised. The entry on his blog is here: https://peterdewrance.wordpress.com/2015/09/22/the-dewrance-connection/
Note: It annoys me when people make broad claims on the Internet then fail to back it up with references…so here are mine.
Donaghy, TJ 1972, Liverpool & Manchester Railway operations, 1831-1845
Hastings R 1843, The Chemist, Volume 4
Knight J & Lacey H 1844, The Mechanics Magazine, Volume 41
Dewrance Sir J 1912, letter to Science Museum, Nominal file 565
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/32808
Thomas, R.H.G. 1960, The Liverpool & Manchester Railway, Batsford, London
Transactions 1938, Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders in Scotland, Volume 81