Pioneering steam engine ‘Rocket’ takes pride of place at National Rail Museum museum

it’s a landmark model in the history of transport. Now Stephenson’s Rocket has joined legends of the steam age such as Mallard and Flying Scotsman as it goes on long-term display at the National Railway Museum in York.

Lead Conservator Wendy Somerville-Woodiwis with Stephenson's Rocket and a model locomotive as she unveils the Rocket's new home, the National Railway Museum in York, where it will be on display until April next year. PA Photo.
Lead Conservator Wendy Somerville-Woodiwis with Stephenson's Rocket and a model locomotive as she unveils the Rocket's new home, the National Railway Museum in York, where it will be on display until April next year. PA Photo.

For the first time in 20 years, the locomotive travelled to York to complete the final leg of a national tour of UK museums organised by the Science Museum Group.

The original Rocket will be displayed at the National Railway Museum for at least a decade – initially as part of a new exhibition called Brass, Steel and Fire. Rocket will eventually be one of the stars of the museum’s redeveloped Great Hall which is part of the museum’s £55m ‘Vision 2025’ masterplan.

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Built in 1829, Rocket is one of the UK’s most historically significant objects. After success at the Rainhill Trials in the same year, the engine operated on the world’s first inter-city passenger railway in 1830 and helped usher in the railway age. Rocket was the only locomotive to successfully complete the trials, achieving a then remarkable top speed of 30mph and securing the engine’s place in history.

Lead Conservator Wendy Somerville-Woodiwis with Stephenson's Rocket and a model locomotive as she unveils the Rocket's new home, the National Railway Museum in York, where it will be on display until April next year. PA Photo.

Designed by George and Robert Stephenson, Rocket’s win proved that steam-powered locomotives were better at pulling trains than horses or stationary winding engines and that locomotives were suitable for widespread use.

Anthony Coulls, Senior Curator at the National Railway Museum, said: “Rocket was not the first steam engine, but it is certainly one of the most significant and it combined all the technological innovations available at the time to create one engine that was faster and more reliable than anything seen before.”

The famous engine travelled by road in a special protective crate and the engine’s chimney was removed and carefully reattached before the exhibition opens to the public. Once at York, Rocket was displayed in a purpose-built room in Station Hall alongside the museum’s collection of royal carriages.