Steam Power

The young boy, perhaps 8 years old, stands in the garden.   He watches the embankment twenty feet above him at the end of the garden, and waits.  Here comes another.  Noise, belching smoke, fire.  Sometimes they shed burning coals that set alight the dry grass on the embankment.  If he waves, the driver may wave back, the people in the coaches too.  The engines carry ornate insignia and names he can still remember.  It was like seeing old friends when “Canadian Pacific”, “Holland-Afrika Line” , “Crewkerne” or “Ottery St Mary” thundered by.  Sometimes the whole train was named and the “Pines Express” promised an exotic coastal vision of Bournemouth for northern travellers.

I am still fascinated by steam trains and fortunate to live near two preserved steam railways.  The journeys from Totnes up the Dart Valley and from Paignton along the coast to Kingswear are wonderful for observing nature but also evoke a bygone era.  It is difficult for us to appreciate nowadays the liberating effect of the coming of the railways 150 years ago.  People became freer to travel, produce could be sent further afield and lives were irreversibly changed.   

Few realise that we owe the invention of steam power to Thomas Newcomen, from Dartmouth.   The steam power he invented lead to the development of the railways.  His story is told in my latest “Strange Science” article for Devon Life Magazine (

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