Unsung Hero Timothy Hackworth Celebrated with Railway Heritage Listings
Unsung hero of the railway, Timothy Hackworth, is celebrated with three upgraded listings in Shildon, County Durham as part of the work of the Stockton and Darlington Railway Heritage Action Zone building up to the 2025 bicentenary of the opening of the S&DR.
Soho House upgraded to Grade II*
The County Durham home of pioneering railway engineer Timothy Hackworth (1786–1850) has been upgraded to Grade II* by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on the advice of Historic England, giving it greater protection and recognition.
Soho House in Shildon was built for Timothy Hackworth by mid-1833 as his main residence. It was originally listed at Grade II in 1986 but has now been elevated into the top 10% of England’s most important historic buildings in recognition of Hackworth’s huge contribution to the success and international influence of the Stockton and Darlington Railway (S&DR).
Hackworth's vital role
As the first Superintendent of Locomotives for the S&DR between 1825 and 1840, Hackworth played a vital role in developing steam engines that met the significant demands of freight and passenger travel. By sharing his experience with visiting engineers and rail promoters he also directly influenced the development of railways on both sides of the Atlantic.
When the S&DR was formally opened on 27 September 1825, it marked a crucial step towards the birth of the modern railway network. This was largely thanks to the vision and skill of George Stephenson who designed Locomotion No.1, the first locomotive to run on the S&DR and his business partner Edward Pease, the main promoter of the railway.
Together with Michael Longridge of Bedlington and Robert Stephenson they set up Robert Stephenson and Co to build locomotives, which they hoped to sell to emerging railways both in Britain and abroad. However, Stephenson’s locomotives were not initially up to the task of running regular long distances and kept breaking down.
It was Timothy Hackworth who came to the rescue. Born in Wylam, the same Northumberland village as George Stephenson, Hackworth began his career designing and maintaining locomotives at Wylam colliery as the pit’s blacksmith. Hackworth’s engineering skills came to Stephenson’s attention when he worked as a relief manager at his locomotive works in Newcastle and he was offered the role as Superintendent of Locomotives at the S&DR on Stephenson’s recommendation.
Hackworth rebuilt Locomotion No.1 to make it more reliable and designed the Royal George in 1827. This model firmly established the supremacy of the locomotive over horse-driven haulage and paved the way for the general adoption of steam. The original Locomotion No.1 is on public display at Locomotion.
Success spread far and wide
Hackworth’s later locomotives include Sans Pareil, which took part in the 1829 Rainhill Trials for Liverpool and Manchester Railway, and the Globe (1830), the S&DR’s first dedicated passenger locomotive, said to be able to reach 50 miles per hour.
As the success of the Stockton and Darlington Railway spread far and wide, Hackworth helped to promote steam locomotion internationally by sharing his expertise with visitors from across Europe and North America.
In 1833, Hackworth established Soho Works in Shildon. Here, he built Russia’s first steam locomotive (1836) for the Tsarskoye Selo Railway, as well as three of the earliest locomotives used in Canada (1838) including Samson, which ran on the Albion Mines Railway in Nova Scotia.
Soho Engine Shed upgraded to Grade II*
The only surviving building associated with Hackworth’s Soho Works is the Soho Engine Shed, which has also now been upgraded to Grade II*. Originally built in 1826 as a warehouse for an iron merchant, it is one of the earliest railway-associated industrial buildings in the world.
In 1842 it was leased to Soho Works which lay immediately to the north. An 1850 plan of Soho Works depicts the building but as it is unlabelled, its exact purpose is unclear. The building only became a locomotive engine shed sometime after it was purchased by the S&DR in 1855.
Locomotive coaling drops upgraded to Grade II*
A third site also upgraded to Grade II* is the Locomotive coaling drops, a very early and rare example of a purpose-built facility for refuelling steam locomotives.
Bringing economic benefit to the region
The three listing upgrades form part of the work of the Stockton and Darlington Railway Heritage Action Zone. This five-year, heritage-led conservation and economic development scheme is a partnership between Historic England, local authorities and other stakeholders. It is part of the build-up to the 2025 bicentenary of the opening of the S&DR, using heritage to bring lasting economic benefit to the region.
Timothy Hackworth is one of the true pioneers of the railway. His designs helped to convince the world that the future of freight and passenger travel lay in steam locomotion, making the Stockton and Darlington Railway the template for the development of the modern railway. It is only fitting that Soho House and the Soho Engine Shed should be upgraded to Grade II* to reflect his huge contribution.