Birthplace of Richard Trevithick, site of
(now) 35 Station Road, Pool, Redruth, Cornwall, UK
date building date not known
era Stuart |
category Birthplace of Engineer |
Called the Cornish Giant , 1.88m tall Richard Trevithick was an imposing figure known for his feats of strength. He was born in the parish of Illogan in Cornwall on 13th April 1771 in the heart of Cornish mining country. He grew up to be an inventor, mining engineer, pioneer of steam power and builder of the first working steam locomotive.
Trevithick was born in the family home, a thatched cottage close to the copper and tin mines of South Wheal Crofty, Dolcoath, Cook’s Kitchen, East Pool and Carn Brea. He was baptised in the parish church on 12th May 1771, the fifth of eight children. His father was a mine captain and his mother was the daughter of a mine manager, so it’s no surprise that he started working in mining.
After his education at Camborne School, he gained experience with atmospheric and low pressure condensing steam engines, invented respectively by Thomas Newcomen (1664-1729) and James Watt Snr (1736-1819). Steam engines were used not only to raise ore and spoil but also to pump water from the shafts, and they became increasingly important as mining operations ventured deeper and deeper underground.
Around the turn of the 19th century, Trevithick developed a high pressure steam engine, using improvements in boiler technology to supply 'strong steam' to move the piston. Watt considered high pressure steam to be dangerous.
In 1801, Trevithick set his ideas in motion by making the first steam locomotive that ran on a roadway — Puffing Devil. In 1804, he built the first steam engine to run on rails — precursor of the first steam train — at Penydarren Ironworks in Merthyr Tydfil. It reached a speed of 5mph and was capable of pulling heavy loads. In 1808, Trevithick set up a circular demonstration railway track at Euston Square in London, with an engine — Catch-me-who-can — and carriages capable of travelling at 12mph.
In 1816, lack of commercial success prompted Trevithick to travel to Peru, where he had sent engines for the silver mines. From Peru he travelled to Costa Rica and Colombia, where he met Robert Stephenson (1803-59) who was working there. They returned to England by separate routes in 1827.
Although Trevithick is considered the inventor of the steam locomotive, it was Robert Stephenson, with his father George, who was able to overcome the practical difficulties and mount a successful demonstration — of Stephenson’s Rocket at the Rainhill Trials of 1829.
The Trevithick family moved to Penponds in Camborne soon after Richard’s birth. The house in Pool was extended into a double cottage by 1871. It was demolished and replaced by a detached house at a later date, where Captain R.E. Trevithick (Richard’s great grandson) unveiled a memorial stone on 16th October 1948.
The memorial inscription begins with the Cornish motto "ONE AND ALL" and continues "RICHARD TREVITHICK ENGINEER, INVENTOR OF THE HIGH PRESSURE STEAM ENGINE BORN ON APRIL 13TH 1771, IN THE HOUSE THAT STOOD ON THIS SITE, DIED ON APRIL 22ND 1833, AT DARTFORD, KENT. THIS MONUMENT IS ERECTED AS AN APPRECIATION OF THE GREAT INVENTOR AND HIS GIFTS TO THE WORLD"
Research: ND, ECPK
"Richard Trevithick: Giant of Steam" by Anthony Burton
Aurum Press Ltd, London, 2000
"Richard Trevithick : the engineer and the man" by H.W. Dickinson and A. Titley
Cambridge University Press, 1934
"The Cornish Giant : The Story of Richard Trevithick, Father of the Steam Locomotive" by L.T.C. Rolt, Lutterworth Press, London ,1960