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Catch me who can demonstration, site of
Bloomsbury, London
<em>Catch me who can</em> demonstration, site of
associated engineer
Richard Trevithick
date  1808
era  Georgian  |  category  Steam Engine or Locomotive  |  reference  TQ295823
photo  Cyfarthfa Castle Museum & Art Gallery, Merthyr Tydfil
In 1808, Cornish mining engineer Richard Trevithick, the father of the steam locomotive, set up a demonstration of his third motive engine on open ground, probably in Bloomsbury, south of Euston Road, near London's Euston Square. It was named Catch me who can and it ran on a circular cast iron rail track.
Catch me who can was built and demonstrated as a high profile publicity venture between 8th July and 18th September 1808. Trevithick had responded to a challenge that the performance of his locomotive would not better that of a horse in a 24 hour endurance test. In fact it was claimed that the engine could travel over 385km in that time.
Freedom to develop high pressure steam engines, with the necessary pulling power for locomotives, was made possible by the expiry of James Watt’s patent in 1800. The design of Catch-me-who-can was derived from that of his steam dredger engine — a horizontally-mounted boiler on four wheels with vertically configured cylinder, piston and connecting rod driving one pair of the wheels. Trevithick's new locomotive was able to travel at some 19km per hour on the 30m diameter circular track and he believed that 32km per hour would have been possible on a straight track.
In curious defiance of the publicity he sought for steam locomotives, Trevithick constructed a high wooden fence around the track. He charged one shilling (5p) for entry, which included a ride in the carriages. Unfortunately, lack of patronage and funds dictated that, not for the first time, commercial success eluded him.
The track was built over soft ground and after heavy rain the track subsided, causing breakage of the rails under the weight of the train (some 10 tonnes including carriages) and derailment of the engine. Though the track was relaid over timber sleepers, public interest waned and brought the enterprise to a dispiriting end.
However, Trevithick had successfully proved the technical feasibility of a steam locomotive running on railway tracks. It took another 20 years for the potential of this to be realised — with the successful trials of George and Robert Stephenson's locomotive Rocket at Rainhill in 1829.
In 2007, the Trevithick 200 charity was formed to build a working replica of Catch-me-who-can in time for the bicentennial commemorations. This was achieved and the locomotive is now undergoing rebuilding and refurbishment.
Locomotive manufacture: Hazledine & Co (Bridgnorth, Shropshire)
Research: ND, ECPK
bibliography
“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"
by L.T.C. Rolt, Lutterworth Press, London, 1960
www.sciencesociety.co.uk
www.catchmewhocan.org.uk
www.locos-in-profile.co.uk
www.steamcircus.info
Location

Catch me who can demonstration, site of