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Site of Plymouth Ironworks/Trevithick Tunnel Continued

At the Plymouth furnaces, the carefully graded line of the Penydarren Tramroad was Site of Plymouth Ironworks/Trevithick Tunnelforced to run in a short tunnel some eight feet wide and eight feet high beneath the furnace charging area. This would have provided ample room for horse drawn trams but perhaps made things difficult for the passing of a steam locomotive.

It was of course along this line on the 21st. February 1804 that the steam locomotive, constructed at the Penydarren Ironwoks by Richard Trevithick, made its historic journey. There has been much discussion about some of the details relating to the event and even a debate regarding the design of the locomotive that Trevithick constructed at Samuel Homphray’s Penydarren Ironworks.

Much Merthyr folklore has also grown up around the event but letters written by Richard Trevithick to his friend and scientific mentor Davies Gilbert (Giddy) do paint quite a detailed picture of the event.

Penydarran, 15th. February, 1804
“Last Saturday we lighted the fire in the Tram Waggon and it worked without the wheels to try the engine, and Monday we put it on the Tram Road. It worked very well and ran up hill and down with great ease, and very managable. we have plenty of steam and power. I expect it to work again tomorrow. Mr. Homphray and the gentleman I mentioned in my last will be home tomorrow. The bet will not be determined until the middle of Next week at which time I shod be very happy to see you”

Site of Plymouth Ironworks/Trevithick TunnelThe bet Trevithick mentions in this letter refers to a wager of 500 guineas between Samuel Homphray and Richard Crawshay of the Cyfarthfa works. The latter of course doubted the ability of his rival‘s locomotive to haul ten tons of iron from Merthyr to Navigation and return with the empty drams. An argument had it seems grown into a matter with serious consequences so Richard Hill was engaged to act as stake holder and referee in the trial. Although a later letter from Trevithick tells with great delight the events of February 21st., whether payment of the bet was actually made or not, has always remained in doubt.

Penydarran, February 22nd 1804
“ Sir – Yesterday we proceeded on our journey with the engine; we carried 10 tons of iron, five wagons, and seventy men riding on them the whole of the journey. It is above nine miles, which we performed in four hours and five minutes. We had to cut down some trees and remove some large rocks out of the road. The engine while working went nearly five miles per hour; no water was put in the boiler from the time we started until we arrived at journey’s end .On our return journey home, about five miles from the shipping place of the iron, one of the small bolts that fastened the axle to the boiler broke, and all the water ran out of the boiler, which prevented the return of the engine until this evening”.

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