Why the world’s oldest model locomotive is back in Leeds

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John McGoldrick, curator of industrial history at the Leeds Industrial Museum, cleans the world's oldest model locomotive as it returns to the attraction.  PIC: Danny Lawson / PA
John McGoldrick, curator of industrial history at the Leeds Industrial Museum, cleans the world’s oldest model locomotive as it returns to the attraction. PIC: Danny Lawson / PA

Made in 1811 by the famous engineer Matthew Murray, the precious model arrived safe and sound at the Leeds Industrial Museum where it will now take pride of place in an exhibition celebrating some of the city’s greatest inventions.

The historic miniature is a replica of the very first commercially viable steam locomotive, the twin-cylinder Salamanca, built by Murray a year later.

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John McGoldrick, curator of industrial history at the Leeds Industrial Museum, cleans the world’s oldest model locomotive as it returns to the attraction. PIC: Danny Lawson / PA

With the locomotive industry still in its infancy, Murray reportedly used his detailed model to teach investors and fellow designers how his engines would work.

The full-size version of Salamanca revolutionized coal transport, allowing a small, relatively light locomotive to carry over 20 times its own weight, powered by steam from a cast iron boiler with a single duct.

Salamanca turned out to be a huge commercial success, with each engine selling for £ 350, which led to other Murray models which in turn inspired the later designs of the great George Stephenson.

Murray’s model was incorporated into the Leeds collection in 1943 and was loaned to the Science Museum Group in 2019 for a special exhibition, which returned this week.

The model will now be on display in the Leeds to Innovation exhibit at the Leeds Industrial Museum alongside another model of the linen heckling machine, which won Murray the Royal Society Gold Medal in 1809.

John McGoldrick, Curator of Industrial History at Leeds Museums and Galleries, said: “Murray was a true pioneer, whose ideas revolutionized the freight industry and inspired a whole new generation of locomotives.

“This model is the physical manifestation of his first vision for the future of locomotives and would have been invaluable in explaining his genius to others that he needed to help bring that vision to life.

“It is an absolute honor that Salamanca is back in museums and that this important piece of railroad history takes its rightful place alongside the ingenious creations of other great Leeds minds.”

Now open at the Leeds Industrial Museum, Leeds to Innovation explores the stories behind some of the city’s brilliant inventions and the people who made them.

Among them were pioneering astronomer Washington Teasdale, who took the world’s first selfie, Elizabeth Beecroft, who made Kirkstall Forge a successful business, and John Smeaton, the “father of civil engineering” and designer of the Eddystone Lighthouse. .

Councilor Jonathan Pryor, executive member of Leeds City Council for Economy, Culture and Education, said: “The history of Leeds includes some truly remarkable minds who have each played a distinct role in establishing the city’s reputation as a center of creativity and ingenuity.

“It’s wonderful to see these pioneers celebrated in this exhibition and to think that their efforts could inspire the next generation of incredible Leeds inventors.”

For more details on Leeds to Innovation, please visit: Leeds to Innovation – Leeds Museums & Galleries

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