Billy - early locomotive

One of the oldest locomotives in the world

Billy - one of the oldest locomotives in the world

'Billy' - built in Newcastle around 1826 by Robert Stephenson & Company - was built three years before the more famous Rocket and it is one of the oldest locomotives in the world. It worked on the Springwell & Jarrow line, which brought coal to the Tyne from collieries south of Gateshead. Designed by George Stephenson, this was one of the most innovative transport systems of its day.

Early locomotives like Billy were called ‘travelling engines’ because they were mobile versions of the steam engines used at mines. George Stephenson built his first locomotive in 1814 at West Moor, near Killingworth, where he was a colliery engineer. It was similar to engines pioneered at Leeds in 1812 and tried near Newcastle the following year. Other locomotives were being built on Tyneside around this time, and Stephenson used his practical skills to combine the best ideas into his ‘Killingworth travelling engines’. Billy was one of the last of the type to be built.

It was in use for more than 50 years, and many parts were replaced or altered. There are few records, so we do not know how much of the locomotive is original. A section of the line where Billy worked is preserved as the Bowes Railway at Springwell Village near Washington, Tyne and Wear.