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By Martyn Halman and John Liffen on

Agenoria: Tracing the Past

Martyn Halman tells an intriguing story sparked by a recently unearthed drawing on tracing paper.


Quite recently we received a consignment of material originally located at the former Science Museum Group’s London store, Blythe House. The collection material was transferred to the National Railway Museum for safe keeping.

During the cataloguing review of the archive, I discovered a drawing on tracing paper of Agenoria, one of the early locomotives, currently located in the National Railway Museum’s Great Hall.

Agenoria (Photo: Science Photo Library)
Agenoria with a contemporary style tender.
(Photo source: Stourbridge Library)

During the brief viewing, while implementing the indexing and recording process, this piece of material appeared an overtly unremarkable piece; partially redeemed by being 143 years old. Museums have old stuff; so here it was?

The paper item was placed in a protective archive sleeve and stored. Subsequently, I went off to assist with another project.

Eventually returning to this material, I studied the russet-coloured ‘tracing’ of Agenoria more closely.

The locomotive

A steam-powered 0-4-0 locomotive, reputedly named after the Roman Goddess of Activity, remains accessible in the Great Hall, despite the upheaval caused by essential development work at the National Railway Museum.

It is an early locomotive, built by Foster, Rastrick & Company, of Stourbridge.

Powered by two vertical cylinders, linked to twin half-beams, with connecting rods to an eccentric drive on the outside of the rear wheels. Described as a ‘Grasshopper Motion’. Built in 1828, it first ran in traffic on 2 June 1829, along the Kingswinford Railway; a three-mile-long track connecting the mines in the Shut End area of The Black Country, with a canal basin at Ashwood on the Staffordshire & Worcestshire Canal.

Map of The Kingswinford Railway
Map of The Kingswinford Railway c.1829 (Photo source: Stourbridge Library)

Fully laden with coal trucks it was estimated, at the time; of attaining a speed, somewhere in the region of seven miles an hour.

It is generally believed that Agenoria had been abandoned by 1865, following the delivery of a new locomotive to the mining company.

The Archive Tracing

It is after this time, that the tracing delivered from The Blythe House Collection, becomes significant to the history and survival of Agenoria.

Agenoria tracing

Deciphering the copper-plate handwriting, revealed the content was reminiscent of a museum condition check. Not too dissimilar to the documents formatted by curators during their assessments of vehicles on loan to other institutions.

Initially, it appeared to me, an unusual exercise for an abandoned piece of industrial mid-nineteenth century engineering.

The drawing was made by and signed, “E.B. Marten” (Edward Bindon Marten, 1832-1914), in the bottom left-hand corner. The description of the locomotive, from which Edward Marten compiled his drawings, was taken from The Mechanics Magazine, published 2nd June 1829, pp300 Vol 11. The recorded date of his drawing on the trace paper is, September 6th 1880.

Marten notes, the location of Agenoria within his description. “The Shut End Ironworks, Kingswinford, nr Dudley”. It is easy to imagine the scattered locomotive parts, largely abandoned in the Shut End yard. The scene, likely punctuated with pools of water, from the heavier than usual rainfall experienced during the early Autumn of that year.

Marten provides an accompanying narrative, to the right of the line image. This informs us about the condition of the locomotive, as he saw it.

“One cylinder is gone, the beams and rods and frames are taken off, although these elements are scattered about the yard, it is reported that they are all present and are capable of being repaired.”

This was the ‘big reveal’ for me. I realised this was most likely a document that represented an early example of a preservation feasibility study, posing key questions still considered today:
How much of the original locomotive remains? Can it be restored to something resembling a recognisable form? Is it significant? What are the options? How much will it cost?

Edward Marten first drew an image of Agenoria around 1863 when it was still a complete locomotive. Likely still in traffic, prior to the delivery of the replacement locomotive at the Shut End Ironworks two years later.

It rapidly became clear this drawing was Edward Marten’s own working reference, of how the locomotive should look when fully assembled. The original information found in a publication printed long before the advent of photography, was the inspiration and original checklist for Marten’s own line illustration of the locomotive. The visual information from earlier drawings of Agenoria he had made, when the engine was complete, was amalgamated into this working illustration in 1880, prior to viewing the remains at Shut End.

Armed with his reference image, Marten could now identify all the key components that were strewn randomly around the Shut End yard. Not only reminding himself of the structure of the vehicle and what to look out for, but also, offering an opportunity to present the drawing to officers at the Patent Office Museum, London, to encourage some enthusiasm for preserving the locomotive.

Edward Marten took the opportunity to present the concept of preserving Agenoria while he was assessing a Trevithick boiler in late 1880. Colonel A Stuart Wortley, (Curator at the Patent Office Museum) likened Agenoria to Puffing Billy, the latter, a locomotive already part of the Patent Office’s Collection, along with Rocket and Sans Pareil.

He comments in his letter to Edward Marten, in November 1880.

The drawing of the “Agenoria” is very interesting, & as soon as you can give me further particulars, I would send my engineer to see it.

The engineer Col Stuart Wortley refers to in his letter was Samuel Ford.

The plan was unfolding in front of me; this image was created to secure an acquisition decision. The process today has only been superseded by the inclusion of photographic images. Curators present an acquisition case, using photographs and other relevant images to support the written presentation at a Collection Development meeting, to create a motion of support and encourage a majority agreement to collect a railway artefact.

This motion of support clearly worked for Edward Marten. Colonel A Stuart Wortley, satisfied that this locomotive was sufficiently different in engineering concept to Puffing Billy, eventually wrote to Agenoria’s owner, William Orme Foster on May 31st 1881.

“May I ask whether you would be willing to present this old relic to Her Majesty’s Government to spend the rest of its days in this Museum which belongs to the Commissioners of Patents?”

In the late 19th century, the Patent Office Museum was largely dependent on the altruistic outlook of locomotive and artefact owners, encouraging donations of objects, rather than offering them a purchase price.

The treasury, at the time, was reluctant to provide money for what they described as,
‘the acquisition of objects of antiquarian rather than functional interest’. Clearly leaving this aspect of collecting to quaint eccentrics like Charles Wade and the self-financing, Augustus Pitt-Rivers, types.

To this end, it should be noted that Agenoria was technically an acquisition largely instigated by the Patents Office Museum, in association with Edward Marten’s guidance and expertise.

Although Agenoria was not accessioned into its Collection until December 1884, a year after the Patents Office Museum had been merged with the South Kensington Museum, eventually, The Science Museum. The decision, in principle, to acquire the vehicle had been made in 1881. The Patent Office Museum’s collections were still occupying their old premises on the east side of Exhibition Road, but plans were in train to move them across Exhibition Road to the Science Collection buildings (the Southern Galleries) in 1886.

Mr Marten’s drawing, along with the associated contacts with the Patents Office Museum, eventually persuaded the owner, William Orme Foster, to donate Agenoria into the care of The Patent Office Museum.

There had been some brinksmanship elements to the lead up to the locomotive’s preservation.

Agenoria, in its newly restored state, was initially exhibited at the Wolverhampton Fine Arts & Industrial Exhibition: Archaeological & Geographical section. This event was Edward Marten’s opportunity to develop the incentive for the rebuild by offering a specific deadline to all the interested parties involved.

As the event drew to its conclusion, Edward Marten was forced to write to the Patents Office Museum twice, to secure an answer. This with only ten days to go before the locomotive effectively became homeless.

Rocket had been donated to the Patent Office Museum, in 1862. It could have been Marten’s vision, as a boiler expert, that it was imperative to maintain a coherent understanding of the advantages of successful locomotive developments.

One must therefore invest in some form of collection diversity; a collection containing varying sorts of early locomotives, to compare and illustrate the successful evolution of a dominant locomotive type.

One instance is Rocket’s multi-tubular boiler, that set the bar height for 131 years -eventually leading to the demise, of what were essentially, less efficient, beam engines on wheels – such as Agenoria.

Edward Marten would have fully understood how each boiler design impacted on the observable performance of each locomotive, therefore, to record this for history; it would be prudent to collect vehicle samples that represented each level of design development.

It is further likely that Edward Marten possessed some prior knowledge of Agenoria’s impact on Horatio Allen, an American representative from the Delaware & Hudson Canal Company, who had travelled to England to purchase four locomotives. His brief was to purchase four of the ‘Lancashire Witch’ types, manufactured by The Stephenson Company.

During a visit to The Shut End Railway, Allen quite likely observed Agenoria working; he was suitably impressed, subsequently ordering three similar locomotives from Foster, Rastrick and Company in 1828 and only one from Stephenson & Co. (Copy of original Stephenson Blueprint of 1828, pictured below). The latter locomotive ‘America’ is thought never to have been used.

The ‘Agenoria’, ‘grasshopper motion’ type locomotive, named ‘The Stourbridge Lion’, was the first locomotive to operate outside of Great Britain and was the vanguard of the British Export Industry.

While the three ‘grasshopper’ locomotives were in shipment to the United States the counterbalances were shipped separately sometime later. It is at this time that the counterbalances weights were also fitted to Agenoria. It is suggested therefore, the wheel counterbalances have a date of 1829 because these components were created after the initial build of the locomotives.

In December 1884, the locomotive and a tender were officially donated to the Patent Office Museum in London.

The tender, unlikely to have been the original version, was notdisplayed in conjunction with the locomotive. It is suggested that the tender was possibly a reproduction, built specifically for the exhibition at Wolverhampton had probably been stored outside and not surprisingly deteriorated and was subsequently disposed in 1897.

Edward Bindon Marten (1832-1914)

Edward Marten trained for four years as an engineer; between 1850-53, with his brother,
Mr HJ Marten M. Inst. C.E.  When this was completed, in 1853, he served for one year as Resident Engineer of the Bridgnorth and Warrington Waterworks.

From 1865, Edward Marten was Chief Engineer at the Midland Steam boiler Inspection and Insurance Co and investigated the causes of boiler explosions. This is the most likely introduction to his interest in early locomotives and the engineering that brought about their creation and in some instances their destruction.

It is during his tenure with this Insurance company that he first became aware of Agenoria; the locomotive was insured with the company. He had the opportunity to inspect it closely when the engine broke down in 1863. This is the probable date when the locomotive reached the point of becoming unserviceable, being drawn aside into a field.

Edward Marten is likely to have advised the owners of the increasing frailty of the machine, when the risks outweighed the practical use; likely becoming totally uninsurable. Edward Marten reminisced about this event to the Stourbridge County Express newspaper in 1905.

Part of the explanation process of the boiler explosions entailed making models to demonstrate the inherent problems that caused the catastrophes – these objects were constructed for Edward Marten by Mr W Winship. He also had other specialists construct machines to undertake scientific experiments. These were eventually distributed to local museums, Mason College Birmingham and to the Science Museum in South Kensington.

Edward Marten eventually became the engineer in connection with the South Staffordshire Mines Drainage and Improvement Act of 1873. It is this during this role, he is re-acquainted with the abandoned remains of Agenoria, while he was overseeing local mine drainage projects.

Archive Storage

Edward Bindon Marten’s drawing of Agenoria is now recorded on a central data base, preserved in an atmospherically controlled environment at The National Railway Museum. All material is stored in ph neutral sleeves; the ambient conditions are monitored regularly. Age has made the paper fibres fragile therefore there is a limited handling instruction applied and the document will remain contained in the protective sleeve to maintain the integrity of the item.

Agenoria in preservation in the National Railway Museum’s Great Hall


Agenoria in preservation in the National Railway Museum’s Great Hall
Agenoria – newly restored. Gentleman, fourth from left (seated), believed to be Edward Marten.

i) National Railway Museum archive object – physical observation
ii) John Liffen – Science Museum Curator
iii) Early Railways Vol 2, pp202 -220. (National Railway Museum Library)
The Patent Office Museum and the Beginnings of Railway Locomotive Preservation [J. Liffen]
iv) Document photograph: John Clarke (NRM Curator)
v) Stourbridge library website
vi) Science photo library
vii) Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History
viii) The Locomotive Pioneers: Early Steam Locomotives 1801-1851

One comment on “Agenoria: Tracing the Past

  1. The drawing of “America” built by Robert Stephenson & Co is part of a series of drawings created by Clement E Stretton. It is a fake. Stretton produced many such drawings, which he presented to the Patent Office Museum and also to the LNWR – a role of Stretton fakes is at The National Archives, Kew which depict all sorts of peculiar and non-authentic arangements for Liverpool & Manchester Locomotives. In my own collection are Stretton fakes purporting to show locomotives of the Leicester & Swannington Railway. He has a disctinctive style and handwriting.

    The Stephenson locomotive in question was called the ‘Pride of Newcastle’ and there is a general arrangement drawing of it. There is some evidence it did in fact operate. Hope this helps 🙂

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