Local people knew little of famous steam pioneer who died penniless in a Dartford hotel

Contributed by editor on Feb 26, 2017 - 02:55 PM

By Dana Wiffen
Engineer and pioneer of High Pressure Steam, Richard Trevithick was born on 13 April 1771 and died in Dartford, Kent on 22 April 1833 aged 62, penniless and lonely in a room in the Royal Victoria and Bull Hotel.


George Stephenson had always argued that Trevithick’s work had been vital to his own development of locomotives


His contribution to mining and to steam as an engineer was immense although on the day of his death this was not realised by local people.

Born in Cornwall the only boy in a family of 6 children, he did not do too well at school although he did though excel in one subject maths.

As a youngster he had watched steam engines pump water from local tin and copper mines and this was to influence his life. He went on to become an engineer and in 1797 pioneered high pressure steam. He later worked on building and modifying steam engines to try and avoid the royalties due to James Watt on his copyrighted model.

The Royal Victoria & Bull Hotel Dartford, Kent  Photo: Dana Wiffen

In 1808 he erected a circular railway track in Euston Square charging 1 shilling a ride, but constant problems with the track meant this was abandoned after 2 months, and he went on to develop a steam dredger instead.

After a while though his steam engines did become successful and he used the profits he made from this to invest in his own silver mine in Peru. In 1826 war broke out in Peru and he fled losing everything, luckily a chance meeting with George Stephenson in Columbia, saw Stephenson give him £50, to enable him to pay for his journey back to the UK and he arrived in Falmouth in October 1827.

George Stephenson had always argued that Trevithick’s work had been vital to his own development of locomotives.

One of Trevithick’s high pressure engines (No14) built by Hazledine & Co in 1804 is on view in The Science Museum in London still today.

Of his time in Dartford he worked on an engine for a new vessel for John Hall the founder of J&E Hall Ltd and for this he earned £1,200

The weathered commemorative burial plaque  Photo: Dana Wiffen

A weathered plaque in the wall of St Edmunds Burial Ground in East Hill, Dartford (now a park) indicates his once nearby grave and confirms that 'he was a great engineer and pioneer of high-pressure steam'.

The Blue Plaque on the Hotel  Photo: Dana Wiffen

A blue plaque unveiled in 2007 is displayed on the front of the Royal Victoria & Bull Hotel in Dartford, confirming that he had lived his final years and died there in 1833 and in his native Camborne in Cornwall, there is a statue of him outside their library. Both confirm and recognise his invaluable contribution to steam.

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