Blog post by Rachel Kershaw writer of Life in Geordieland, the blog guide to NewcastleGateshead.
From historic steam engines to innovative hyperloop, Great Exhibition of the North will transport visitors from our pioneering past into the mind-blowing future.
There is much to uncover about northern innovation, art and design as you follow the three trails through Newcastle and Gateshead this summer and I’m keen to explore the history of trains in this blog as they pops up at a number of venues. Read on for an eye-opening journey and discover more about Northern England’s long and meaningful relationship with trains.
For the Love of Trains
Our love affair with locomotives began when the world’s first public railway to use steam trains opened in 1825, connecting collieries in Shildon with Stockton-on-Tees and Darlington. The chief engineer behind the construction of the Stockton and Darlington railway was none other than Newcastle-born engineer George Stephenson, ably assisted by his talented son Robert.
Geordies are rather proud of their connection to the Stephenson family, in fact, some argue that the affectionate term ‘Geordie’ derives from the name given to the widely used miner’s lamp George created in 1815.
The most famous Stephenson invention though was without doubt ‘Rocket’, one of the most important locomotives ever built. It was made in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1829 and went on to be the clear winner of the locomotive trials held at Rainhill.
With an average speed of 12 miles per hour and a top speed of 30 miles per hour, Rocket might not sound impressively fast by today’s standards – but in 1829 it was groundbreaking and landed the Stephensons a £500 cash prize and the contract to produce locomotives for the Liverpool & Manchester Railway, not to mention their place in the history books.
The Return of Rocket
For the last few decades Rocket has been on display in London’s Science Museum but they have kindly loaned Rocket so it can come home to Newcastle for Great Exhibition of the North 2018! There’s much excitement around Rocket’s return to Tyneside, it will be delighting visitors of all ages as it takes pride of place in the awe-inspiring Discovery Museum in the heart of the city.
You can pop into the Discovery Museum for free and get up close to the iconic engine from 22 June – 9 September.
Rocket is also part of the Get North Innovation Trail which will take you on an exciting journey across the city. Visit the fascinating spots where history was made, including Stephenson’s Quarter where Rocket was designed and built, it’s the perfect family day out and a wonderful way to inspire budding inventors.
Please note: It’s Rocket Science is a ticketed free event, which includes entry to the premium viewing area and exhibition. During the opening weekend (Friday 22 – Sunday 24 June) visitors must have a ticket to enter the museum. From Monday 25 June all visitors are welcome and will see Rocket, but only ticket holders will get premium access to see Stephenson’s Rocket up close!
21st Century Virtual Reality Meets 18th Century Innovation
We’ve come a long way since Stephenson’s heyday and as Great Exhibition of the North 2018 is as much about celebrating our present and future as it is our past, you can expect some high-tech and fully immersive experiences.
Northern Tech gurus Hedgehog Lab have come up with ‘The Rocket Reimagined’ which uses a mixture of virtual and augmented reality to give us a memorable experience of the original Rocket, how cool is that? Once we don the rather snazzy VR headset, we will become the train driver of Rocket as it speeds through history to the rallying sound of William Tell’s classic. I can’t wait to hop on board. Not only that! We’ll be able to download our very own Rocket to our smart phones and tablets via the wonders of augmented reality.
Not Just the Sights but the Sounds Too
Great Exhibition of the North brings together art, design and innovation so as you can imagine, there’s some quirky and surprising events planned. If you’re in the centre of Newcastle at 1pm any day during the Exhibition from 22 June – 9 September, listen out for an evocative soundscape of steam engine whistles echoing around the edge of the city and created by Durham-based artist Steve Messam. The unmistakable sound is sure to give you goose-bumps.
The High-Speed Transport of Tomorrow
Another event that I’m excited to experience is ‘Horse to Hyper-loop: The Evolution of Design’ that is going to take place at Cooper’s Studios throughout the Exhibition. This lovingly restored 19th Century building on Westgate Road is one of the UK’s last surviving horse and carriage repositories and provides a fascinating link to our history of travel. Our imaginations will be forced in to the future though as the venue becomes a place where visitors can delve into the world of 21st Century technology and design. You can have a go at designing a carriage for Northern Arc, the revolutionary Hyperloop travel system that could propel us between Newcastle and Manchester in just 20 minutes. That would mean I could pop to my mum’s house for tea whenever I wanted!
If you fancy becoming an architect for the day, there’s also the chance to try out an interactive wall and create a 3D model to take home and show off to your friends; it’s all free to enjoy too.
Virgin Trains will be launching a fleet of state-of-the-art Azuma trains into service later this year which will provide, faster, more frequent and super swish services between London and Newcastle. The revolutionary new trains are being manufactured in the North East by Hitachi Rail, yet more proof that the North continues to be a hub of innovation, making exciting developments in the world of design and technology.
Come and help us celebrate this by experiencing the Great Exhibition of the North in all its glory!