Joseph Locke (1805-60)

From the website of the Bluebell Railway (Uckfield, East Sussex):

“Most historians recognise the work of three engineers as being the men who developed the railways from slow, lumbering colliery lines into fast, inter-city routes. Two are very well known: Robert Stephenson and Isambard Kingdom Brunel. The third was Joseph Locke, who should be recognised for having made a contribution just as great as that of the other two.

The Locke family had been colliery managers and overseers for many generations and Joseph, once he had completed his very rudimentary education at Barnsley Grammar School at the age of thirteen, seemed set to follow in their footsteps. However, at the age of nineteen he was taken on as an apprentice by an old friend of his father, George Stephenson, and sent to the new locomotive works at Newcastle. His enthusiasm and willingness to learn soon brought promotion, and he became a highly valued assistant engineer on the prestigious Liverpool & Manchester Railway.

During his time there he wrote a pamphlet with Robert Stephenson, arguing the case for steam locomotives and had the embarrassing task of having to correct calculations for a tunnel being built under the direct supervision of George Stephenson. After its opening, he moved on to work on the Grand Junction Railway, at the start working alongside Stephenson rather than as his assistant. But before long, they had quarrelled and the directors handed the whole works over to Locke’s control.

It was the turning point of his life. Locke was to continue as chief engineer on some of the most important lines in Britain, and his reputation grew to the point where he was also in demand for work in mainland Europe, building major routes in France, the Netherlands and Spain. He became a wealthy man, purchasing the manor of Honiton in Devon and sat in Parliament as the Liberal member for that constituency. He received many honours during his lifetime and died while on holiday at Scotland in 1860 at the age of fifty-five.

From Wikipedia:

“Locke and Robert Stephenson had been good friends at the beginning of their careers, but their friendship had been marred by Locke’s falling out with Robert’s father. It seems that Robert felt loyalty to his father required that he should take his side. It is significant that after the death of George Stephenson in August 1848, the friendship of the two men was revived. When Robert Stephenson died in October 1859, Joseph Locke was a pallbearer at his funeral. Locke is reported to have referred to Robert as ‘the friend of my youth, the companion of my ripening years, and a competitor in the race of life’. Locke was also on friendly terms with his other engineering rival, Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

In 1845, Locke and Stephenson were both called to give evidence before two committees. In April a House of Commons Select Committee was investigating the atmospheric railway system proposed by Brunel. Brunel and Vignoles spoke in support of the system, whilst Locke and Stephenson spoke against it. The latter two were to be proved right in the long run. In August the two gave evidence before the Gauge Commissioners who were trying to arrive at a standard gauge for the whole country. Brunel spoke in favour of the 7 ft gauge he was using on the Great Western Railway. Locke and Stephenson spoke in favour of the 4 ft 8½in gauge that they had used on several lines. The latter two won the day and their gauge was adopted as the standard.”

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