Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

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Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 150,706 pages of information and 235,205 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

John Urpeth Rastrick

From Graces Guide

John Urpeth Rastrick (1780-1856) of Hazledine and Rastrick was one of the first English steam locomotive builders.

1780 January 26th. Born at Buller's Green, Morpeth, Northumberland, the fourth child and eldest son of John Rastrick and his wife Mary Urpeth.

He attended local public schools. (Some reports say that he was sent away to school in Yorkshire)

1785 Apprenticed at age 15 to his father

1795 He was apprenticed in his father's engineering practice.

1802 He was hired by the Ketley Iron Works in Shropshire.

c.1807 After five years at Ketley, Rastrick partnered with John Hazledine, in Bridgnorth, Shropshire to trade as Hazledine and Rastrick‎.

1810 December 24th. Married at Codsall, Staffordshire, to Sarah Jervis. Their children were:-

  • 1811 April 10th. Birth of son John Rastrick (1811-1853)
  • 1813 June 2nd. Birth of daughter Sarah (1816-1848)
  • 1818 January 30th. Birth of daughter Mary (1818-1889)
  • 1818 January 30th. Birth of son Henry Rastrick (1818-1893) - Architect
  • c1820 Birth of son Frederick James Rastrick (1820-1897) - Architect
  • 1821 June 10th. Birth of son George Rastrick (1823-1896) - Barrister

While at Bridgnorth, Rastrick helped Richard Trevithick develop his ideas for the high pressure steam engine and locomotive, and later he was to testify in a parliamentary enquiry that he had built the locomotive that had been demonstrated in London in 1812. He also produced much equipment for Trevithick's abortive South American adventure.

1814 April 1st. Rastrick was awarded UK patent number 3,799 for his steam engine design. Rastrick oversaw the construction of the Chepstow Bridge, which opened in 1816. The partnership between Rastrick and Hazledine was a troubled one, ending in a dispute in 1817.

1815 John Urpeth Rastrick mentioned as a civil engineer of Chepstow in connection with a horse stolen from him at Chepstow Bridge.[1]

1817 His part of the partnership with R. Hazledine, T. Davies and A. Brodie of the Iron Foundry, Bridgnorth was dissolved [2].

1819 He worked independently for a short period, but in 1819 he formed a partnership with James Foster, to expand John Bradley and Co's involvement in machinery production as Bradley, Foster, Rastrick and Co. He moved his family to Stourbridge. Rastrick became the managing partner in the firm.[3] with works built alongside the Stourbridge Iron Works. The new company manufactured an extensive range of products including blast furnaces, and rolling mills, wrought iron rails, 'bearers' (beams) for some of the famous buildings of the age, etc., including the first steam locomotives for the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company in 1829.

At some point the business became Foster, Rastrick and Co

1825 Rastrick was commissioned with James Walker to report on the economics of using either rope haulage or locomotives on the new Liverpool and Manchester Railway. After extensive travels to view the early railways of the age their report favoured rope haulage on economic grounds! They did however include the rider that there were some benefits to locomotive haulage not least their probable technical improvement. Given such a marginal judgement the directors of the company decided to hold a competition to test the locomotives on offer.

1827 John U. Rastrick, Civil Engineer, Stourbridge, became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.[4]

1829 Rastrick was one of three judges at the Rainhill Trials which proved the benefits of Stephenson's Rocket locomotive. Rastrick's diaries and notebook of the trial are valuable records of the performance of locomotives of that era.

1830 June 6th. Death of his wife Sarah at Stourbridge.[5]

1831 Rastrick left the Foster, Rastrick and Company partnership to become an independent civil engineer.[6]

He worked on numerous railway project of the period and in 1837 worked with John Rennie to obtain parliamentary approval for the London and Brighton Railway. [7]

He then became consultant engineer, overseeing the railway's construction.

He also constructed a number of adjoining railways to the London and Brighton Railway which were eventually amalgamated into the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway.

1845 'Mr. Rastrick's Bridge Design, approved by the Lords of the Admiralty, for the railway transit over the Arun, at Littlehampton, will be a light and elegant structure, adapted for only one line of rails, and will be doubtless of ample strength. Its construction is to be chiefly of wood, on piers of piles driven into the bed of the river, the moving portion working horizontally in the line of the rails upon friction rollers, to form a sixty-feet opening ; and to make room for this a corresponding length of the line of rails next to the bridge will be worked by similar means to the north side of the line. A kind of chain-suspension support, from each end and on each side of the moveable portion of the bridge, will pass over a beautiful Roman arch in the centre, with frieze and cornice, at an elevation of about thirty-five feet, producing a fine effect by a river or perspective view ; but on approaching, the width being only about 14 feet, the effect will be much less commanding. There is no bridge in the kingdom with a sixty-feet moveable opening. The Arundel station will be very near to this bridge. The Arun railway bridge, the principal work of the Chichester and Brighton Railway, will be forthwith commenced. The contractors of this line have undertaken to complete their works in nine months from the time of taking possession.'[8]

Rastrick retired from active life in 1847, moving to Chertsey in Surrey.

1851 Living at Sayes Court House, Liberty Lane, Chertsey: John Urpeth Rastrick (age 71 born Morpeth), Civil Engineer retired from the profession, and Farmer of 70 acres employing 4 labourers. With his sons George Rastrick (age 29 born Stourbridge), Barrister in Practice, and Frederick James Rastrick (age 31 born West Bromwich), Architect. Also his adopted daughter Jane Rowland (age 31 born Newton, Montgomeryshire). Plus six servants. [9]

1856 November 1st. He died as his home at Sayes Court, Addlestone.[10]

Buried at Brighton, Extra-Mural Cemetery.

The Rastricks - Civil Engineers

A Paper Read before The Newcomen Society by H. W. Dickinson and Arthur Lee - Taken from The Engineer Journal of 1924/03/07.

"The family originated in what is now the parish and township of Rastrick - mentioned as Rastric in the Domesday Survey of 1083- in the West Riding of Yorkshire. There there lived from 1651 to 1729 a certain John Rastrick, who in the troublous times of the Revolution of 1688 he came impoverished and migrated to Morpeth in Northumberland. His son William (1695- 1725) was a millwright at, Morpeth and his grandson John (1738-1826) followed the same occupation. It is with him that our story opens, for he was a man of considerable ability. He was the inventor of the "Imperial barrell churn," which was the earliest churn of any kind to be patented. The credit of having invented the thrashing machine, usually attributed to Andrew Meikle, was claimed by Rastrick, among others. It is not the place here to go into the early history of the machine. The genesis of Meikle's invention is stated to have been a model which was sent to him by Sir Francis Kinloch of Gilmerton, Bart, who had based his model on a machine he had seen erected by a Mr. Smart in 1772 at Wark, near Morpeth... " More

1857 Obituary [11]

John Urpeth Rastrick was born at Morpeth, in the county of Northumberland, on the 26th day of January, 1780.

He was the eldest son of Mr. John Rastrick, who was an engineer and machinist of great ingenuity, principally employed in the construction of weirs, mills, and bridges, on the mountain streams of the neighbourhood. He claimed the invention of the tread-wheel for prisons, and it is possible, that he may have designed a similar machine, before it was introduced by Mr. (now Sir William) Cubitt, to whom the invention is with strict justice ascribed.

At the age of fifteen, young Rastrick was articled to his Father. At this period he was remarked among his associates, for the possession of great energy of purpose, untiring perseverance, clearness of intellect, and sound mechanical and mathematical knowledge.

At about the age of twenty-one he went southward, to gain experience as a machinist and millwright, particularly in the introduction of cast iron for machinery then almost in its infancy. He remained for some time at the Ketley Iron Works, in Shropshire, and soon after entered into partnership with John Hazledine, of Bridgnorth, as a mechanical engineer, taking special charge of the iron foundry.

During this partnership, Mr. Rastrick continued to practise, on his own account, as a Civil Engineer, and in the years 1815 and 1816, he built the cast-iron bridge over the river Wye, at Chepstow, which was opened on the 24th July, 1816. The centre arch of this bridge had a span of 112 feet, and a versed sine of 13 feet; the arches on each side of the centre arch were 70 feet span and 10 feet 9 inches rise; and the two side arches had each a span of 34 feet, with a versed sine of 7 feet 3 inches. Economical considerations necessitated the we of part of the foundations of a former bridge, which somewhat interfered with the general symmetry of the appearance of the new bridge; and the immense rise of tide, (48 feet,) and its great rapidity, rendered it a work of no ordinary class. The extreme lightness of the cast-iron work of this bridge, and its general details, are remarkable, and rival those of works of more recent construction. Several smaller bridges were also cast and erected in Shropshire under his direction.

On the death of Mr. Hazledine, about the year 1817, Mr. Rastrick became the managing partner in the firm of Bradley, Foster, Rastrick and Co, iron-founders and manufacturers of machinery, at Stourbridge, Worcestershire, taking the principal engineering part in the design and construction of rolling-mills, steam-engines, and other large works.

At this time he designed and executed many extensive iron works in the Midland Counties, particularly those at Chillington, near Wolverhampton, and at Shut End, near Stourbridge. He was also consulted as to the alteration and extension of many works in Wales.

In January, 1825, Mr. Rastrick was engaged by the promoters of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, along with George Stephenson, Mr. Sylvester, Mr. Brunton, Philip Taylor, Mr. W. (now Sir W.) Cubitt, James Walker, Nicholas Wood and others, to visit the different collieries in the North of England, with a view of experimenting and reporting upon the tram-roads, and engines at work upon them. For this purpose a series of experiments was made with the locomotive engines on the colliery tramways at Killingworth and Hetton.

In the following April, when the Bill for the Liverpool and Manchester Railway was before Parliament, he was the first engineering witness called by the Company, in support of their case, which, it will be remembered, was most vehemently opposed by the Canal Companies. On that occasion he stated, that, ten, or twelve years previously, he had made a locomotive engine, for Mr. Trevithick, to run upon a circular railway, but that it was quite capable of being applied on an ordinary railroad; also, that two years before, in 1823, he had seen one at work at the Middleton Colliery, near Leeds, which had a cog wheel, working into a rack rail, at the side, on Blenkinsop’s system.

The evidence he gave, to show the powers, advantages, and safety of the locomotive engine, contributed materially to the ultimate successful issue of that remarkable case. The clear and scientific character of his evidence firmly established his professional reputation, and from that time he was employed to design, or to support in Parliament, a large proportion of the principal lines of railway in the United Kingdom.

In the years 1826 and 1827, he constructed a line of railway, about sixteen miles in length, between Stratford-on-Avon and Moreton in the Marsh. This line is believed to have been the first that was laid with wrought-iron rails, manufactured under the patent of Mr. Birkenshaw, of the Bedlington Ironworks, in Northumberland. Horse power only was used, which is the case to this day.

In 1828-29, he constructed the Shut End Colliery Railway, from Kingswinford to the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal, a distance of three miles and an eighth. This line was opened on the 2nd of June, 1829, with a locomotive engine, built under Mr. Rastrick's superintendence. This engine had two, or three flues in the boiler, and, in economy, speed, and accuracy of workmanship, equalled, if it did not excel, any engine that had been hitherto produced. He also constructed one of the very early locomotives sent from this country to the United States.

When the Liverpool and Manchester Railway was approaching completion, the Directors had to take into consideration the power to be employed upon it, and they soon arrived at the conviction, that horse power was totally inapplicable. The real question was thus reduced to the relative merits and capabilities of fixed and locomotive engines, both of which systems were in use at the time.

To determine this point Mr. Rastrick and James Walker were requested to proceed to Darlington, and the neighbourhood of Newcastle, to inspect the different railways in those districts, and to ascertain, by a thorough investigation into the power of the engines, the cost of working them, and their actual performance, the comparative merits of the two descriptions of moving power. They made separate reports, but both agreed in the opinion, that the locomotive engine, as then known, was not equal to the stationary system, which they recommended the Directors to adopt.

As, however, some of the Directors had a feeling in favour of the locomotive, in April, 1829, a premium of £500 was offered for the best locomotive engine, subject to certain conditions and stipulations. The 6th of October of the same year was fixed upon for the trial, and the judges appointed were Mr. Rastrick, with Mr. N. Wood and Mr. Kennedy. The reward, as is well known, was in favour of the 'Rocket,' constructed by Mr. Stephenson, in which were first combined Mr. H. Booth's multi-tubular boiler, with the exhausting action of the blast-pipe.

Subsequently, Mr. Rastrick, in conjunction with Mr. Hartley, made experiments on three descriptions of carriages, with a view of ascertaining their comparative amount of friction with outside bearings.

About this time he constructed the short branch of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, from Kenyon to Leigh.

In the year 1830, he was engaged with the late Mr. George the power of the locomotive engine, is given in the " Mechanics' Magazine," Stephenson, in surveying and determining the course of the line from Birmingham to join the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, afterwards called the Grand Junction, and in selecting a line from Manchester to Crewe.

In all the different applications made to Parliament for these lines, Mr. Rastrick was generally associated with Messrs. Stephenson and Locke, until, in 1833, they together succeeded, in carrying the Acts for their respective portions, after a lengthened contest with the Canal Companies and the landowners. Mr. Rastrick was always consistent in laying down, and advocating, a line of railway direct as circumstances and the nature of a district would admit. In the time of this particular railway, he took no part in the application made to Parliament in the following year, to vary the line, by which the cost was somewhat diminished, by increasing the length.

In the year 1835, the Manchester and Cheshire Junction Railway was brought forward, and Mr. Rastrick was appointed Engineer. This line was opposed by a competing project, called the South Union Railway, which led to one of the longest and most expensive contests then on record. After two years of parliamentary inquiry, the Act was obtained for the original line, with those which have since been made in conjunction, under the names of the North Staffordshire, and the Trent Valley Railways.

As the advocate of direct railway communication, Mr. Rastrick's aid was sought, in 1836, by the promoters of the direct Brighton line; and co-operating with Sir John Rennie, they together succeeded in carrying that line, against several conflicting projects, in the session of 1837.

Towards the close of that year, the active superintendence of the line, including a branch to Shoreham, was confided to him; and the numerous heavy works, comprising the Merstham Tunnel, Balcombe Tunnel, and Clayton Tunnel, and the Ouse Viaduct, near Cuckfield, consisting of thirty-seven arches, and crossing the river at an elevation of 100 feet, were completed by the autumn of 1840.

Shortly afterwards he constructed extension lines to Lewes and Hastings, on which the Brighton viaduct is situated, and from Shoreham to Portsmouth, on which, perhaps, the most remarkable work is the drawbridge over the river Arun; also a series of branch lines to Horsham, Newhaven, East Grinstead, Epsom, and other aces, which together now form the series of lines known as the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway.

The other principal railways executed by Mr. Rastrick, were the Kingswinford, the Bolton and Preston, the original Gravesend and Rochester, (a single line along the towing-path of the canal,) and the Ambergate, Nottingham, and Boston, and Eastern Junction line, from the Midland Railway at Colwich to Grantham.

Among the many projects with which he was connected during his long professional career, but which, from various causes, were not carried out, though the surveys were made, and deposited for application to Parliament, a few of the more important may be named:-

In 1835, a railway from Stourbridge, by Dudley, to Birmingham.

In 1838, a ship canal from Lewes to Newhaven; a railway from the London and Brighton Railway, at London Bridge, to Westminster Bridge, called the South Metropolitan; and the West Cumberland Railway, from Lancaster, crossing the Morecambe Bay and Duddon Sands, by Whitehaven, to the Maryport and Carlisle Railway at Maryport.

In 1839, a railway from Manchester to Derby.

In 1840, railways from Stockport to Macclesfield, and from Leek to Stoke-upon-Trent, and the Birmingham and Stourbridge Junction Canal.

In 1841, the East Anglian Railway, from Bishops Stortford, by Cambridge, Newmarket, Mildenhall, and Thetford, to Norwich and Yarmouth.

In 1842, a railway from the Brighton Railway, at Croydon, to the South-Western Railway, at Vauxhall.

And in 1845-6 the direct London and Manchester Railway.

The Lynn and Ely, and Lynn and East Dereham, Railways (now called the East Anglian), were surveyed under Mr. Rastrick’s direction, and the Act of Parliament for these lines was passed whilst he was the Engineer. After the Acts were obtained, he was appointed Consulting Engineer, but shortly afterwards J. S. Valentine (M.Inst.C.E.) was appointed to carry out the works, which were executed under his sole direction.

As a witness Mr. Rastrick always displayed the greatest shrewdness, as well as coolness, and no amount of cross-examination would induce him to give a hasty, or unconsidered answer. When the Bill for the Liverpool and Manchester Railway was before Parliament, the late Mr. Baron Alderson, then the leading counsel, had baffled many of the railway witnesses, by cross-examination, on the effect that locomotive engines would produce on horses on the public roads. This was before the multi-tubular boiler was introduced, and it had been admitted, that the chimney might sometimes become red hot.

Similar questions were addressed to Mr. Rastrick, and were thus answered, in a manner to set at rest that style of examination.

Q. 'Is not this tube (meaning the chimney) sometimes red hot?' - A. Yes.

Q. 'Would not that frighten a horse?' - A. I do not think it would, for how is a horse to know it was red hot.

Q. 'Then you think if they were to put a red-hot poker to a horse’s nose he could not know whether it was red hot or not?' - A. If it was put so near as to burn him, he would be frightened at it; but if you were to take a thing painted red, and another red hot, he would not know the difference.

Mr. Rastrick possessed great vigour and strong determination of character; opposition and difficulties only roused him to greater efforts. He was a man of unremitting application, and he has been known to devote whole nights, as well as days, to the careful consideration of the details of his works, with an energy and minuteness that would have worn out many of his juniors, upon whom his example produced excellent effect, and he was always regarded by his principal assistants with feelings of the highest regard and respect.

He joined the Institution as a Member in the year 1827, and was also a Fellow of the Royal Society, and a Member of the Society of Arts.

He retired from the active duties of the profession about the end of the year 1847, and died on the 1st day of November, 1856, at his residence, Sayes Court, near Chertsey, Surrey, in the 77th year of his age, and was buried in the new cemetery at Brighton.

Although old age had enfeebled his bodily frame, yet he evinced, even up to the last moment of his existence, the same indomitable energy and clearness of intellect, for which he had always been so remarkable.

Obituary 1856[12]

"...has departed from amongst us - another knight of the round table of which George Stephenson was the King Arthur. A stout man and a strong, with a will and a purpose, and a brain of one of the old Northern race; born on the sea coast with the Danish burr in the throat, and going to his work of physical improvement as a Viking to win a promised land. Amidst strife and struggle with Lords and Commons and rival engineers, he won and made the direct line to Brighton, that has given the South Coast as a suburb..."


  • 1808 June. Birth of son Joseph Rastrick. Joseph emigrated to New Zealand and founded a line of builders, engineers and architects. This appears to be recorded in Bradford and John's trade is as a clothier so probably not the same family.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. Hereford Journal - Wednesday 12 April 1815
  2. The Morning Chronicle, Monday, June 30, 1817
  3. 1857 Obituary of John Urpeth Rastrick, Institution of Civil Engineers Minutes of the Proceedings
  4. 1827 Institution of Civil Engineers
  5. Birmingham Gazette - Monday 14 June 1830
  6. Birmingham Gazette - Monday 18 July 1831
  7. The Times, Wednesday, Nov 1, 1837
  8. Hampshire Advertiser - Saturday 11 January 1845
  9. 1851 Census
  10. The Times, Tuesday, Nov 04, 1856
  11. 1857 Institution of Civil Engineers: Obituaries
  12. The Engineer 1856/11/14, p627