Hackworth’s Sans Pareil Locomotive

Sans Pareil was an 0-4-0 built by Timothy Hackworth at the So-Ho Works at Shildon for entry into the Rainhill Trials. The locomotive was similar to the locomotives built by Hackworth at Wylam Colliery.

Sans Pareil, French phrase meaning “fearless” or “without equal”, this was Timothy Hackworth’s vision for his locomotive, and the future of locomotive traction. Sans Pareil was constructed to participate in the Rainhill Trials to determine which manufacturer would receive the contract to supply the Liverpool and Manchester Railway(L&MR) with locomotives. The L&MR, the world’s first inter-city railway, was the center of much controversy as to whether locomotive traction or stationary engines and cables would power the railway. However, many believed that locomotive traction was far superior to stationary engines. The controversy, championed by the Stephensons, strongly encouraged the use of steam locomotive traction for the Liverpool and Manchester, thus, the railway’s directors assembled a competition at Rainhill to determine whether steam traction would be feasible.

Hackworth’s Sans Pareil

An 0-4-0 design, the Sans Pareil was constructed by Timothy Hackworth, a trailblazer in early locomotive design. Hackworth began experimenting with steam traction at Wylam colliery, where he was employed. He and William Hedley constructed both Puffing Billy and Wylam Dilly, which operated on the short five mile Wylam plate way. Hackworth, similar to the Stephensons, experimenting with locomotive design at their respective collieries, hauling loaded coal chauldrons toward the canal.

When the Stockton & Darlington Railway was opened in 1825, Hackworth was appointed first locomotive superintendent for the railway, as it was the first commercial railway in the world to employ locomotive traction. Hackworth was based at the So-Ho Locomotive Works at Shildon, where locomotives were built and repaired. Hackworth was known to be an influential figure at the works, as many of the railway’s directors valued his input in various pioneering locomotive designs.

Hackworth, one of the greatest engineers of the 19th century, employed what he learned at Wylam into the facility at Shildon. Prior to Sans Pareil, he built the colossal 0-6-0 Royal George for the Stockton and Darlington Railway, which was considered the first locomotive capable of daily service. Prior to Shildon, Hackworth was employed at Robert Stephenson and Company while Robert traveled to South America. While working with the Stephensons, it is believed Hackworth was influential in the construction of Locomotion No.1, the world’s first steam locomotive to operate on a public railway.

When Hackworth learned of the Rainhill Trials, he was determined to enter a locomotive into the competition. Hackworth began constructing Sans Pareil in the shops at Shildon. Because Hackworth was employed with the Stockton & Darlington, he could only work on Sans Pareil at night, a daunting task of which he approached confidently. In fact, prior to shipping the locomotive to Rainhill, it was only tested once at night.

When the trials took place in October of 1829, unfortunately for Hackworth, his locomotive was overweight, however, the judges allowed him to demonstrate the locomotive’s capabilities. The locomotive performed well, however, a cracked cylinder ended the locomotive’s time at the trials. Despite this shortcoming, the locomotive was purchased by the Liverpool and Manchester for £350, and was later sold to the Bolton and Leigh railway, where it remained in service until 1844.

The cracked cylinder stirred much controversy among supporters of Hackworth, as the cylinders used in the locomotive were cast by his rival, and winners of the trials, the Stephensons. At the point where the cylinder cracked, the width of the cylinder wall was just 5/8 inches wide, compared to the 1 3/4 in. walls of the remainder of the cylinder. It has proven unlikely that the Stephensons purposely constructed a faulty cylinder, as Hackworth had twenty cylinders cast, and chose the two he deemed most adequate.


The Sans Pareil had a 0-4-0 wheel design, which was considered antiquated during this time. The locomotive’s vertical cylinders proved difficult for passengers service, causing the locomotive to be unbalanced at high speeds. The locomotive utilized a return flue boiler, as opposed to Rocket’s fire tube boiler. The return flue boiler had both the firebox and smoke stack at the same end. This type of boiler has a U- shaped flue that sent the smoke to the rear of the boiler and out through the stack. Similar to previous Hackworth designs, the locomotive had a strong blast from the blast pipe, which expelled a majority of un-burnt coke fuel out through the smoke stack. This proved another shortfall of the locomotive, as it drastically reduced fuel economy.

Date Built1829
Whyte Configuration0-4-0
Driver Diameter54 in.
Weight4.32 tons

Dimensions: 7 in x 18 in


In honor of the 150th anniversary of the Rainhill trials, a replica of Sans Pareil was constructed by British Rail apprentices at the Shildon Works, in the very shed the original was constructed. Upon completion, the locomotive trundled from the shed for testing, along with a relative of Hackworth on the footplate. The locomotive, although antiquated in the modern era, fascinated many with its vertical cylinders and vintage design. The locomotive resides at Shildon Locomotion Museum, which is directly affiliated with the National Railway Museum in York. The locomotive is occasionally operational, and takes spectators on short journeys, allowing them to experience what rail travel was like in the early nineteenth century.

Legacy and Preservation

Sans Pareil will be remembered as one of the last locomotives equipped with vertical cylinders, as many after the trials adopted Stephenson’s Rocket design. Although subsequent locomotives failed to adopt Sans Pareil’s antiquated design, Hackworth is known to have had a direct influence on many of the Stephenson’s works while employed at the Fourth Street Shops in Newcastle.

Although Sans Pareil failed to claim victory in the trials, it proved popular among supporters of Hackworth and other early locomotive pioneers. After the locomotive was removed from railway service in 1844, it became a stationary engine at the Coppull colliery until it was duly retired in 1863, and restored by industrialist, John Hick. The restored locomotive was donated to the Patent Museum in London, and was later moved to Locomotion at Shildon, where it is on display with its replica.



Lifelong Rail Enthusiast and Owner of Worldwide Rails

Recent Posts