I had been greatly interested by the descriptions in the newspapers of the locomotive competition at Rainhill, near Liverpool. I was, therefore, exceedingly anxious to see Stephenson's "Rocket," the engine that had won the prize. Taking with me letters of introduction from Mr. Maudslay to persons of influence at Liverpool, I left London for the north on the afternoon of Saturday the 9th of September 1830. I took my place on the outside of the Liverpool coach, which set out from "The Swan with Two Necks," in Lad Lane, City, one of the most celebrated coach-offices in those days
The first part of the journey to Liverpool was very dismal. The night was wet. The rain came pouring down, and no sort of wrappings could keep it out. The outside passengers became thoroughly soaked. On we went, however, as fast as four horses could carry us. Next morning we reached Coventry, when the clouds cleared away, and the sun at last burst forth. I could now enjoy this charming part of old England. Although I had only a hasty glimpse in passing of the quaint streets and ancient buildings of the town I was perfectly delighted with the specimens of ancient domestic architecture which I saw. At that time Coventry was quite a museum of that interesting class of buildings. The greater part of them have since been swept away in the so-called improvement of modern builders, none of whose works can ever so attract an artistic eye.
During the rest of the day the journey was delightful. Though the inside passengers had had the best of it during the night, the outside passengers had the best of it now. To go scampering across the country on the top of the coach, passing old villages, gentlemen's parks, under old trees, along hedges tinged with autumn tints, up hill and down dale, sometimes getting off the coach to lighten the load, and walking along through the fields by a short cut to meet it farther on; all this was most enjoyable. It gave me a new interest in the happier aspects of English scenery, and of rural and domestic life in the pretty old-fashioned farm buildings that we passed on our way. Indeed, there was everything to delight the eye of the lover of the picturesque during the course of that bright autumnal day.
The coach reached Liverpool on Sunday night. I took up my quarters at a commercial inn in Dale Street, where I found every comfort which I desired at moderate charges. Next morning, without loss of time, I made my way to the then terminus of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway; and there, for the first time, I saw the famous "Rocket" The interest with which I beheld this distinguished and celebrated engine was much enhanced by seeing it make several short trial trips under the personal management of George Stephenson, who acted as engineman, while his son Robert acted as stoker. During their trips of four or five miles along the line the "Rocket" attained the speed of thirty miles an hour--a speed then thought almost incredible! It was to me a most memorable and interesting sight, especially to see the father and son so appropriately engaged in working the engine that was to effect so great a change in the communications of the civilised world. I spent the entire day in watching the trial trips, in examining the railway works, and such portions of of their details as I could obtain access to. About mid-day the "Rocket" was at rest for about an hour near where I stood; and I eagerly availed myself of the opportunity of making a careful sketch of the engine, which I still preserve.
The line was opened on the 15th of September, when the famous "Rocket" led the way in conducting the first train of passengers from Liverpool to Manchester. There were present on that occasion thousands of spectators, many of whom had come from distant parts of the kingdom to witness this greatest of all events in the history of railway locomotion.
During my stay in Liverpool I visited the vast range of magnificent docks which extend along the north bank of the Mersey, all of which were crowded with noble merchant ships, some taking in cargoes of British manufactures, and others discharging immense stores of cotton, sugar, tobacco, and foreign produce. The sight was most interesting, and gave me an impressive idea of the mighty functions of a manufacturing nation--energy and intelligence, working through machinery, increasing the value of raw materials and enabling them to be transported for use to all parts of the civilised world.
Mr. Maudslay having given me a letter of introduction to his old friend William Fawcett, head of the firm of Fawcett, Preston, and Company, engineers, I went over their factory. They were engaged in producing sugar mills for the West Indies, and also in manufacturing the steam-engines for working them. The firm had acquired great reputation for their workmanship; and their shops were crowded with excellent specimens of their skill. Everything was in good order; their assortment of machine tools was admirable. Mr. Fawcett, who accompanied me, was full in his praises of my master, whom he regarded as the greatest pioneer in the substitution of the unerring accuracy of machine tools for the often untrustworthy results of mere manual labour.
I cannot resist referring to the personal appearance and manner of this excellent gentleman, William Fawcett. His peculiar courteous manner, both in speech and action, reminded me of the "grand old Style" Which I had observed in some of my father's oldest noble employers, and the representations given of them by some of our best actors. There was also a dignified kindliness about his manner that was quite peculiar to himself; and when he conducted me through his busy workshops, the courtly yet kindly manner in which he addressed his various foremen and others, was especially cheering. When I first presented my letter of introduction from Henry Maudslay, he was sitting at a beautiful inlaid escritoire table with his letters arrayed before him in the most neat and perfect order. The writing table stood on a small Turkey carpet apart from the clerks' desks in the room, but so near to them that he could readily communicate with them. His neat old-fashioned style of dress quite harmonised with his advanced age, and the kindly yet dignified grace of his manner left a lasting impression on me as a most interesting specimen of "the fine old English gentleman, quite of the olden time."