According to Marshall Nicholas Wood was born on 24 April 1795 at Ryton (County Durham) and died in London on 19 December 1865. He was a friend of George Stephenson from 1811, when he worked with him at Killingworth Colliery (and assisted with developing the safety lamp), Nicholas Wood remained a lifelong friend and in so doing made his own contribution to the success of the locomotive. It was he who devised the system of actuating the valves of Stephenson's Blucher with eccentrics attached to the axle; most subsequent valve gears, including the so-called Stephenson gear, were based on the use of eccentrics, although not on the simple slip eccentrics of Wood. He also carried out practical experiments on rolling resistance, lubrication, and laminated steel springs.
Ronald M. Birse in his Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry records that "as a result of his experience and observations" Wood published one of the first texts on steam railways, his Practical treatise on rail-roads and interior communication in general (1825): see Ottley 294 (the work ran into several editions). in which he discussed the various types of motive power then in use: self-acting planes, fixed steam-engine planes, horses, and locomotive steam engines. The work appeared in three subsequent editions, in 1831, 1832, and 1838, considerably enlarged and brought up to date. In 1827 Wood's reputation in railway matters was such that he was invited to give evidence before committees of both houses of parliament on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway Bill. In 1829 he was one of the three judges for the Rainhill locomotive trials on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, won by the Stephensons' Rocket. In 1845 he joined the battle of the gauges, taking sides with the Stephensons and the narrow-gauge lobby.
At long last KPJ has seen a copy of this work (1832 edition) in the British Library (just across the road from the United Kingdom branch terminal of the European high speed railway network). It is always interesting to inspect the original work upon which so many subsequent studies have been based and it is worth remembering that at the time the work was written some of the terminology was still in the process of being consolidated. Thus: the "rail-road" in the title is applied elsewhere, notably to the "Merthyr Tydvil Rail-road" where on page 126 (1832 edition) Trevithick tested his locomotive on rails. Before that a Trevithick and Vivian locomotive had been tested on the road. On page 127 the Blenkinsop Middleton Colliery sytem is described and a locomotive is shown on plate VI. Next in Wood's historical survey was the Trevithick single cylinder machine supplied to Blackett: it was never used as a locomotive, but was used to power a cupola. Wood dates the experimental use of the Chapman system, whereby the "locomotive" hauled itself along a chain, on the Heaton Rail-road to 1812. Another dead end was the Brunton locomotive propelled by legs: this is shown on Plate V.
The first locomotive at Wylam Colliery was a single-cylinder machine with a flywheel and Wood described it as being very troublesome. On 25 July 1814 (the precision of the date should be noted) George Stephenson introduced a two-cylinder. locomotive at Killingworth and this type was patented by Losh and Stephenson.
On page 309 Wood describes the tests which he arranged at Killingworth to observe on adhesion and locomotive haulage capacity. He observed that slipping was injurious both to the locomotives and to the track. He also observed that on some of the tests the track was covered in mud. On one stretch conveying loaded wagons there was an adverse gradient on 1 in 380 and on this Wood discovered that 12 loaded wagons weighing 48 tons could be hauled in conditions, and that this fell to nine wagons weighing 36 tons on bad days.
Table VII compared the coke consumption as expressed as per ton per
mile of several locomotivbes:
This book was written just when Stephenson and his associates were hoping to establish a monopoly in railway building, and they intended to 'censor' the book to ensure that it would not help possible rivals. Whether they did or not is uncertain, but the book contains no clear evidence that they did. Subsequently, Wood was one of the judges at the Rainhill Trials and was associated with early railway projects. He was one of those involved in assessing Brunel's broad gauge railway, but unfortunately he became involved with Dionysius Lardner who erected several ridiculous hypotheses. See Ottley 6021 and 6024 for reports to Great Western Railway Directors in 1838. See: L.T.C. Rolt, George and Robert Stephenson (1960).
J.B. Snell (Railways: mechanical engineering) noted that "first and foremost of the contemporary technical descriptions of early railways comes Nicholas Wood's Practical Treatise on Railroads (Ottley 294), of which the first edition was published in 1825; it sold well, and considerably revised and updated new editions were published in 1851 and 1858. It surveys the whole field in detail, especially concerning construction of track, locomotives, and rolling stock, with a great deal of data on research into friction, and on the practical performance of the various forms of mechanical and animal power on road, rail, and water. Subsequently some perhaps less well digested comparative statistics of financial results, based on early Liverpool & Manchester performance, were added. Wood's object was to lay the facts before a public which knew nothing of them, and this he does seriously and sensibly, and at some length. In 1846 R. Ritchie produced Railways, their Rise, Progress, and Construction (Ottley 4980), which was brought out by the same publishers and was in effect a fourth edition of Wood's book, condensing most of his original material and adding, perhaps less ably, some more recent information of a descriptive kind, including some reportage of accidents. Ottley failed to make this connection.
Birse makes it very clear that before his death Wood had become a man of considerable standing, being a partner in the Hetton Coal Company, contributed to mining safety legislation and was created a Fellow of the Royal Society..
Swan, E.W. Nicholas Wood's
MS. report books. Trans. Newcomen Soc., 1945, 25,
Ronald M. Birse has contributed an ODNB entry and George W. Carpenter one in the Oxford Companion
Portrait: Dendy-Marshall, C.F. The Rainhill Locomotive Trials of 1829. J. Instn Loco. Engrs., 1930, 20, 1086 (Fig. 17) (Paper No. 269)