Alfred Rosling Bennett
Steamindex home page

John Marshall wrote the introduction to the reprint of The Chronicles of Boulton's Siding where he noted that since its appearance in the 1920s it has been highly valued by railway locomotive historians and in particular by those interested in the early history of industrial locomotives. Until the specially built locomotive for industrial use became a standard product of various private locomotive builders it was common practice for main line companies to dispose of their unwanted engines to private purchasers. Locomotive development in the 1840s and '50s advanced at such a pace that many locomotives were superseded by more advanced designs long before they were worn out. Mr I.W. Boulton established an engineering works at Ashton-under-Lyne close to the Oldham Ashton & Guide Bridge Railway, a joint Manchester Sheffield & Lincolnshire and LNWR branch, to which it was connected by the famous siding. There he made it his business to buy some of these unwanted main line engines and to adapt them for the use of contractors or small railway companies, and this book provides a valuable record of the many interesting types of  early locomotives which passed through his hands.

The author, Alfred Rosling Bennett, was born in Islington, London on 14 May 1850 (ODNB). After studying at Belle Vue Academy, Greenwich, he wanted to join the North London Railway at Bow to study locomotive engineering but was persuaded to accept an appointment with the Indian government telegraph department. After achieving distinction in connection with submarine and land line testing he returned in 1873 and four years later set up the first telephone line in England. Extensive experiments led to the invention of the caustic alkali and iron battery and also a telephone transformer, both of which he patented in 1881. He was responsible for much pioneering work in incandescent electric lighting in the early 1880s and after establishing a telephone system in Guernsey in 1895 he became engineer to the municipal telephone systems in Glasgow, Tunbridge Wells, Portsmouth, Brighton and Hull, all except the last later taken over by the Post Office. He never lost his interest in railways, and in 1890 he organised the railway annexe of the International Electrical & Engineering Exhibition in Edinburgh. He was vice-president of the Institution of Locomotive Engineers in 1911. Besides Boulton's Siding, Bennett published a book on the London & Greenwich Railway, The First Railway in London, also Historic Locomotives, London and Londoners in the 1850s and 60s, A Saga of Guernsey, The Telephone Systems of the Continent of Europe, and other books. He was a man of great sincerity and charm, with considerable artistic ability and remarkable energy. The Chronicles of Boulton's Siding was his last major work. On 24 May 1928 he died suddenly at Matlock, Derbyshire, and he is buried close by in Darley Dale. By the time he was working on this book, in the 1920s, railway electrification had made considerable progress, but the internal combustion engine for rail traction was still an experimental  curiosity. Yet Bennett foresaw, over forty years ahead, the demise of the steam locomotive, and in this sense the book has an astonishing historical perspective. His writing combines a lightness of touch, and a delightful sense of humour, with a great depth of technical understanding. We are astonished by the freedom with which privately owned engines travelled around on British railways, even piloting passenger trains in some instances, and by casual operating methods which can hardly be imagined today. We even read of someone travelling through Woodhead tunnel in a steam launch. Of particular interest are the two chapters dealing with the Metropolitan Railway, containing an account of the experimental 7ft gauge 2-4-0 known as 'Fowler's Ghost'. In contemplating its failure, though we may be puzzled by the apparent overlooking, on page 201, of the fact that the firebricks can be heated to a far higher temperature than water.

Bennett contributed a highly interesting commentary upon the Centenary of the Stockton & Darlington Railway exhibition for the Institution of Locomotive Engineers Journal 1925, 15,  page 501) which includes his attempt (with the assistance Professor A.C. Elliott and Sir Edward Reed) to preserve a broad gauge locomotive in the Science Museum: North Star or Lord of the Isles were not broken up until 1906. He also refered to the absence of the Sharp Roberts 2-2-2 "preserved" at Stafford Road Works (but the Editor noted that this had been cut up in 1920). He also commented on hearing "Mackintosh" of the Caledonian Railway taking some credit in about 1903 for having nearly obliterated the outside cylinder on his railway...

Rosling Bennett's obituary of Wilson Worsdell tells the reader very little about Wilson, but relates much about the Edinburgh International Exhibition and its railway exhibits: see Locomotive Mag., 1928, 34, 320

The chronicles of Boulton's siding: a new impression introduced by John Marshall and with an index added Newton Abbot: David & Charles,1971. [1927 - Locomotive Publishing Company].

Contents: Chapter I: Bury locomotives: Chapter II: Grand Junction Railway locomotive "Shark, No. 3": Chapter III: Original engine of the Great Central Railway "Python, No.1": Chapter IV: Engines built by Sharp, Roberts & Co.: Chapter V: Reputed locomotives of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway:  Chapter VI: Wolverton goods engines: Chapter VII: Locomotives from Cardiff and the Portland Breakwater: Chapter VIII: Geared engines: "Perseverance," "Little Grimsby," " Lilliputian ": Chapter IX: Geared engines continued: "Rattlesnake," No. 17," " Lion ": Chapter X: Geared engines continued: "Ashtonian," "Pugsy," "Chaplin," "Marshall": Chapter XI: Engines from the L.&N.W.R. and the Taff Vale Railway: Chapter XII: Engines from the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway: Chapter XIII: Engines by E. B. Wilson and Co. and Manning, Wardle and Co.: Chapter XIV: Engines by George England and Co.: Chapter XV: Locomotives by Hughes and Co., Loughborough: Chapter XVI: Locomotives with water-tube boilers: Chapter XVII: Broad gauge (7 feet) locomotives: Chapter XVIII: Broad gauge (7 feet) locomotives [continued]: "Fowler's Ghost": Chapter XIX: The "Ghost" materializes: Chapter XX: Miscellaneous Locomotives,"Eclipse,""Bristol," "Dot,"" Brymbo," "Brighton," "Lewin": Chapter XXI: Miscellaneous locomotives: [continued]; "Hercules No. 2," "Wotton," "Briton", "Cyclops," "Helena": Chapter XXII: Miscellaneous locomotives [continued]: Adams's Steam Carriage," Queen of the Forest,""Ant," "Neilson." Engines by John Harris, Darlington. Engine by Joicey, Newcastle-on-Tyne: Chapter XXIII: Miscellaneous locomotives [continued] "Ravenhead," "James" Smith of Coven's "No. 122."New Cross Engine. Bath Engines. Engine by John Fowler & Co., Leeds. Engine by Fox, Walker & Co. Fairlie Engine. "No. 44 "Fairy," '' Atlantic," ' Hawk,'' " No. 1129, Crewe Engine Unidentified. "Victory," "Exeter.": Chapter XXIV: Boulton's yard in 1869. Mr. I. W. Boulton's Diaries. Conclusion.

This book was founded on a series of articles contributed by the author to the Locomotive between November, 1920, and February, 1925. During publication many new facts came to light. These are now incorporated and the whole was carefully revised and re-arranged.

Amazingly (in view of what is excluded) Rosling Bennett is included in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography with a contribution written by Ronald M. Birse, revised by Brian Bowen (but one is tempted to wonder what is the standing of these biographer-hacks: neither of whom feature in Ottley)..

Historic locomotives and 'moving accidents' by steam and rail. London: Cassell & Co. 1906
Ottley 2839: reviewed Locomotive Mag., 1906, 12, 197. Now seen by KPJ at NRM. Ottley failed to include Twining as a joint author: this is a major injustice. Includes 10 coloured plates based on water colours by E.W. Twining. The cover of this book which is in landscape format and is pure Art Deco whilst the title page is Art Nouveau:

The first railway in London: being the story of the London and Greenwich Railway from 1832 to 1878. [London: Locomotive Magazine, 1912] reprinted Greenwich: Maritime Press, 1971. Bound into 1913 Volume of Locomotive Magazine at NRM which includes colour plate of F. Moore painting of Sharp Roberts 2-2-2 No. 13 and table listing all locomotives

London and Londoners in the eighteen-fifties and sixties. Alfred Rosling Bennett. Fisher Unwin.
Reviewed Locomotive Mag., 1924, 30. 395