Thompson, Benjamin


Thompson, Benjamin
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b. 11 April 1779 Eccleshall, Yorkshire, England
d. 19 April 1867 Gateshead, England
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English coal owner and railway engineer, inventor of reciprocal cable haulage.
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After being educated at Sheffield Grammar School, Thompson and his elder brother established Aberdare Iron Works, South Wales, where he gained experience in mine engineering from the coal-and ironstone-mines with which the works were connected. In 1811 he moved to the North of England as Managing Partner in Bewicke's Main Colliery, County Durham, which was replaced in 1814 by a new colliery at nearby Ouston. Coal from this was carried to the Tyne over the Pelew Main Wagonway, which included a 1,992 yd (1,821 m) section where horses had to haul loaded wagons between the top of one cable-worked incline and the foot of the next. Both inclines were worked by stationary steam engines, and by installing a rope with a record length of nearly 1 1/2 miles (2.4 km), in 1821 Thompson arranged for the engine of the upper incline to haul the loaded wagons along the intervening section also. To their rear was attached the rope from the engine of the lower incline, to be used in due course to haul the empties back again.
He subsequently installed this system of "reciprocal working" elsewhere, in particular in 1826 over five miles (8 km) of the Brunton \& Shields Railroad, a colliery line north of the Tyne, where trains were hauled at an average speed of 6 mph (10 km/h) including rope changes. This performance was better than that of contemporary locomotives. The directors of the Liverpool \& Manchester Railway, which was then being built, considered installing reciprocal cable haulage on their line, and then decided to stage a competition to establish whether an improved steam locomotive could do better still. This competition became the Rainhill Trials of 1829 and was decisively won by Rocket, which had been built for the purpose.
Thompson meanwhile had become prominent in the promotion of the Newcastle \& Carlisle Railway, which, when it received its Act in 1829, was the longest railway so far authorized in Britain.
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Bibliography
1821, British patent no. 4602 (reciprocal working).
1847, Inventions, Improvements and Practice of Benjamin Thompson, Newcastle upon Tyne: Lambert.
Further Reading
W.W.Tomlinson, 1914, The North Eastern Railway, Newcastle upon Tyne: Andrew Reid (includes a description of Thompson and his work).
R.Welford, 1895, Men of Mark twixt Tyne and Tweed, Vol. 3, 506–6.
C.R.Warn, 1976, Waggonways and Early Railways of Northumberland, Newcastle upon Tyne: Frank Graham.
——c. 1981, Rails between Wear \& Tyne, Newcastle upon Tyne: Frank Graham.
PJGR

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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