William West- The boy who held a candle for Trevithick

 

I thought long and hard on which event to start the story of William West with. After some deliberation it boiled down to one of two good tales; the bottle of gin, teacher, and roaring open fire, or the Candle story.  It was the candle story that won, so if you desire to know more about the fate of the gin soaked teacher of West’s very brief education, then skip to the bottom of this page.

Trevithick’s cottage now lies , white washed and pristine, in the care of the National Trust in the village of Penpond, south  west of Camborne.

In that cottagimage003e during the evenings of 1808 an eight year old boy would stand holding a candle. Each evening he had walked across the fields from his Father’s farm on Dolcoath mine to hold that candle. Each evening he stood beside the great stature of  Richard Trevithick as the light he held flickered over his drawings.

Those drawings would be transformed by a Bridgenorth Foundry into a machine that Trevithick knew would change the world.  Under the light of West’s candle he was evolving his compact high pressure steam engine into what seemed to him a obvious concept. Add wheels beneath one of his high pressure engines, add rails beneath the wheels, add carriages behind the engine, and then  sit passengers in carriages. So obvious, so simple, and yet it would have the power to change society for ever. All Richard Trevithick needed to do was  show the world the world’s first  passenger train and then the world’s first passenger railway would soon follow.  In those evenings at Penponds he was designing the Catch-Me-Who-Can locomotive, the engine that was destined to pull that first passenger train.

And so the young West played his very small part in the birth of passenger railways. Holding that candle, whist listing to Trevithick, and soaking up his enthusiasm. How he was given that amazing opportunity  history does not tell us, what the link was between the greatest of all Cornish engineers and a farmer on Dolcoath mine history also fails to tell. History has left many gaps in the tale of West and Trevithick’s candle, but we do know where the story went.

The Catch-Me-Who-Can fulfilled its task of pulling a passenger train. A train that went  around and  around a circular track at Euston , pulling those first fare paw6ying
passengers at shilling a ride. Although the engine was a  success, the track proved a failure, brittle and not fit for the task, it caused  frequent, and sometimes dramatic derailments. The general public understandably were not impressed, Trevithick’s technology demonstrator  did not achieve the engineer’s vision, and he walked away from railway development for ever.
The world had missed its chance, it would now have to wait until on  1830 before the first passenger railway was open, George Stephenson’s Liverpool and Manchester Railway.
That eight year old boy would through a mixture of chance, skills, and perseverance wpid-p8191096.jpgbecome an engineer. Just like Trevethick he would design steam engines, and just like Trevithick he would add his innovations to the engineering world, but unlike Trevithick he would build and run his own successful railway.  William West was the boy that held the candle for Richard Trevithick.
To learn about that Gin fueled incident then have a read of  one of these:
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2 thoughts on “William West- The boy who held a candle for Trevithick

  1. […] West held a candle for Trevithick has he designed his ‘Catch-Me-Who-Can’ locomotive […]

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  2. […] William West held a candle for Trevithick  […]

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