An archaeological survey carried out on a locomotive has revealed it is older than previously thought.
The report found that Billy – the star exhibit at the Stephenson Railway Museum in North Shields – was built in 1816 and not 1826, meaning it is the third oldest surviving locomotive in the world.
Billy was initially fabricated and assembled at Killingworth Colliery’s West Moor workshops under the supervision of George Stephenson.
The engine was used to haul wagons carrying coal from Killingworth Colliery to the River Tyne.
Although none of Billy’s surviving components can be traced back to 1816, it has features that, despite being later replacements, provide a clear footprint of the original – meaning it is the world’s oldest surviving standard gauge steam locomotive.
Billy has always been regarded as a treasure, it is the only one of those oldest three on display in the North East.
Geoff Woodward, museum manager North Tyneside, Tyne and Wear Archives & Museum, said: “The findings of this latest research is great news not only for North Tyneside and the region, but also for its significance world-wide.
“It is always very exciting to actually come face to face with an early train, especially one of the pioneering locomotives we all know from illustrations in books. As a locomotive, Billy’s value in historical terms has been increased, not just because it’s the world’s third oldest, but because it feels like we have George Stephenson’s signature on it.”
“Everyone has heard of Rocket – now everyone is going to hear about Billy too.”
Billy is being showcased in two Great Exhibition of the North programmes: the Inspired By programme which celebrates great art, culture, design and innovation; and A History of the North in 100 Objects, an online project showcasing the pioneering spirit and impact of the North.
There are plans afoot for an initial redisplay of Billy in time for the summer holidays, involving reinterpretation and improved lighting, with longer term plans for moving the locomotive to a more prominent location within Stephenson Railway Museum.