Object of the month

February 2023

North Star Locomotive

This month we take a look at one of the iconic locomotives that is on display at STEAM, the Broad Gauge engine, North Star.  The locomotive at STEAM is actually a replica of the original 1837 engine that was sadly scrapped in 1906.  The original North Star was built by Robert Stephenson and Company and was destined for the New Orleans Railway in America.  However the order was cancelled and the GWR opted to buy the engine instead.  At this time the GWR was not yet building its own locomotives and was purchasing them from a variety of companies.  North Star was modified by the Stephenson Company to work on the GWR’s broad gauge line.

North Star on display in A Shop, Swindon Works in 1953


In May 1838 North Star was the first locomotive to run on the GWR line from Paddington to Maidenhead.  It hauled an inaugural train full of GWR directors and other dignitaries.  North Star was in operation until December 1870 when it was withdrawn from service.  Due to its importance it was preserved at Swindon Works for many years.  But eventually the engine was in the way and it was scrapped in 1906.

In 1925 celebrations were held to mark 100 years of the railways and the decision was taken to build a replica North Star.  The locomotive was built at Swindon Works to the exact 1837 specifications.  Although the engine was not built to be operational, it did include some parts from the original locomotive that were still lying around the Works.  The replica North Star took part in the centenary celebrations held at the Stockton and Darlington Railway.

North Star being unloaded from the SS Chicago City after its arrival in America for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Centenary celebrations in 1927.


Two years later North Star was shipped to America, along with the newly built locomotive No.6000 King George V, to take part in the Baltimore and Ohio’s centenary celebrations and showcase British engineering.  In 1935 North Star became a film star when it featured in the GWR Centenary Film, Romance of a Railway.  With its importance in GWR history cemented, North Star was elevated on a plinth to take pride of place in A Shop at Swindon Works, until it was finally preserved as part of the National Collection, and put on display in Swindon Railway Museum in 1962.

North Star featuring in the 1935 film Romance of a Railway


Today North Star is on display in the Building the Railway exhibition area at STEAM. On loan from the National Railway Museum.

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