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Rastrick, John Urpeth (1780–1856), civil engineer, was born at Morpeth, Northumberland, on 26 January 1780, the eldest son of John Rastrick, engineer, mill wright, and pump and patent churn maker. At the age of fifteen he was apprenticed to his father, but about 1801 he entered the Ketley ironworks in Shropshire to gain experience in the use of cast iron for machinery. He remained there for approximately seven years before joining in partnership with John Hazeldine of Bridgnorth, to establish a mechanical engineering business. Rastrick took special charge of the iron foundry. During the partnership he continued to practise independently as a civil engineer. In 1814 he took out a patent for a steam engine (no. 3799), and soon engaged in experiments on traction for railways. In 1815–16 he built a cast-iron bridge, with 112 foot span, over the Wye at Chepstow. On the death of Hazeldine, about 1817, Rastrick became the managing partner in the firm of Bradley, Foster, Rastrick & Co., ironfounders and manufacturers of machinery at Stourbridge, Worcestershire. Rastrick himself took the principal engineering part in the design and construction of rolling mills, steam engines, and other large works. At this time he designed ironworks at Chillington, near Wolverhampton, and at Shut End, near Stourbridge.

In January 1825 Rastrick was sufficiently well known as an engineer to be engaged by the promoters of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, along with George Stephenson and others, to visit collieries in the north of England, and report on their tramroads, and engines both locomotive and stationary. In the following April he was the first witness called before the parliamentary committee in support of the railway company, which was opposed by the canal companies. From that time onwards Rastrick was employed to support, in parliament, a large portion of the principal railway lines in the United Kingdom. In 1826 and 1827 he constructed a line about 16 miles long between Stratford upon Avon and Moreton in Marsh, the first line laid with Birkenshaw's patent wrought-iron rails. On 2 June 1829 he completed and opened the Shutt End Colliery Railway from Kingswinford to the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal, working it with a locomotive engine built under his own superintendence. This engine had three flues in the boiler, and, in economy, speed, and accuracy of workmanship, excelled any engine previously made.

Rastrick, as a manufacturer of locomotive engines himself (the most notable being the Stourbridge Lion shipped to New York in August 1829), played an important part in stimulating uncertainty among the directors of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway as to their choice of motive power. Until the late 1820s steam locomotives had been employed on short colliery lines, except for the Stockton and Darlington Railway, which opened in 1825. That company had experienced substantial problems with locomotive traction, and although they had been largely resolved by 1829, they were sufficient to give pause for thought on the part of a railway, which envisaged substantial light freight traffic. In November 1828, therefore, the Liverpool and Manchester directors commissioned Rastrick and his fellow engineer, James Walker of Limehouse, to assess the respective merits and capabilities of ‘Fixed Engines and Locomotive Engines’. As part of their brief Rastrick and Walker inspected several operational railways, principally in the north-east of England, paying particular attention to the reliability and efficiency of the differing modes of traction. Their recommendations, submitted to the Liverpool and Manchester directors on 9 March 1829, proved to be inconclusive, both in respect of cost and efficiency. While the capital cost of installing a fixed engine system was relatively high compared with locomotive haulage, running costs would be lower. Steam locomotives may have been the subject of recent design improvements, which held out the prospect of greater efficiency in operation, but the existing technology of fixed engines would ensure safer and more reliable working of the line. Confronted by these qualifications, and prompted by those board members favourably disposed towards locomotives, the directors decided to offer a premium of £500 ‘for a Locomotive Engine, which shall be a decided improvement on those now in use, as respects the consumption of smoke, increased speed, adequate power, and moderate weight’ (Carlson, 214). The resulting Rainhill trials were held early in October 1829. Rastrick was appointed as one of the judges, and on 6 October he and his colleagues decided in favour of George Stephenson's Rocket.

In 1830 Rastrick worked with Stephenson in surveying the line from Birmingham to join the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, afterwards called the Grand Junction. He also marked out a line from Manchester to Crewe, thereby paving the way for the Manchester and Cheshire Junction Railway project, which was brought forward in 1835, with Rastrick as the engineer. This line was opposed by a competing project called the South Union Railway, but after two years of parliamentary inquiry, the act was obtained for the original line. With Sir John Rennie, in 1837, Rastrick carried the direct Brighton line against several competing projects. Towards the close of that year he was appointed superintendent of the line, with responsibility for the Shoreham branch, and also for the heavy works, comprising the Merstham, Balcombe, and Clayton tunnels, and the Ouse Viaduct of thirty-seven arches at an elevation of 100 feet. These works were completed by the autumn of 1840. Rastrick later constructed extensions, which eventually were to form the series of lines known as the London, Brighton, and South Coast Railway.

Possessing a very resolute character, Rastrick was always a shrewd and cool witness before parliamentary committees. He was a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers from 1827, and a fellow of the Royal Society from 1837. With James Walker he published in 1829 Report on the Comparative Merits of Locomotive and Fixed Engines as a Moving Power. He retired from active work in 1847, and died at his residence, Sayes Court, near Chertsey, Surrey, on 1 November 1856; he was buried in the new cemetery at Brighton. Nothing is known about his wife, but a son, Henry, died at Woking on 1 November 1893.

G. C. Boase, rev. M. W. Kirby


C. F. D. Marshall, A history of railway locomotives down to the end of the year 1830 (1953) · R. E. Carlson, The Liverpool and Manchester railway project, 1821–1823 (1969) · L. T. C. Rolt, George and Robert Stephenson: the railway revolution (1960) · PICE, 16 (1856–7), 128–33 · d. cert.


LUL, corresp., diaries, notebooks, and papers · Shrops. RRC, Bridgnorth diary · UCL |  Glamorgan RO, Cardiff, letters to Dowlais Iron Co. · LUL, letters of Stourbridge Iron Works · TNA: PRO, volume of drawings