A Victorian Folk Art Find & Its Link To Britain's Most Important Railway Engineers

Favourite Finds


Happy Monday one and all!  It's that time again... Time for another instalment of 'Blog Post Monday'.

During my rounds this week I found a rather fascinating piece.  A piece that I was drawn to through my love of folk art and the mystery of what the imagery on the piece could possibly mean.  I'm pleased to say that after some thorough research, I've managed to get to the bottom of this mystery and it's quite a fascinating story.  In fact, it has a connection to Britain's most important railway engineers of the 19th century and I just had to tell you all about it!

So, as always, get that kettle on, mind the gap and have your tickets out ready for inspection, as we examine a link between my folk art find and a significant event in the history of British and European railway...  *All Aboard...!*


Image:  my 19th century folk art find


You all know by now how antique pieces surrounded in mystery and intrigue get my tingles going...  And, well, pieces with just about enough information on to enable me to start solving a mystery really do get my pulse racing...!  Well, this piece of folk art (pictured above) had everything going for it and so it came home with me.  I began piecing together the clues as soon as I returned home and what unravelled was something quite incredible...!


Image:  my 19th century folk art find


The first thing that struck me was the engraving of a train.  Now, having recently been to the Railway Museum in York, I thought I recognised this train...  I began racking my brain and then, Bingo, I remembered.  It looked very similar to the 'Stephenson's Rocket', I thought...  And, this is where my research began.


Image:  the 'Stephenson's' Rocket


Manufactured in 1829 by Robert Stephenson and Company at Newcastle’s Forth Street Works, Rocket won the famous Rainhill Trials the same year to become the fastest locomotive ever built up to that point.  It completed the trials at an average speed of 15 miles per hour.  It later made celebratory runs in front of the crowds at Rainhill that set a world speed record of 35 miles per hour, three times Rocket’s design speed.


Image:  Robert Stephenson


In his attempt to win the prize of £500 (worth approximately £50,000 today) the 25-year-old Robert Stephenson combined several innovations to improve efficiency and performance.  It's basic design was ground-breaking and paved the way for subsequent main-line steam locomotive design.  The Rocket secured its place in history.


Image:  my 19th century folk art find 


But, what was the significance of the date '1859' on my bottle, I thought...  Well, interestingly, the Rocket's creator, Robert Stephenson, died on 12th October 1859.  I was getting close, I thought...!  However, mystery still remained around the initials 'W.W.' that were engraved onto the bottle.  The initials were the most important clue and were where the answer to this mystery lay.  But, despite the locomotive looking like the 'Stephensons' Rocket' and the year of its creator, Robert Stephenson's, death matching the year on the bottle, the initials did not link in...


Image:  my folk 19th century folk art find


So, I began doing some digging to see if there was any link between the initials, 'W.W.', the 'Stephenson's Rocket' and the 'Stephensons' themselves, Robert and his father, George, who was known as the 'Father of Railways' for his earlier achievements.  And, this was when I struck gold...!

I discovered another important engineer of the time who just so happened to work with the Stephensons and whose initials matched those on the bottle.  A William Wilson...


Image:  William Wilson 


In 1835, British father and son engineers, George & Robert Stephenson, were contracted by the Bavarian Ludwig Railway Company to build an engine for their first railway to run from Nuremberg to Furth.  The Stephensons sent the new locomotive packed in boxes, and their engineer William Wilson was contracted to rebuild it there. The train was a huge success and Wilson stayed with the Ludwig railway company for another twenty-five years, driving the train in all weathers, until his retirement in 1859, at which time William was covered in glory by the German railway company.

So, we now had a name to match the initials (W.W.) on the bottle and an event of significance to match the year on the bottle (1859).


Image:  the Adler  


But what about the image of the train on the bottle...?  Was this the 'Stephenson's Rocket' or was it the 'Adler'...? 

Well, I did some more research into that too.  While the 'Stephenson’s Rocket' has only four wheels (see image earlier in the blog), the 'Adler' had six wheels.  The engraving on the bottle shows a locomotive with six wheels (wheel arrangement 2-2-2).


Image:  my 19th century folk art find


I am convinced therefore that this bottle was made to commemorate the achievements of British engineer, William Wilson, for his accomplishment in building and driving the 'Adler' in Germany for a total of 25 years, until his retirement in 1859.  This makes this piece of folk art a super piece of British railway history. 

Was the artist of this bottle connected to William Wilson in some way...?  Was this actually gifted to William Wilson...?  If so, it becomes an even more significant piece of British Railway history.  For this is an engineer who not only achieved great success and recognition himself, but was also employed and trusted by, and worked closely with, the British Railway greats, George and Robert Stephenson.

You'll be pleased to hear that this marvellous piece of folk art is currently available to buy HERE




Well, that's it for this week folks.  As always, let me know what you think in the comments section below.

Remember, if you enjoy my posts, please show your support by subscribing to my 'Source Social' membership, which you can do via the 'Home' page.  It's free and gives you a weekly blog post and a fortnightly YouTube video delivered directly to your inbox, as well as exclusive discounts and first dibs on new items before they are added to our website.

And, speaking of my YouTube channel, if you're into antiques and haven't seen any of my videos yet, you can find them HERE.  Head on over and subscribe to that too for your dose of finds, fairs, stories and reviews.

So, until next week, stay safe, keep buying those antiques and keep spreading that Source Vintage love!




Owner Source Vintage

Shop from Source Vintage HERE


Older Post Newer Post

Leave a comment