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Rail pioneer rediscovered.

Byline: By Tony Henderson

A couple are to stage a Euro-steam train pilgrimage in honour of a rail pioneer ancestor they uncovered during family tree research.

Teacher Janet Hedderly, whose family come from Consett in County Durham, came across her forebear John Steel.

John was involved in the earliest years of work on the first railway engines but has been largely forgotten. He lost his life in an explosion in Lyon in France in 1827 and now Janet and her husband Mike have chartered a veteran French steam engine to haul a train there to commemorate him.

Mike, 63, who was born in Corbridge and grew up in Whitley Bay, now lives with Janet, 58, in Hampshire where he is rail officer for a council.

He spent 28 years working as a British Rail executive and helped launch the Venice Simplon Orient Express.

He said: "We feel that John Steel is something of an unsung hero and deserves more credit than he has been given."

Janet began researching after her father told her as a child that a member of their family had helped build Britain's first railway engine.

She came across a 1958 strip cartoon in the Children's Newspaper which had a caption under a drawing saying: "Trevithick was helped by a faithful one-legged workman named John Steel."

She discovered he was born in 1781 at Colliery Dykes, then a mining village in the Derwent Valley.

At a young age John lost a leg in a waggonway accident. But his skill was spotted by Richard Trevithick, and the young man was taken on to help build a tramway engine in South Wales.

He then set up an engineering factory in France and was commissioned to supply an engine for the first steam-powered vessel on the River Rhone.

The ship's maiden voyage was scheduled to take place as part of a festival in Lyon in March, 1827, but the vessel blew up, killing John.

The eight-day steam train trip in his honour will leave Paris on September 16, hauled by an 83-year old French locomotive and a set of restored 1930s carriages for Lyon and on to Marseilles before returning to Paris.

At Lyon, the couple will take a river trip to the spot where John died.
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Article Details
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:Aug 2, 2005
Words:377
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