Lion's story

'Lion' railway locomotive, one of the highlights of The Great Port gallery at the Musuem of Liverpool, is known to many people as the star of the film 'The Titfield Thunderbolt'. Find out more about Lion's incredible story in these videos.

The history of 'Lion' locomotive

An interview with curator of land transport, Sharon Brown. 

Read a transcript of this interview with Sharon Brown.

Lion takes centre stage

Rail enthusiasts John Hawley and Jan Ford talk about their involvement with Lion locomotive.

Read a transcript of this interview with John Hawley and Jan Ford.


Interview with Sharon Brown

Hello. I'm Sharon Brown. I'm the curator of transport and industrial collections at the Museum of Liverpool and I'm the content co-ordinator for the Great Port and the Liverpool Overhead Railway galleries.

One of the centre points of the Great Post gallery is Lion locomotive, that we can see here today. It's a very important locomotive, its got a fascinating and has many fans not just in the UK but around the world.

Lion was made my Todd Kitson and Laird in Leeds for the Liverpool Manchester railway. The railway had opened in 1830 and had proved really successful, so they needed more engines to work on the railway. Lion was made along with her sister engine called Tiger. But the most amazing thing about Lion is that she still survives today and has had a long and very interesting history.

She ran on the Liverpool Manchester railway from 1838 until about 1857 and she was taken off her duties as a luggage engine. She was sold to Mersey Docks and Harbour Board in 1859 for £400 and they used her as a stationary pumping engine at Prince's Dock. She worked there well into the 1920s. We have evidence that people knew it was Lion and knew how important she was in about 1923. People had been looking around the dock and discovered this old engine and realised what exactly it was.

But it wasn't until about 1927 when members of the Liverpool Engineering Society thought 'we can rescue Lion and we've got the perfect event coming up to showcase her'. Because in 1930 it was the centenary of the Liverpool Manchester railway and there was a great big event planned.

She was taken away to Crewe Railway works and she was restored. The works was funded by the LMS railway. She came back to Liverpool to star in the Liverpool Manchester railway centenary celebrations. These took place at Wavertree playground. Lion pulled an old time train around a circular track and was literally one of the star attractions, proved incredibly popular. Also in the celebrations was the Pageant of Transport that took place every day and involved a cast of thousands re-enacting various events from the history of transport over the years. There's a fascinating catalogue that goes with it which is also on display in the Great Port gallery.

In 1931 after the centenary celebrations Lion was put on display at Lime Street station. Again proved a great draw to people travelling through the railway. Stayed there for about ten years until during the Second World War she was removed to safety.

In the meantime she'd taken up her film career. She starred in 1937 in 'Victoria the Great'. It was only a bit part but she was to go on to bigger and better roles. In 1951 she was part of the film 'Lady with the Lamp' about Florence Nightingale but most importantly in 1952 she starred in the 'Titfield Thunderbolt'. It was the first Ealing comedy to be filmed in Technicolour and opened up Lion to an audience of film fans around the world.

Lion was used in the film and then came back to Liverpool again, went out steaming to various events over the years and it was about 1967 when Liverpool City Museum approached British Railways, interested in Lion. The museum was opening a new transport gallery, so Lion did come on loan to the transport gallery and was then eventually gifted to the museum.

So she's been in our care for quite a number of years. During that time she took part in the 150th anniversary celebrations of the Liverpool Manchester railway in 1980 and again was a fantastic draw, pulling replica coaches along the track by Rainhill. She went out again to various events, steaming around the country and was proved very popular.

In the 1980s the decision was taken by the trustees of the museum not to take Lion out any more. They were concerned that too many parts were being replaced and that the originality of Lion was being lost, so she was preserved in our transport gallery.

She has been on loan to Manchester Museum of Science and Industry for about eight years while the new Museum of Liverpool was being built, again proved very popular but came back to have lots of conservation work to be put into fantastic condition to go on display in the Great Port gallery.

Lion was conserved in the workshops of National Museums Liverpool. As you can see, they've done a fantastic job of Lion. They spent a number of years cleaning, painting, restoring, a dedicated team. The final product was ready to be moved into the Museum of Liverpool. So she was brought here on the back of a wagon, lots of people turned out on the day to see her trundling down the road. It was a fantastic sight, a beautiful sunny day and everyone was delighted that Lion was the first object to come in into position in the Great Port gallery.

Back to the video interview with curator Sharon Brown.

Interview with John Hawley and Jan Ford

John: My name is John Hawley. I'm come here today with Jan Ford. We are both members of the Old Locomotive Committee, which is a group of people who are particularly interested in the Lion Locomotive.

Jan: Lion was the first locomotive I had the opportunity to drive but it certainly became a bit of a bug because subsequently I've driven well over 100 locomotives.

John: I've been an engineer for all my life. This is where I get my interest in steam locomotives in particular and for many, many years I wanted to build a model of a steam engine and a long time ago I thought Lion would be the job.

Jan: Although it's only a machine, it has far more of a personality than diesel locomotives. You put a fire in it, you boil water, locomotives make funny little fizzing noises, and dribble hot water over you.

John: I think when Lion was built, they obviously had a very good idea of what was required but they didn't have very much experience on how to build locomotives so a great deal of it I suspect was, 'Let's bash it a bit and see if it fits. If not, take it and bash it a bit more'.

Jan: Lion was built in 1838 by the short-lived partnership of Todd, Kitson and Laird. She lasted for about 21 years in service on the Liverpool and Manchester, which was a long time then. But she was a good engine so she was sold to Mersey Docks & Harbour Board.

John: And they used her as a pump for pumping out a dry dock, which is a radically different use for a steam locomotive to be doing a job like this.

Jan: When her duty came to an end because electric pumps were installed in the dock, there was no further use for Lion, and the doors of the engine house were locked and it's possibly only by chance that a member of the Liverpool Engineering Society said, ‘What's in there?' and discovered this incredibly old locomotive just quietly rusting away.

John: In 1927 the Liverpool Engineering Society decided that they would like to rescue Lion from this duty as being a pumping engine and perhaps put her back into service as a railway engine in time for the centenary celebrations for the Liverpool and Manchester Railway.

Jan: A large exhibition was held in Liverpool in Wavertree Park and locomotives were on display from all the then big four railways but I think pride of place went to Lion which had been restored back to working order by the London, Midland and Scottish Railway at Crewe. After the centenary celebrations, Lion went into a more sedentary phase. She was displayed on a plinth at Liverpool Lime Street station and still caused quite a stir for the commuters swarming past her.

John: The film 'Titfield Thunderbolt' was quite a feature of my life. It was great to see the engine going through the fields and under the bridges and so on of rural Somerset. That's what makes the film such a very interesting thing for people to see and then to see the actual engine in the museum and realise that she actually took part in this film.

Jan: 1980 was the 150th anniversary of the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester. The actual public display this time was a cavalcade of locomotives past stands at Rainhill and again many, many people attended this.

John: There are many who feel that Lion should be steamed again. The museum I know do not agree with this opinion and I tend to favour the fact that she should not steam again because she is a historical object.

Jan: There are many people who've never seen a steam locomotive and so the display of Lion in this gallery gives an opportunity for people to wonder at how railways started and eventually transformed the world, flying around at speeds that even George Stephenson would find incredible.

Back to the video 'Lion locomotive- interview with John Hawley and Jan Ford'.