Friday, 31 May 2013

Redruth's Transport Heritage: Murdoch Day Celebrates!

The rugged Cornish town of Redruth has strong links with transport history, through engineer William Murdoch and his extraordinary horseless carriage. 

A Scot born in 1754, William was employed by the steam-engine manufacturer Boulton and Watt; during 1779 he travelled to Redruth to work for them. The engines were used to pump water from the area’s mines. In his spare time, William experimented with various inventions and ideas of his own; in 1784 he designed a revolutionary road carriage moved not by the usual horse power of the day, but steam.

William’s vehicle was a three-wheeler, its engine and boiler set over the two rear wheels and the smaller front wheel steered using a long wooden tiller. He built his carriage in model form, running it around the floor of his sitting-room. William carried on with his transport experiments until he married and had twins, when we may suppose his free time became less. But he continued to investigate technology, developing a working gas-light system; decades later, most towns were lit by gas.

These days William’s old Redruth house has been restored and is used by various local groups. Today too you can see the glorious Murdoch Flyer, a full-size working steam carriage based on William’s old model. Created by members of Redruth’s Murdoch Flyer Project, work on the vehicle began in 2003; a first public showing followed three years later.

In steam the Flyer’s truly impressive, the orange glow from its fire-box surmounted by hissing, clanking machinery, an astonishing mix of metal and wood combining with the warm odours of burning coal, oil and clouds of damp vapour. If you miss the working engine’s appearances there’s a full-size static model to admire on the town’s Tolgus roundabout.

Each year William Murdoch’s association and work is commemorated. On Murdoch Day, Redruth’s streets are packed with entertainment and things to do, while the Murdoch Flyer has appeared several times.

This year’s celebration falls on Saturday 15th June. Events will include the children's dance and art procession, all-day live music and entertainment, more than 50 street stalls, an old-time fair and loads of other activities. Locally-themed exhibitions will be held at William’s house,

Nick Thomas is Day Manager for Redruth Community Radio, the not-for-profit online station run by local people for the town and its surrounding villages, which has recently secured a 5-year FM licence. “Murdoch Day works because it’s tried and tested, and has a broad appeal reaching out to all ages. We have market stalls going right through the centre of town and masses of people turn up, visitors as well as locals. The children’s procession is a fantastic show; seeing the kids enjoying themselves is a pleasure for everyone.”

As Nick explains, it’s also a matter of civic pride. “The day’s a celebration of all that’s best about Redruth; our heritage and tradition, as well as people working together to ensure a great time. Whether it’s enjoying the music, browsing our stalls or visiting the exhibitions, Murdoch Day’s become a Redruth institution and everyone looks forward to it.”

Redruth’s big day kicks off at 10.00am, Saturday 15th June. Everything’s free; get along!

To check out Redruth Community Radio, including information on Murdoch Day, go to

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