Taking Stock of Joseph Locke

Joseph Locke had lots of brains
He made a fortune from railway trains.

Sheffield born and Barnsley bred
Joseph Locke became, it’s said,
As famous as Stephenson or Watt
Or Isambard Kingdom Brunel, though not
Remembered these days half so well
As Barnsley yarners are quick to tell

Railway lines across the nation
Lines to every destination
Mighty locomotive power
Gathering momentum, hour by hour

Joseph Locke was no one’s fool
He went to Barnsley Grammar school
Where the Cooper Gallery stands today,
At just 14 he moved away
To Geordieland, apprentice-bound
At Pelaw Colliery, underground
His dad had worked at Gawber pit
As engineer, so he knew a bit,
The danger and hardship present always,
Firedamp, roof-falls, the primitive causeways,
Coal-tubs, corves, chock-full and spilling,
The heaviest labour, maiming and killing,
Little kids of seven and eight
Breaking their backs against the weight,
He saw it and heard it, loud and clear
Did that help to make him an engineer?

Mighty locomotive power
Gathering momentum, hour by hour
Railway lines across the nation
Lines to every destination

Locke experienced occasional knocks
But he pulled himself back up by the socks
He left in 1823
Before becoming a ‘celebrity’
First of all he made his mark
As George Stephenson’s chief clerk,
Leaving, it’s said, ‘cos he felt in his bones
He needed to break out, to go it alone
And he timed it right, as now we know.

Famous indeed, far and near,
The lauded, applauded railway engineer
Tunnels, embankments, elevations, bridges
In the continent’s main languages
Calculations, angles, curves,
Inclines, cuttings, testing the nerves
Of timid and dim, onward he pushes
And following after the whole world rushes.
He gave things shape, he made things move,
It could be done, as Locke would prove
Picture him studying, ruler in hand
Drawing and measuring, maps of the land
Strewn on his table, candlelight shines
As he covers his charts with parallel lines

Railway lines across the nation
Lines to every destination
Mighty locomotive power
Gathering momentum, hour by hour

Bringing together south and north
Rails of iron issuing forth
Bringing together east and west
Something the old could never have guessed
Bringing together north and south
Filling the wide open tunnel’s mouth
Bringing together west and east
Might the poor now eat at the rich man’s feast?
Moving out of the ancient grooves
Of Shanks’s pony, donkey hoofs,
A world as big as the parish was wide
Where folk never left, grew old and died
A hurtle on from shire-horse power
Water, mill-wheel, canal-barge power
The future would be driven by steam
Expanding, enlarging, all of our dreams.

Mighty locomotive power
Gathering momentum, hour by hour
Railway lines across the nation
Lines to every destination

The rest is history, engineered
By such as Locke and the course he steered
And yet his name is hardly known
Even in Barnsley amongst his own
So this bi-centenary year it’s time
To remember again, at least in rhyme,
At least for a moment, to take stock
Of the unsung achievements of Joseph Locke

Railway lines across the nation
Lines to every destination
Mighty locomotive power
Gathering momentum, hour by hour
Lines to every destination
Railway lines across the nation

Ray Hearne

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