Trevithick Day

Trevithick Day


In memory of Cornwall's famous engineer


The streets are thronged with happy people but the day at the end of April belongs to the monsters. They awoke early that morning. Now they breath, they snort and they smeech. Occasionally they growl and hiss. Often they join in a cacophony of shrieking whistles as they call to each other along the length of Trelowarren Street. They smell of hot metal as they lumber slowly along, gently clanking, grunting and shuddering. It's the day when strong men weep and small children run for cover behind their mothers' skirts. It's the day of steam, it's fun, it's festival, it's... Trevithick Day in Camborne.

The achievements of Camborne's most famous son in pioneering the steam road vehicle has been well-documented in the pages of Old Glory (a periodical devoted to steam vehicles). Richard Trevithick's name is revered in his home town,

A statue of the Cornish Giant, holding a model of his first road locomotive, stands outside the hundred-year-old public library, facing the steep hill which leads to the nearby village of Beacon; the very same hill which that first road locomotive is reputed to have ascended on Christmas Eve 1801. A plaque mounted in the wall in Tehidy Road marks the likely spot where the engine is thought to have started its historic journey. There is a further commemorative plaque at Pool, almost directly adjacent to Cornwall's last working mine, South Crofty, marking his birthplace. The cottage has long since disappeared but a later dwelling at Penponds, where he moved with his family as a small boy, still exists in the care of the National Trust.

Twice this century there have been parades through the town in honour of Cap'n Dick, as he had been locally referred to. On Christmas Eve 1901 eight traction engines were taken away from their daily tasks to participate in a leisurely trundle through the streets on the occasion of the centenary of the journey of his first locomotive. It was a wet day, just as it was said to have been back in 1801, on the first journey, but the streets were packed with spectators. The parade, headed by Camborne Town Band, began close to the site where Trevithick (and his partner Andrew Vivian) built the 1801 Locomotive. It included a traction engine bearing the company name of Hosken, Trevithick and Polkinhorn, a firm of millers in which Richard Trevithick's grandson was a director. Men carried banners proclaiming "Trevithick and Vivian, Inventors of the Locomotive". It was quite some time before the next parade, which took place well into the preservation era, on Easter Saturday 1971, the occasion of the Bicentenary of Trevithick's birth.

The parade was initiated by the Trevithick Society who, together with the West of England Steam Engine Society, assembled no fewer than 24 engines. Camborne Town band again led the proceedings and the weather was perfect. At the time it was remarked that this had been the best show the population of Camborne had ever been treated to! These two parades apart, no regular event had ever been established to honour the great man. It had often been a talking point by one local group or another but nothing ever materialised, until 1982. Local businessman, Trevor Dalley and his wife Val, decided that it was about time the town did something about changing the situation. Together with a nucleus of like minded business colleagues, they formed a committee, with Trevor as chairman, to discuss the possibilities of staging a special day and to decide what such an event should encompass. It was decided to make the occasion a day which would be of interest to just about everyone. The occasion would be known as 'Camborne Trevithick Day' and would take place on the last Saturday in April 1983.

No one in the community really knew what to expect. It had been publicised that the main thoroughfare through the town would be closed to traffic throughout the day, that attractions would include a street market, various entertainers, exhibitions, fairground organs and, of course, steam engines. What no one was prepared for, the organisers included, was the level of public support. The weather for this first event was ideal and by 10.00 a.m. an estimated 20,000 people had thronged the streets. It was indeed a day for everyone. Where motor vehicles normally passed through Trelowarren Street, the town's thoroughfare, around 100 market stalls had been assembled down one side. Around every corner there were street entertainers, choirs gave recitals on chapel steps, exhibitions in various halls pertaining to local industrial heritage, a model display in the church hall and a children's fun fair in the local car park. Shop windows were decorated in black and gold, the colours of Cornwall, and flags waved in the breeze overhead. At 10.15 am the church bells rang out and this heralded the start of the children's dance through the streets. Headed by the town band, the various schools had bedecked their pupils in costumes resembling the attire worn by the miners and bal maidens who worked in the area during Trevithick's lifetime. The activities continued throughout the day. At 2.30 pm, what was to become the highlight of the event took place. The town band struck up a specially composed 'Trevithick Day March', based loosely on the local traditional tune, 'Going Up Camborne Hill'.

The music heralded the parade of steam engines. There were only three of them on this first occasion but what an impression they made on the assembled townsfolk. The parade commenced from Basset Street, next to the town library, where the statue of Cap'n Dick stands. As the first engine passed by, it saluted the great man with a blast on its whistle. It was not a pre-arranged gesture but it set the pattern, as the driver of every engine which trundled past thereafter similarly tugged on the whistle cord. The people assembled nearby responded by applauding. The town band followed the engines and behind them a group of dancers, bedecked in black and gold. The parade through the streets took about three quarters of an hour and, at the end of it all, those assembled again broke into spontaneous applause.The day had been an unqualified success and it has become an annual event, growing in stature all the while and, although it has taken on additional members in order to delegate the various responsibilities of organisation, the committee still remains quite small and are as enthusiastic now as when they started. The highlight is always the afternoon parade and at least a dozen steam engines are now to be found annually shaking the streets of the town on the last Saturday in April.

It has taken a long time to establish this event in Trevithick's name. No doubt he would appreciate the efforts made by a few in order that his achievements maybe remembered by so many.

The Tenth Anniversary event in 1993 saw the largest assembly of steam engines ever to have been witnessed within the town boundaries. No fewer than 50 engines were on parade before a crowd estimated as being in excess of 40,000. Exhibits, which in previous years had been predominantly local, came from many parts of the country and represented every class of steam locomotive. As they paid homage to the 'Cornish Giant', no doubt he smiled down from on high in approval!

Camborne       Richard Trevithick       Cornwall's Railways