You may have heard of Robert Stephenson (1803–1859), a man frequently referred to as ‘the greatest engineer of the 19th century’, but did you know that one of his most famous creations was built exclusively for use in the Canterbury District.

If you haven’t guessed already, this marvel of engineering was Invicta, the world’s very first steam-powered passenger service.

As the only son of George Stephenson, the “Father of Railways”, it was almost inevitable Robert would follow in his father’s footsteps. And follow he did, first with the Rocket, a multi-tubular boiler locomotive now housed in London’s Transport Museum, and then with Invicta, named after the motto on the Flag of Kent, meaning undefeated.

Built in 1829 for £635 by Robert Stephenson and Company in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Invicta was made to work the Canterbury and Whitstable Railway (also known as the ‘Crab and Winkle line’). When the line opened on 3 May 1830 it would become the first railway in the world to operate a regular steam-powered passenger service.

Running on a hilly landscape, Invicta struggled to cope with even the flattest section of the line out of Whitstable. Therefore, in 1835 modifications were carried out to try and improve efficiency; however when they proved unsuccessful the locomotive was withdrawn from service and put into storage. Attempts at restoration began in 1892 and by 1906 Invicta was on display in Canterbury’s Dane John Gardens. It wasn’t until 1977 that a full restoration was undertaken, with help from the Transport Trust and the York Railway Circle.

Invicta returned to Canterbury in time for the 150th anniversary of the Canterbury & Whitstable Railway on 3 May 1980.  As one of Britain’s railway icons Invicta has become a highlight for many people visiting the museum.

Stephenson’s Invicta is on loan from the Transport Trust.

Period Victorian
Location Newcastle, England
Material Various, predominately iron, wood
Find me in Stephenson’s ‘Invicta’ Steam Engine Room, Canterbury Heritage Museum

DID YOU KNOW? The first driver of the Invicta was actually a man named Edward Fletcher, who delivered Invicta by ship to Whitstable Harbour from the Stephenson Works in Newcastle. Fletcher supervised the trial runs and was the driver on the Opening Day. After 7 years he returned north where he later become Locomotive Superintendent with the North Eastern Railway.