The Stockon Flyer (Train Sculpture at Stockton-on-Tees)

The Stockton Flyer: Proof That Junk Can Become Art


The Stockton Flyer is an unusual mechanical sculpture that pays homage to the first steam locomotive ever to haul a train with passengers on a public railway. It was called Locomotion 1 and was commissioned by the Darlington and Stockton Railway in 1835.

The sculpture is housed in a square stone building on the High Street in Stockton-on-tees. The building acts as a plinth. Every day, at 1 pm, the top of the building opens and the Stockton Flyer gradually emerges amid puffs of steam. It’s a noisy display that involves bells, whistles, train-like chugging, and a harsh klaxon horn.

When it’s fully emerged, the Stockton Flyer sits atop its plinth and sets its wheels in motion. The whole display, from start to finish takes less than 15 minutes.

Stockton Council paid for the design and construction of the Stockton Flyer in September 2013. It was unveiled on June 12, 2016, as part of the community celebration for the Queen’s 90th Birthday.

The Stockton Flyer was designed by Rob Higgs and Keith Newstead. Higgs carried out the construction. His YouTube Channel has some videos that show him building the Stockton Flyer and explaining how it works.

Higgs describes himself as a “mechanical sculptor, automata maker and inventor.” He likes to build his creations from the junk he can find in farmyards, boatyards and scrapheaps. Once you know this it’s easier to understand why the Stockton Flyer looks the way it does.

Unfortunately, there were a few problems with the original design. Higgs and Newstead made a mistake and produced plans for a sculpture that looked more like Rocket.

Rocket was another early steam locomotive. Like Locomotion 1, Rocket was built by George Stevenson, but he built it a few years after Locomotion 1. Worse still, Rocket was never used on the Darlington and Stockton Railway so Higgs and Newstead made a pretty big goof. The Stockton Flyer was commissioned to celebrate Stockton’s railway heritage but Rocket ran on the Liverpool-to-Manchester track.

Needless to say, local train buffs spotted the flaw pretty quickly and Higgs and Newstead amended the design.

My Opinion of the Stockton Flyer

I find the klaxon horn irritating. Apart from that, I like the Stockton Flyer. It’s unusual and I love the fact that its made from junk.

Information Plaque about the Stockton Flyer
Information Plate on the Side of the Plinth

The strange thing is, I’ve walked past the building that houses the Stockton Flyer on several occasions. I never bothered to stop and read the plaque on the side though and was totally ignorant of what was inside.

Had I not been reading articles about things to do in Teesside, I would probably never have known the Stockton Flyer existed. I’m willing to bet a lot of people walk past the Plinth that houses the sculpture without giving it a second glance.

If you’ve never seen the Stockton Flyer in action, the next time you are in Stockton try to be in the high street for 1 pm. The display probably doesn’t warrant a special visit but, if you are going to be there anyway, it’s worth taking a look. Don’t forget to bring along some earplugs though. They may come in handy if the klaxon horn starts fraying your nerves.

Okay. That’s my opinion of The Stockton Flyer. If you’ve seen it and would like to share yours, please feel free to do so by using the comments section at the bottom of the page.

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