The second of Zak Newton’s Stockton murals (we’ve already covered the first) is his Locomotion No. 1 work, which is located in the Bishop Street car park near Green Dragon Yard. Completed in 2006, the mural depicts the world’s first passenger railway engine in 1825, along with two of the most famous men connected with the town: ‘Father of the Railways’ George Stephenson and the inventor of the friction match, John Walker. The mural was conceived by Newton, who was assisted by local artist Allison Bentley, and its location was particularly apt as the car park is just a few metres away from the original terminus of the Stockton to Darlington Railway.
“What we do today will change the world”
Some of Zak Newton’s meticulous plans for the mural.
Photos from the Zak Newton collection at Teesside Archives (courtesy of Helen Reeder)
In terms of how the mural came about, there are many similarities with Newton’s previous George & Dragon mural in Green Dragon Yard. Both works reflect Zak’s detailed research and planning (as evidenced by the wealth of material we’ve worked with Teesside Archives to digitise), but they also reflect the artist’s tenacious, opportunistic nature, as Reuben Kench – former Head of Culture & Leisure for the town – discussed in a recent interview:
“At some point Zak became aware of who I was and the fact that I worked for the council, and thereafter would take every opportunity to grab me in the street or come in and see me in the office and pitch his new idea. There was never a formal moment in which anyone invited him to do so and the timing of them was random really, depending on how often I bumped into him or how passionate he was about a particular idea…All too often the limiting factor was not whether or not I was willing to support him but whether he had a building owner who was willing to let him do it.
“All of Zak’s ideas had a root in social history. It’s not surprising that he would, at some point, pitch an idea that celebrated that story for which the town is arguably best known: the origins of passenger railways.
“Zak came to me with a proposal for the depiction of Locomotion No. 1, an accurate rendition in elevation. It was already well worked. It had a delightful combination of solid, accurate draftsmanship and scale representation of the locomotion, his usual style of depiction of the characters – John Walker holding his friction match aloft with his Gladstone case illustrating his role as a chemist and with Stephenson standing on Locomotion No. 1 – and that story that he was imagining that they might have met and congratulated one another and the phrase on the wall above, “What we do today will change the world” was complete in his mind at the point of making the proposal.“
Equally important was the inclusion of the large “No.1” graphic, with the large numbers behind the images giving the mural a more up-to-date feel, with Kench noting that Zak, “had a great instinctive eye for design and composition, a great graphic artist, and clearly a keen historian.“
While painting the mural, Zak was assisted by artist Allison Bentley, who can be seen painting in several of the photographs in the Zak Newton portfolio (and who we’re keen to interview if anyone knows her).
Zak Newton and Allison Bentley painting the mural.
Photo from the Zak Newton collection at Teesside Archives (courtesy of Helen Reeder)
The Mural’s Future
As the most prominent memorial to two of Stockton’s finest, the work has become well-loved in the town. However – as with all outdoor murals – time has taken a toll on Zak’s work. With the 200th anniversary of the Loco’s first journey approaching in 2025, talks are in progress about how the artwork can be renewed for future generations. We’ll keep you updated on any developments.
And yes, you wonderful train enthusiasts out there: the Timothy Hackworth wheels on the mural were a later addition to the Loco and were not part of the 1825 original. I have to put that in to avert angry letters pouring into the postbox at NES HQ.
Huge thanks to Helen Reeder for donating Zak’s portfolio to us and Teesside Archives. To John Newton and Reuben Kench for agreeing to be interviewed. Also to Lara Moon at the archives for jumping on board with this so enthusiastically, and our own Grace Redpath for her archiving and digitisation skills. We’ll be covering Zak’s final Stockton work (the West Row Mural) soon, along with some other articles about his life and work coming over the next year.