In 1829 Rainhill, a hamlet on the turnpike road between Liverpool and Manchester was the scene of trials on the partially completed Liverpool and Manchester railway. The steam locomotive was at that time slow, crude and lumbering, and only capable of hauling freight at a jerky walking pace. It was considered by many to be totally unsuitable for a fast inter-city railway, cable haulage being the preferred alternative.

The Directors however decided to offer a prize for a new locomotive capable of hauling a considerable load at a speed of at least 10 miles per hour over a distance of 70 miles. The trials were held in October, and Stephenson's Rocket amazed the world by reaching speeds in excess of 30 miles per hour and fulfilling all the required conditions.