David Joy (1825 - 1903)

Born: 1825 | Died: 1903 | Grave: C 066 | Category: Science | Tags: Engineer, Jenny Lind, Ships, Trains


A prolific inventor and engineer. He was involved in designing engines from a young age and he is credited with designing the famous Jenny Lind express railway locomotive. He is probably best known for his invention of the ‘Joy Valve Gear’ for steam locomotives – “the equipment that turns the power of the piston into the power that turns the wheels”.

Early engineering career

David Joy was born in 1825 in Leeds, one of five sons of Edward Joy, an oil mill owner. David showed a keen interest in machinery from his early days and made model ships and engines, including a charcoal-fired model locomotive which ran at the Leeds exhibition in 1838 when he was only thirteen. David wasn’t interested in working in his father’s mill and so, after leaving school in 1841 at age 16, he became an engineering apprentice at the firm of Fenton, Murray and Jackson in Leeds. When this firm closed in February 1843 he entered Shepherd and Todd’s Railway Foundry at Leeds, as a drawing office apprentice.

 Designing the Jenny Lind

In 1844 he became manager of the Shepherd and Todd’s drawing office, and it was in that capacity that he became closely associated with the development of the celebrated Jenny Lind type 2-2-2 express locomotive for the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway. History is not totally clear as to whether all of the credit for the design rests with David Joy, because there may well have been some collaboration with other engineers and designers. But nothing should detract from the fact that Jenny Lind was a very successful design of steam locomotive. Tested on the Midland Railway in the following year, one of these machines averaged 56mph for 65 miles. It ran so well as a prototype that around 70 identical locomotives were built for various railway companies in the years that followed.

Superintendent on the railways

David was appointed superintendent of the Nottingham and Grantham Railway in 1850, and in this role he gained a reputation for great ingenuity. He went on to become Locomotive Superintendent of the Oxford, Worcester & Wolverhampton Railway in 1853.

Other engineering achievements

He returned to the Railway Foundry in Leeds in 1856 where he was involved in the building of the ‘farm engine’ of Robert Willis, the forerunner of the tractor and road locomotive, and in 1857 he built a double expansion marine engine with innovative features. Subsequent years saw him working in various places, including Manchester, Leeds, Middlesbrough and Barrow in Furness

In railway terms, David Joy is probably best-known for his radial valve gear for steam locomotives: this is best summed up in simple terms as “the equipment that turns the power of the piston into the power that turns the wheels”. It was such a successful design that it was adopted by several of the major railway companies, including the Midland Railway and the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway.

Apart from his work with railway locomotives, David Joy was involved in the design of marine engines, and many ships of the day, both British and foreign, were powered by equipment that he invented.

Gold medal

Among his many inventions one of the most important, for which he was awarded a gold medal at the 1885 inventions exhibition, was the conjugating mechanism enabling the three valves of a triple-expansion marine engine to be driven by only two sets of valve gear.

Personal life

In 1867 David married Kate Humbert and they had three sons and two daughters. In 1882 Joy, with his sons, set up an engineering consultancy practice in Westminster to continue and develop applications of his inventions, which included a revolving gun and an hydraulic organ blower, examples of which were installed in Leeds Town hall and in the Crystal Palace.

He was a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, and of the Institution of Naval Architects in England and in the USA.

David Joy died at his home at 118 Broadhurst Gardens, which coincidentally overlooks several railway lines, on 14th March 1903.

Literary & Artistic Links

John Betjeman on Trains, edited by Jonathan Glancey (Methuen 2006)

Trains and Buttered Toast – Selected Radio Talks, edited by Stephen Games (John Murray 2006)


Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Steam Index – a website devoted to (mainly) steam locomotive history. See http://www.steamindex.com/people/joy.htm




This page was last updated on May 19th, 2012.


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