George Stephenson

Last updated

George Stephenson
Engineer and inventor
Born(1781-06-09)9 June 1781
Died12 August 1848(1848-08-12) (aged 67)
Resting place Holy Trinity Church, Chesterfield
Spouse(s)Frances Henderson (1802–1806)
Elizabeth Hindmarsh (1820–1845)
Ellen Gregory (1848)
Children Robert Stephenson
Frances Stephenson (died in infancy)

George Stephenson (9 June 1781 – 12 August 1848) was an English civil engineer and mechanical engineer. Renowned as the "Father of Railways", [1] Stephenson was considered by the Victorians a great example of diligent application and thirst for improvement. Self-help advocate Samuel Smiles particularly praised his achievements. His chosen rail gauge, sometimes called 'Stephenson gauge', [lower-roman 1] was the basis for the 4 feet 8 12 inches (1,435 mm) standard gauge used by most of the world's railways.

Civil engineer engineer specialising in design, construction and maintenance of the built environment

A civil engineer is a person who practices civil engineering – the application of planning, designing, constructing, maintaining, and operating infrastructures while protecting the public and environmental health, as well as improving existing infrastructures that have been neglected.

Mechanical engineering engineering discipline and economic branch

Mechanical engineering is the discipline that applies engineering, physics, engineering mathematics, and materials science principles to design, analyze, manufacture, and maintain mechanical systems. It is one of the oldest and broadest of the engineering disciplines.

Victorian era Period of British history encompassing Queen Victorias reign

In the history of the United Kingdom, the Victorian era was the period of Queen Victoria's reign, from 20 June 1837 until her death on 22 January 1901. The era followed the Georgian period and preceded the Edwardian period, and its later half overlaps with the first part of the Belle Époque era of Continental Europe. In terms of moral sensibilities and political reforms, this period began with the passage of the Reform Act 1832. There was a strong religious drive for higher moral standards led by the nonconformist churches, such as the Methodist, and the Evangelical wing of the established Church of England. Britain's relations with the other Great Powers were driven by the colonial antagonism of the Great Game with Russia, climaxing during the Crimean War; a Pax Britannica of international free trade was maintained by the country's naval and industrial supremacy. Britain embarked on global imperial expansion, particularly in Asia and Africa, which made the British Empire the largest empire in history. National self-confidence peaked.


Pioneered by Stephenson, rail transport was one of the most important technological inventions of the 19th century and a key component of the Industrial Revolution. Built by George and his son Robert's company Robert Stephenson and Company, the Locomotion No. 1 is the first steam locomotive to carry passengers on a public rail line, the Stockton and Darlington Railway in 1825. George also built the first public inter-city railway line in the world to use locomotives, the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, which opened in 1830.

Rail transport Conveyance of passengers and goods by way of wheeled vehicles running on rail tracks

Rail transport is a means of transferring of passengers and goods on wheeled vehicles running on rails, also known as tracks. It is also commonly referred to as train transport. In contrast to road transport, where vehicles run on a prepared flat surface, rail vehicles are directionally guided by the tracks on which they run. Tracks usually consist of steel rails, installed on ties (sleepers) set in ballast, on which the rolling stock, usually fitted with metal wheels, moves. Other variations are also possible, such as slab track. This is where the rails are fastened to a concrete foundation resting on a prepared subsurface.

Industrial Revolution Transition to new manufacturing processes in Europe and the United States

The Industrial Revolution, now also known as the First Industrial Revolution, was the transition to new manufacturing processes in Europe and the United States, in the period from about 1760 to sometime between 1820 and 1840. This transition included going from hand production methods to machines, new chemical manufacturing and iron production processes, the increasing use of steam power and water power, the development of machine tools and the rise of the mechanized factory system. The Industrial Revolution also led to an unprecedented rise in the rate of population growth.

Robert Stephenson British railway engineer

Robert Stephenson FRS HFRSE DCL was an early English railway and civil engineer. The only son of George Stephenson, the "Father of Railways", he built on the achievements of his father. Robert has been called the greatest engineer of the 19th century.

Childhood and Early life

George Stephenson was born on 9 June 1781 in Wylam, Northumberland, which is 9 miles (15 km) west of Newcastle upon Tyne. He was the second child of Robert and Mabel Stephenson, [2] neither of whom could read or write. Robert was the fireman for Wylam Colliery pumping engine, earning a very low wage, so there was no money for schooling. At 17, Stephenson became an engineman at Water Row Pit in Newburn nearby. George realised the value of education and paid to study at night school to learn reading, writing and arithmetic – he was illiterate until the age of 18.

Wylam village in the United Kingdom

Wylam is a village in the county of Northumberland. It is located about 10 miles (16 km) west of Newcastle upon Tyne.

Northumberland County of England

Northumberland is a county in North East England. The northernmost county of England, it borders Cumbria to the west, County Durham and Tyne and Wear to the south and the Scottish Borders to the north. To the east is the North Sea coastline with a 64 miles (103 km) path. The county town is Alnwick, although the County council is based in Morpeth.

Newcastle upon Tyne City and metropolitan borough in England

Newcastle upon Tyne, commonly known as Newcastle, is a city in Tyne and Wear, North East England, 103 miles (166 km) south of Edinburgh and 277 miles (446 km) north of London on the northern bank of the River Tyne, 8.5 mi (13.7 km) from the North Sea. Newcastle is the most populous city in the North East, and forms the core of the Tyneside conurbation, the eighth most populous urban area in the United Kingdom. Newcastle is a member of the UK Core Cities Group and is a member of the Eurocities network of European cities.

In 1801 he began work at Black Callerton Colliery south of Ponteland as a 'brakesman', controlling the winding gear at the pit. [3] In 1802 he married Frances Henderson and moved to Willington Quay, east of Newcastle. There he worked as a brakesman while they lived in one room of a cottage. George made shoes and mended clocks to supplement his income.

Ponteland village and civil parish in Northumberland, England

Ponteland is a village in Northumberland, England, 15 km north of Newcastle upon Tyne. The name means "island in the Pont", after the River Pont which flows from west to east and joins the River Blyth further downstream, before flowing into the North Sea. Newcastle Airport is 2.5 km to the south of the village.

Willington Quay is an area in the borough of North Tyneside in Tyne and Wear in northern England. It is situated on the north bank of the River Tyne, facing Jarrow, and between Wallsend and North Shields. It is served by the Howdon Metro station in Howdon. The area from 2006 onwards has been an area of new housing built on brownfield sites. The house building continues into 2013 and is changing the social and economic balance in the area. The area has also had a make over of the bowling green off Howdon Lane and further warehousing next to the bowling green has been demolished to make way for further new housing. The changes made recently at Willington Quay are now making it an attractive place to live within North Tyneside.

Dial Cottage, West Moor, Killingworth Longbenton - Dial Cottage, Westmoor.jpg
Dial Cottage, West Moor, Killingworth

Their first child Robert was born in 1803, and in 1804 they moved to Dial Cottage at West Moor, near Killingworth where George worked as a brakesman at Killingworth Pit. Their second child, a daughter was born in July 1805. She was named Frances after her mother. The child died after just three weeks and was buried in St Bartholomew's Church, Long Benton north of Newcastle.

West Moor village in United Kingdom

West Moor is a small place in Tyne and Wear, UK.

Killingworth town in England, United Kindom

Killingworth, formerly Killingworth Township, is a town north of Newcastle Upon Tyne, in North Tyneside, England.

St Bartholomews Church, Long Benton Church

St Bartholomew's Church, Long Benton is the Anglican parish church of Longbenton, in Newcastle upon Tyne, Tyne and Wear. It is built in the Gothic Revival style.

In 1806 George's wife Frances died of consumption (tuberculosis). She was buried in the same churchyard as their daughter on the 16th May 1806, though sadly the location of the grave is lost. [4]

Tuberculosis Infectious disease caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis

Tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease usually caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MTB) bacteria. Tuberculosis generally affects the lungs, but can also affect other parts of the body. Most infections do not have symptoms, in which case it is known as latent tuberculosis. About 10% of latent infections progress to active disease which, if left untreated, kills about half of those affected. The classic symptoms of active TB are a chronic cough with blood-containing sputum, fever, night sweats, and weight loss. It was historically called "consumption" due to the weight loss. Infection of other organs can cause a wide range of symptoms.

George decided to find work in Scotland and left Robert with a local woman while he went to work in Montrose. After a few months he returned, probably because his father was blinded in a mining accident. He moved back into a cottage at West Moor and his unmarried sister Eleanor moved in to look after Robert. In 1811 the pumping engine at High Pit, Killingworth was not working properly and Stephenson offered to improve it. [5] He did so with such success that he was promoted to enginewright for the collieries at Killingworth, responsible for maintaining and repairing all the colliery engines. He became an expert in steam-driven machinery. [6]

The miner's safety lamp

Stephenson's safety lamp shown with Davy's lamp on the left Stephenson-safety-lamp.jpg
Stephenson's safety lamp shown with Davy's lamp on the left

In 1815, aware of the explosions often caused in mines by naked flames, Stephenson began to experiment with a safety lamp that would burn in a gaseous atmosphere without causing an explosion. At the same time, the eminent scientist and Cornishman Humphry Davy was also looking at the problem. Despite his lack of scientific knowledge, Stephenson, by trial and error, devised a lamp in which the air entered via tiny holes, through which the flames of the lamp could not pass.

A month before Davy presented his design to the Royal Society, Stephenson demonstrated his own lamp to two witnesses by taking it down Killingworth Colliery and holding it in front of a fissure from which firedamp was issuing. The two designs differed; Davy's lamp was surrounded by a screen of gauze, whereas Stephenson's prototype lamp had a perforated plate contained in a glass cylinder. For his invention Davy was awarded £2,000, whilst Stephenson was accused of stealing the idea from Davy, [7] because he was not seen as an adequate scientist who could have produced the lamp by any approved scientific method.

Stephenson, having come from the North-East, spoke with a broad Northumberland accent and not the 'Language of Parliament,' which made him seem lowly. Realizing this, he made a point of educating his son Robert in a private school, where he was taught to speak in Standard English with a Received Pronunciation accent. It was due to this, in their future dealings with Parliament, that it became clear that the authorities preferred Robert to his father.

A local committee of enquiry gathered in support of Stephenson, exonerated him, proved he had been working separately to create the 'Geordie Lamp', and awarded him £1,000, but Davy and his supporters refused to accept their findings, and would not see how an uneducated man such as Stephenson could come up with the solution he had. In 1833 a House of Commons committee found that Stephenson had equal claim to having invented the safety lamp. Davy went to his grave believing that Stephenson had stolen his idea. The Stephenson lamp was used almost exclusively in North East England, whereas the Davy lamp was used everywhere else. The experience gave Stephenson a lifelong distrust of London-based, theoretical, scientific experts. [6]

In his book George and Robert Stephenson, the author L.T.C. Rolt relates that opinion varied about the two lamps' efficiency: that the Davy Lamp gave more light, but the Geordie Lamp was thought to be safer in a more gaseous atmosphere. He made reference to an incident at Oaks Colliery in Barnsley where both lamps were in use. Following a sudden strong influx of gas the tops of all the Davy Lamps became red hot (which had in the past caused an explosion, and in so doing risked another), whilst all the Geordie Lamps simply went out.

There is a theory that it was Stephenson who indirectly gave the name of Geordies to the people of the North East of England. By this theory, the name of the Geordie Lamp attached to the North East pit men themselves. By 1866 any native of Newcastle upon Tyne could be called a Geordie. [8]

Early locomotives

Cornishman Richard Trevithick is credited with the first realistic design for a steam locomotive in 1802. Later, he visited Tyneside and built an engine there for a mine-owner. Several local men were inspired by this, and designed their own engines.[ citation needed ]

Early Stephenson locomotive illustrated in Samuel Smiles' Lives of the Engineers (1862).
Described as an 1816 Killingworth Colliery locomotive, this is often claimed to be Blucher, but more closely resembles the slightly later Hetton colliery railway locomotives, and their 1852 replica Lyons, which was still operating at Smiles' time. Killingworth-locomotive.jpg
Early Stephenson locomotive illustrated in Samuel Smiles' Lives of the Engineers (1862).
Described as an 1816 Killingworth Colliery locomotive, this is often claimed to be Blücher , but more closely resembles the slightly later Hetton colliery railway locomotives, and their 1852 replica Lyons , which was still operating at Smiles' time.

Stephenson designed his first locomotive in 1814, a travelling engine designed for hauling coal on the Killingworth wagonway named Blücher after the Prussian general Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher (It was suggested the name sprang from Blücher's rapid march of his army in support of Wellington at Waterloo). [lower-roman 2] Blücher was modelled on Matthew Murray’s locomotive Willington, which George studied at Kenton and Coxlodge colliery on Tyneside, and was constructed in the colliery workshop behind Stephenson's home, Dial Cottage, on Great Lime Road. The locomotive could haul 30 tons of coal up a hill at 4 mph (6.4 km/h), and was the first successful flanged-wheel adhesion locomotive: its traction depended on contact between its flanged wheels and the rail.

Altogether, Stephenson is said to have produced 16 locomotives at Killingworth, [6] although it has not proved possible to produce a convincing list of all 16. Of those identified, most were built for use at Killingworth or for the Hetton colliery railway. A six-wheeled locomotive was built for the Kilmarnock and Troon Railway in 1817 but was withdrawn from service because of damage to the cast-iron rails. [10] Another locomotive was supplied to Scott's Pit railroad at Llansamlet, near Swansea, in 1819 but it too was withdrawn, apparently because it was under-boilered and again caused damage to the track. [11]

Fishbelly rail with half-lap joint, patented by Stephenson 1816 Stephenson-rail-patent.jpg
Fishbelly rail with half-lap joint, patented by Stephenson 1816

The new engines were too heavy to run on wooden rails or plate-way, and iron edge rails were in their infancy, with cast iron exhibiting excessive brittleness. Together with William Losh, Stephenson improved the design of cast-iron edge rails to reduce breakage; rails were briefly made by Losh, Wilson and Bell at their Walker ironworks.

According to Rolt, Stephenson managed to solve the problem caused by the weight of the engine on the primitive rails. He experimented with a steam spring (to 'cushion' the weight using steam pressure acting on pistons to support the locomotive frame), but soon followed the practice of 'distributing' weight by using a number of wheels or bogies. For the Stockton and Darlington Railway Stephenson used wrought-iron malleable rails that he had found satisfactory, notwithstanding the financial loss he suffered by not using his own patented design. [12]

Hetton Railway

Stephenson was hired to build the 8-mile (13-km) Hetton colliery railway in 1820. He used a combination of gravity on downward inclines and locomotives for level and upward stretches. This, the first railway using no animal power, opened in 1822. This line used a gauge of 4 ft 8 in (1,422 mm) which Stephenson had used before at the Killingworth wagonway. [13]

Other locomotives include:

Stockton and Darlington Railway

The No. 1 engine, called Locomotion, for the Stockton & Darlington Railway Stephenson-No.1-engine.jpg
The No. 1 engine, called Locomotion, for the Stockton & Darlington Railway

In 1821, a parliamentary bill was passed to allow the building of the Stockton and Darlington Railway (S&DR). The 25-mile (40 km) railway connected collieries near Bishop Auckland to the River Tees at Stockton, passing through Darlington on the way. The original plan was to use horses to draw coal carts on metal rails, but after company director Edward Pease met Stephenson, he agreed to change the plans. Stephenson surveyed the line in 1821, and assisted by his eighteen-year-old son Robert, construction began the same year. [6]

The Experiment - the first railway carriage Stephenson-Experiment-.jpg
The Experiment – the first railway carriage

A manufacturer was needed to provide the locomotives for the line. Pease and Stephenson had jointly established a company in Newcastle to manufacture locomotives. It was set up as Robert Stephenson and Company, and George's son Robert was the managing director. A fourth partner was Michael Longridge of Bedlington Ironworks. [6] On an early trade card, Robert Stephenson & Co was described as "Engineers, Millwrights & Machinists, Brass & Iron Founders". [14] In September 1825 the works at Forth Street, Newcastle completed the first locomotive for the railway: originally named Active, it was renamed Locomotion and was followed by Hope, Diligence and Black Diamond. The Stockton and Darlington Railway opened on 27 September 1825. Driven by Stephenson, Locomotion hauled an 80-ton load of coal and flour nine miles (14 km) in two hours, reaching a speed of 24 miles per hour (39 kilometres per hour) on one stretch. The first purpose-built passenger car, Experiment, was attached and carried dignitaries on the opening journey. It was the first time passenger traffic had been run on a steam locomotive railway. [6]

The rails used for the line were wrought-iron, produced by John Birkinshaw at the Bedlington Ironworks. Wrought-iron rails could be produced in longer lengths than cast-iron and were less liable to crack under the weight of heavy locomotives. William Losh of Walker Ironworks thought he had an agreement with Stephenson to supply cast-iron rails, and Stephenson's decision caused a permanent rift between them. The gauge Stephenson chose for the line was 4 feet 8 12 inches (1,435 mm) which subsequently was adopted as the standard gauge for railways, not only in Britain, but throughout the world. [6]

Liverpool and Manchester Railway

Statue of George Stephenson at the National Railway Museum, York George Stephenson - National Railway Museum - 2005-10-15.jpg
Statue of George Stephenson at the National Railway Museum, York
First passenger railway, L&MR First passenger railway 1830.jpg
First passenger railway, L&MR

Stephenson had ascertained by experiments at Killingworth that half the power of the locomotive was consumed by a gradient as little as 1 in 260. [15] He concluded that railways should be kept as level as possible. He used this knowledge while working on the Bolton and Leigh Railway, and the Liverpool and Manchester Railway (L&MR), executing a series of difficult cuttings, embankments and stone viaducts to level their routes. Defective surveying of the original route of the L&MR caused by hostility from some affected landowners meant Stephenson encountered difficulty during Parliamentary scrutiny of the original bill, especially under cross-examination by Edward Hall Alderson. The bill was rejected and a revised bill for a new alignment was submitted and passed in a subsequent session. The revised alignment presented the problem of crossing Chat Moss, an apparently bottomless peat bog, which Stephenson overcame by unusual means, effectively floating the line across it. [6] The method he used was similar to that used by John Metcalf who constructed many miles of road across marshes in the Pennines, laying a foundation of heather and branches, which became bound together by the weight of the passing coaches, with a layer of stones on top.

As the L&MR approached completion in 1829, its directors arranged a competition to decide who would build its locomotives, and the Rainhill Trials were run in October 1829. Entries could weigh no more than six tons and had to travel along the track for a total distance of 60 miles (97 km). Stephenson's entry was Rocket , and its performance in winning the contest made it famous. George's son Robert had been working in South America from 1824 to 1827 and returned to run the Forth Street Works while George was in Liverpool overseeing the construction of the line. Robert was responsible for the detailed design of Rocket, although he was in constant postal communication with his father, who made many suggestions. One significant innovation, suggested by Henry Booth, treasurer of the L&MR, was the use of a fire-tube boiler, invented by French engineer Marc Seguin that gave improved heat exchange. [6]

The opening ceremony of the L&MR, on 15 September 1830, drew luminaries from the government and industry, including the Prime Minister, the Duke of Wellington. The day started with a procession of eight trains setting out from Liverpool. The parade was led by Northumbrian driven by George Stephenson, and included Phoenix driven by his son Robert, North Star driven by his brother Robert and Rocket driven by assistant engineer Joseph Locke. The day was marred by the death of William Huskisson, the Member of Parliament for Liverpool, who was struck by Rocket. Stephenson evacuated the injured Huskisson to Eccles with a train, but he died from his injuries. Despite the tragedy, the railway was a resounding success. Stephenson became famous, and was offered the position of chief engineer for a wide variety of other railways. [6]

Stephenson's skew arch bridge

Stephenson's bridge Stephensonbridge1.jpg
Stephenson's bridge
A close-up of the technique StephensonBridgeClose.jpg
A close-up of the technique

1830 also saw the grand opening of the skew bridge in Rainhill over the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. The bridge was the first to cross any railway at an angle. [16] It required the structure to be constructed as two flat planes (overlapping in this case by 6 ft (1.8 m)) between which the stonework forms a parallelogram shape when viewed from above. It has the effect of flattening the arch and the solution is to lay the bricks forming the arch at an angle to the abutments (the piers on which the arches rest). The technique, which results in a spiral effect in the arch masonry, provides extra strength in the arch to compensate for the angled abutments. [17]

The bridge is still in use at Rainhill station, and carries traffic on the A57 (Warrington Road). The bridge is a listed structure.

Life at Alton Grange

Stephenson's House at Alton Grange George Stephenson's House at Alton Grange.jpg
Stephenson's House at Alton Grange

George Stephenson moved to the parish of Alton Grange (now part of Ravenstone) in Leicestershire in 1830, originally to consult on the Leicester and Swannington Railway, a line primarily proposed to take coal from the western coal fields of the county to Leicester. The promoters of the line Mr William Stenson and Mr John Ellis, had difficulties in raising the necessary capital as the majority of local wealth had been invested in canals. Realising the potential and need for the rail link Stephenson himself invested £2,500 and raised the remaining capital through his network of connections in Liverpool. His son Robert was made chief engineer with the first part of the line opening in 1832.

During this same period the Snibston estate in Leicestershire came up for auction, it lay adjoining the proposed Swannington to Leicester route and was believed to contain valuable coal reserves. Stephenson realising the financial potential of the site, given its proximity to the proposed rail link and the fact that the manufacturing town of Leicester was then being supplied coal by canal from Derbyshire, bought the estate.

Employing a previously used method of mining in the midlands called tubbing to access the deep coal seams, his success could not have been greater. Stephenson’s coal mine delivered the first rail cars of coal into Leicester dramatically reducing the price of coal and saving the city some £40,000 per annum.

Stephenson remained at Alton Grange until 1838 before moving to Tapton House in Derbyshire. [18]

Later career

George Stephenson George Stephenson - Project Gutenberg etext 13103.jpg
George Stephenson

The next ten years were the busiest of Stephenson's life as he was besieged with requests from railway promoters. Many of the first American railroad builders came to Newcastle to learn from Stephenson and the first dozen or so locomotives utilised there were purchased from the Stephenson shops. Stephenson's conservative views on the capabilities of locomotives meant he favoured circuitous routes and civil engineering that were more costly than his successors thought necessary. For example, rather than the West Coast Main Line taking the direct route favoured by Joseph Locke over Shap between Lancaster and Carlisle, Stephenson was in favour of a longer sea-level route via Ulverston and Whitehaven. Locke's route was built.

Stephenson tended to be more casual in estimating costs and paperwork in general. He worked with Joseph Locke on the Grand Junction Railway with half of the line allocated to each man. Stephenson's estimates and organising ability proved inferior to those of Locke and the board's dissatisfaction led to Stephenson's resignation causing a rift between them which was never healed. [6]

Despite Stephenson's loss of some routes to competitors due to his caution, he was offered more work than he could cope with, and was unable to accept all that was offered. He worked on the North Midland line from Derby to Leeds, the York and North Midland line from Normanton to York, the Manchester and Leeds, the Birmingham and Derby, the Sheffield and Rotherham among many others. [6]

Stephenson became a reassuring name rather than a cutting-edge technical adviser.[ citation needed ] He was the first president of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers on its formation in 1847. By this time he had settled into semi-retirement, supervising his mining interests in Derbyshire – tunnelling for the North Midland Railway revealed coal seams, and Stephenson put money into their exploitation.

Personal life

George first courted Elizabeth (Betty) Hindmarsh, a farmer's daughter from Black Callerton, whom he met secretly in her orchard. Her father refused marriage because of Stephenson's lowly status as a miner. [19] George next paid attention to Anne Henderson where he lodged with her family, but she rejected him and he transferred his attentions to her sister Frances (Fanny), who was nine years his senior. George and Fanny married at Newburn Church on 28 November 1802. They had two children Robert (1803) and Fanny (1805) but the latter died within months. George's wife died, probably of tuberculosis, the year after. While George was working in Scotland, Robert was brought up by a succession of neighbours and then by George's unmarried sister Eleanor (Nelly), who lived with them in Killingworth on George's return.

On 29 March 1820, George (now considerably wealthier) married Betty Hindmarsh at Newburn. The marriage seems to have been happy, but there were no children and Betty died on 3 August 1845. [20]

On 11 January 1848, at St John's Church in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, George married for the third time, to Ellen Gregory, another farmer's daughter originally from Bakewell in Derbyshire, who had been his housekeeper. Seven months after his wedding, George contracted pleurisy and died, aged 67, at noon on 12 August 1848 [21] at Tapton House in Chesterfield, Derbyshire. He was buried at Holy Trinity Church, Chesterfield, alongside his second wife. [6]

Described by Rolt as a generous man, Stephenson financially supported the wives and families of several who had died in his employment, due to accident or misadventure, some within his family, and some not. He was also a keen gardener throughout his life; during his last years at Tapton House, he built hothouses in the estate gardens, growing exotic fruits and vegetables in a 'not too friendly' rivalry with Joseph Paxton's father, head gardener at nearby Chatsworth House, twice beating the master of the craft.


George Stephenson had two children. His son Robert was born on 16 October 1803. Robert married Frances Sanderson, daughter of a City of London professional John Sanderson, on 17 June 1829. Robert died in 1859 having no children. Robert Stephenson expanded on the work of his father and became a major railway engineer himself. Abroad, Robert was involved in the Alexandria–Cairo railway that later connected with the Suez Canal. George Stephenson's daughter was born in 1805 but died within weeks of her birth. Descendants of the wider Stephenson family continue to live in Wylam (Stephenson's birthplace) today. Also relatives connected by his marriage live in Derbyshire. Some descendants later emigrated to Perth, Australia, with later generations remaining to this day.


Britain led the world in the development of railways which acted as a stimulus for the Industrial Revolution by facilitating the transport of raw materials and manufactured goods. George Stephenson, with his work on the Stockton and Darlington Railway and the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, paved the way for the railway engineers who followed, such as his son Robert, his assistant Joseph Locke who carried out much work on his own account and Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Stephenson was farsighted in realising that the individual lines being built would eventually be joined together, and would need to have the same gauge. The standard gauge used throughout much of the world is due to him. In 2002, Stephenson was named in the BBC's television show and list of the 100 Greatest Britons following a UK-wide vote, placing at no. 65. [22]

Memorials and commemorations

George Stephenson statue, Chesterfield March 2011 George Stephenson - - 2315455.jpg
George Stephenson statue, Chesterfield March 2011

George Stephenson's Birthplace is an 18th-century historic house museum in the village of Wylam, and is operated by the National Trust. Dial Cottage at West Moor, his home from 1804, remains but the museum that once operated here is shut. [23] [24]

Chesterfield Museum in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, has a gallery of Stephenson memorabilia, including straight thick glass tubes he invented for growing straight cucumbers. The museum is in the Stephenson Memorial Hall [25] not far from both Stephenson's final home at Tapton House and Holy Trinity Church within which is his vault. In Liverpool, where he lived at 34 Upper Parliament Street, a City of Liverpool Heritage Plaque is situated next to the front door.

George Stephenson College, founded in 2001 on the University of Durham's Queen's Campus in Stockton-on-Tees, is named after him. Also named after him and his son is George Stephenson High School in Killingworth, Stephenson Memorial Primary School in Howdon, the Stephenson Railway Museum in North Shields and the Stephenson Locomotive Society. The Stephenson Centre, an SEBD Unit of Beaumont Hill School in Darlington, is named after him. His last home in Tapton, Chesterfield is now part of Chesterfield College and is called Tapton House Campus.

As a tribute to his life and works, a bronze statue of Stephenson was unveiled at Chesterfield railway station (in the town where Stephenson spent the last ten years of his life) on 28 October 2005, marking the completion of improvements to the station. At the event a full-size working replica of the Rocket was on show, which then spent two days on public display at the Chesterfield Market Festival. A statue of him dressed in classical robes stands in Neville Street, Newcastle, facing the buildings that house the Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle upon Tyne and the North of England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers, near Newcastle railway station. The statue was sculpted in 1862 by John Graham Lough and is listed Grade II. [26]

From 1990 until 2003, Stephenson's portrait appeared on the reverse of Series E £5 notes issued by the Bank of England. Stephenson's face is shown alongside an engraving of the Rocket steam engine and the Skerne Bridge on the Stockton to Darlington Railway. [27]

In popular media, Stephenson was portrayed by actor Gawn Grainger on television in the 1985 Doctor Who serial The Mark of the Rani . [28]

See also

Related Research Articles

Davy lamp safety lamp for use in flammable atmospheres

The Davy lamp is a safety lamp for use in flammable atmospheres, invented in 1815 by Sir Humphry Davy. It consists of a wick lamp with the flame enclosed inside a mesh screen. It was created for use in coal mines, to reduce the danger of explosions due to the presence of methane and other flammable gases, called firedamp or minedamp.

Standard-gauge railway rail track gauge – international standard gauge (4′ 8½″)

A standard-gauge railway is a railway with a track gauge of 1,435 mm. The standard gauge is also called Stephenson gauge after George Stephenson, International gauge, UIC gauge, uniform gauge, normal gauge and European gauge in the European Union and Russia. It is the most widely used railway track gauge across the world, with approximately 55% of the lines in the world using it. All high-speed rail lines use standard gauge except those in Russia, Finland, Portugal and Uzbekistan. The distance between the inside edges of the rails is defined to be 1435 mm except in the United States, where it is still defined in U.S. customary units as exactly "four feet eight and one half inches".

Timothy Hackworth British engineer

Timothy Hackworth was an English steam locomotive engineer who lived in Shildon, County Durham, England and was the first locomotive superintendent of the Stockton and Darlington Railway.

Stockton and Darlington Railway

The Stockton and Darlington Railway (S&DR) was a railway company that operated in north-east England from 1825 to 1863. The world's first public railway to use steam locomotives, its first line connected collieries near Shildon with Stockton-on-Tees and Darlington, and was officially opened on 27 September 1825. The movement of coal to ships rapidly became a lucrative business, and the line was soon extended to a new port and town at Middlesbrough. While coal waggons were hauled by steam locomotives from the start, passengers were carried in coaches drawn by horses until carriages hauled by steam locomotives were introduced in 1833.

Tapton House country house in Derbyshire

Tapton House, in Tapton, Chesterfield, Derbyshire, England, was once the home of engineer George Stephenson, who built the first public railway line in the world to use steam locomotives. In its time Tapton has been a gentleman's residence, a ladies' boarding school and a co-educational school.

Edward Pease, a woollen manufacturer from Darlington, England, was the main promoter of the Stockton and Darlington Railway, which opened in 1825. He is sometimes referred to as the "Father of the Railways".

<i>Locomotion</i> No. 1 Early steam locomotive

Locomotion No. 1 was an early steam locomotive built by the pioneering railway engineers George and Robert Stephenson at their manufacturing firm, Robert Stephenson and Company. It became the first steam locomotive to haul a passenger carrying train on a public railway, the Stockton and Darlington Railway (S&DR).

Geordie lamp A miners lamp invented by George Stephenson in 1815

The Geordie lamp was a safety lamp for use in inflammable atmospheres, invented by George Stephenson in 1815 as a miner's lamp to prevent explosions due to firedamp in coal mines.

A safety lamp is any of several types of lamp that provides illumination in coal mines and is designed to operate in air that may contain coal dust or gases both of which are potentially flammable or explosive. Until the development of effective electric lamps in the early 1900s miners used flame lamps to provide illumination. Open flame lamps could ignite flammable gases which collected in mines, causing explosions and so safety lamps were developed to enclose the flame and prevent it from igniting the surrounding atmosphere. Flame safety lamps have been replaced in mining with sealed explosion-proof electric lights.

Hetton colliery railway

The Hetton colliery railway was an 8-mile (13 km) long private railway opened in 1822 by the Hetton Coal Company at Hetton Lyons, County Durham, England. It was the first railway to operate without animal power, and the first entirely new line to be developed by George Stephenson.

Forest Hall village east of Benton in North Tyneside in the North of England

Forest Hall is a village east of Benton in North Tyneside in the north of England. Forest Hall, called after a long gone palatial residence, is a north eastern suburb of Newcastle, adjacent to but fiercely separate from Killingworth. Until the mid 1960s it was a sleepy village with a railway station on the main line to Edinburgh.

The history of rail transport in Great Britain to 1830 covers the period up to the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, the world's first intercity passenger railway operated solely by steam locomotives. The earliest form of railways, horse-drawn wagonways, originated in Germany in the 16th century. Soon wagonways were also built in Britain. However, the first use of steam locomotives was in Britain. The invention of wrought iron rails, together with Richard Trevithick's pioneering steam locomotive meant that Britain had the first modern railways in the world.

<i>Steam Elephant</i>

Steam Elephant was an early steam locomotive from North East England.

Killingworth locomotives Early experimental steam locomotives

George Stephenson built a number of experimental steam locomotives to work in the Killingworth Colliery between 1814 and 1826.

Nicholas Wood English steam locomotive engineer

Nicholas Wood FRS was an English colliery and steam locomotive engineer. He helped engineer and design many steps forward in both engineering and mining safety, and helped bring about the North of England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers, holding the position of President from its inauguration to his death.

Lyon, Hetton colliery railway

The Hetton Colliery Lyon or Lyons is an early British steam locomotive that still survives in preservation. It is remarkable for having continued working into the early 20th century.

Steam spring

Steam springs or steam suspension are a form of suspension used for some early steam locomotives designed and built by George Stephenson. They were only briefly used and may have been used for fewer than ten locomotives.

Locomotives of the Stockton and Darlington Railway

The Stockton and Darlington Railway (S&DR) was a railway company that operated in north-east England from 1825 to 1863. The world's first public railway to use steam locomotives, its first line connected collieries near Shildon with Stockton-on-Tees and Darlington, and was officially opened on 27 September 1825. The movement of coal to ships rapidly became a lucrative business, and the line was soon extended to a new port and town at Middlesbrough. While coal waggons were hauled by steam locomotives from the start, passengers were carried in coaches drawn by horses until carriages hauled by steam locomotives were introduced in 1833.


  1. 'Stephenson gauge' was initially of 4 feet 8 inches (1,420 mm) in the North East of England. For the higher speeds of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, this was expanded slightly to 4 feet 8 12 inches (1,435 mm) between the rails whilst keeping the same spacing between the wheels, making it more free-running. It is unclear how much of this was George Stephenson's initiative and how much was his son Robert's.
  2. Recent scholarship holds that Stephenson's My Lord of 1814 pre-dated Blücher [9]
  1. "Plaque unveiled for 'Father of Railways' George Stephenson". BBC. 9 December 2015. Retrieved 2 January 2016. Engineer and inventor George Stephenson, regarded as the Father of Railways
  2. Kirby, M. W. (1984). "Stephenson, George (1781–1848)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2 ed.). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
  4. "Robert Stephenson, Engineer 1803–1859". Northumbria Trail. Institution of Civil Engineers.
  5. 1 2 3 Samuel Smiles (1862). "Chapter III: Engineman at Willington Quay and Killingworth.". Lives of the Engineers: George and Robert Stephenson. 5: The Locomotive – George and Robert Stephenson. p. 43.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 Davies, Hunter (1975). George Stephenson. Weidenfeld and Nicolson. ISBN   0-297-76934-0.
  8. "Geordie". Oxford English Dictionary (2 ed.). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. 1989.
  9. Bailey, Michael R. (2014). "The George Stephenson Types, 1820s". Loco Motion. The History Press. p. 31. ISBN   978-0-7524-9101-1.
  10. Smiles (1857)
  11. Reynolds, Paul (2003). "George Stephenson's 1819 Llansamlet locomotive". In Lewis, M.J.T. (ed.). Early Railways 2: papers from the Second International Early Railways Conference. London: Newcomen Society. pp. 165–76.
  12. Nock, Oswald (1955). "Building the first main lines". The Railway Engineers. London: Batsford. p. 62.
  13. Jones, Robin (2013). The Rocket Men. Mortons Media Group. p. 33. ISBN   978-1909128255.
  14. Ellis, Chris; Morse, Greg (2010). Steaming through Britain. London: Conway. p. 47. ISBN   978-1-84486-121-7.
  15. Smiles 1862 , p. 244
  16. "Railway History". Rainhill Parish Council.
  17. Simmons, Jack; Biddle, Gordon (1997). The Oxford companion to British railway history. Oxford University Press. pp. 45–47. ISBN   0-19-211697-5.
  18. The Life of George & Robert Stephenson by Samuel Smile 1857
  19. Samuel Smiles disputes this account, saying that Miss Hindmarsh's brother assured him that she didn't meet him before 1818 or 1819. See Lives of the Engineers 1862 vol 3. p116 (footnote).
  21. Derbyshire Courier - 19 August 1848
  22. "100 great Britons – A complete list". Daily Mail. 21 August 2002. Retrieved 2 August 2012.
  23. "NZ2770: Dial Cottage (George Stephenson's Cottage), Westmoor". Geograph. 2001.
  24. Flickr image taken inside Dial Cottage in 1994.
  25. "SK3871: Stephenson Memorial Hall". Geograph . Retrieved 13 May 2011.
  26. "George Stephenson Monument". northumbria.onfo.
  27. "Withdrawn banknotes reference guide". Bank of England. Retrieved 17 October 2008.
  28. "The Mark of the Rani". BBC . Retrieved 28 April 2015.

Biographical works

Professional and academic associations
First President of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers
Succeeded by
Robert Stephenson