Old trains, nothing like them for evoking the past, all that choo-chooing and hissing steam. Not that I ever went on one back when I was a kid and they were ubiquitous, but I have now!
Have you heard of George Stephenson? Stephensons Rocket perhaps? No? Oh good, then let us commence the History lesson! 🙂
George was a child of Northumberland. Born in 1781 to illterate parents, he too had no education until at the age of 17, he followed his Dad into the mines as a brakesman, and used his salary to pay for night school classes in reading, writing and arithmetic. He married Frances Henderson and they had a son Robert, but sadly his second child, a daughter, only lived for 3 weeks and his wife died of tuberculosis, consumption as it was known, the year after. George went off to Scotland to find work, leaving little Robert with a local woman, but returned a few months later after his Dad was blinded in a mining accident. Tough times people, tough times.
He moved back into a cottage, his unmarried sister moved in to look after the boy, and George went back to work at Killingworth Colliery. Here he had a stroke of luck as the pumping engine wasn’t working properly. George offered to fix and improve it, which he did and so successfully he got promoted to enginewright, responsible for maintaining and repairing all the mines engines, and this is how he became expert in steam-driven machinery.
Firstly a little side step. Have you heard of The Davy Lamp? A miners safety lamp which burns in a gaseous atmosphere without causing an explosion- those happened often down the mines. An eminent scientist from Cornwall Humphry Davy invented it and it was used more or less everywhere. Where it wasn’t used was in the North East as here they used a Stephensons Safety lamp. He had invented one different to Davy’s and he presented it to the Royal Society (formally The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge,it is a learned society and the United Kingdom’s national Academy of Sciences. Founded on 28 November 1660, it was granted a royal charter by King Charles II as “The Royal Society”. It is the oldest national scientific institution in the world.) a whole month prior to Davy presenting his. Davy won £2000 for his invention BIG money back then (todays equiv. £164,000) and George was accused of stealing the idea from Davy.
Really this came down to the fact that George was seen as a country bumpkin, had a broad Northumberland accent and no scientific training. He was exonerated eventually and given £1000, and got equal kudos for inventing the lamp, though Davy wouldn’t accept the findings. Suck it up Southern boy! 🙂 . In one case when both lamps were being used down a mine in Barnsley, a blast of released gas made all the Davy lamps tops red hot– thereby risking an explosion, whereas the Stephenson lamp just went out, so his was the better one to be stuck down a gassy mine with. Stephenson’s became known as the Geordie lamp and indirectly gave the name Geordies to the natives of Newcastle.
All this resulted in George having a life long distrust of London-based theoretical,scientific experts, can’t blame him really, and he also made sure to educate his son privately and come out with a standard English accent.
George went on to build locomotives, problem solving and making each better, improving cast iron rails and building several railways across the country, including the Liverpool & Manchester railway, where he also designed and had built a skew bridge, the first to cross a railway line. The L& MR opened on 15th Sept 1830 starting with a procession of eight trains, driven by himself, his son and some engineers, setting out from Liverpool. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your political mien, the MP for Liverpool, William Huskisson, got knocked over by one of the trains, ‘Rocket’ and died of his injuries. Apart from that it was a great success!
George married 3 times but only had children with Frances, and he died aged 67, at noon on 12 August 1848 7 months after his 3rd marriage. His son Robert 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.
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, with his work on the Stockton and Darlington Railway and the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, George 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 guage used throughout much of the world is due to him. There’s loads more that he did, but I’d have to write a book, and there’s no need for that! By all accounts he was a very nice man.
The museum is in North Shields, and Sophie and I visited on a good weather day. There was a model train display going on in the museum, so we had a wander around there first.
Interesting to see all the scratch built models but we wanted to see the real thing!
We got our tickets and the station master punched them.
We bagged ourselves a First Class carriage
and then hung out the windows watching the others getting on.
and off we go!
Here we all got off while they changed the engine from front to back. Sadly (though not TOO sadly) we were not being pulled by the steam train as that was in dry-dock (or whatever the train equivalent is) but a funky little diesel did the job.
Stay tooned for next time when we’ll have a closer look inside the carriages, and do the journey back.