George Stephenson - british railway engineer who invented the first workable steam railway locomotiveGeorge Stephenson
British railway engineer


George Stephenson 1781 - 1848

George Stephenson, british railway engineer who invented the first workable steam railway locomotive, was born at Wylam near Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1781, the son of a colliery fireman.

In 1802 Stephenson became a colliery engineman marrying Frances Henderson, a servant at a local farm, later the same year. In 1803, his only son, Robert was born and to make ends meet, Stephenson spent his spare time repairing clocks and watches. Frances suffered from poor health and she died of consumption in 1806.

Together with his son Robert and Nicholas Wood, he succeeded in developing a miner's safety lamp (the Geordie) which competed with the one invented by Sir Humphrey Davy (the Davy). He advised on routes for most of the early railway companies in Britain and on many abroad.

Stephenson's early efforts in locomotive design were confined to constructing locomotives to haul loads in coal mines. In 1823 Robert Stephenson joined with George Stephenson and Edward Pease to form a company to make locomotives. The Robert Stephenson & Company, at Forth Street, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, became the world's first locomotive builder.

When the Stockton & Darlington line opened on 27th September, 1825, large crowds saw George Stephenson at the controls of the Locomotion, making an initial journey of just under 9 miles in two hours.

In 1829 he designed a steam train locomotive called the Rocket, which could pull many different loads. The Rocket was a great success and it stimulated the growth of railways which played a very important role in the industrial revolution.

While cutting the Clay Cross railway tunnel, George Stephenson discovered a rich seam of coal and iron deposits and exploited these finds, forming what later became the Clay Cross Company in 1837. George Stephenson and Company built houses for the tunnel navvies and later, as they sank colliery workings, for the miners and their families. Some 400 houses were built, and by 1846 the population of the area had reached 1,478. Schools, shops, chapels, a church and a Mechanics Institute were provided by the Company.

George Stephenson died in 1848 at his home - Tapton House - and is buried in Trinity Church, Chesterfield.

On his death his son Robert succeeded to his father's position, later severing his connection with the Company, which then became Clay Cross Company, taking its name from the developing township of Clay Cross. He died in 1859, and was greatly mourned. As a deserved mark of honour he was laid to rest in Westminster Abbey, a privilege accorded only one other engineer - Thomas Telford.

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George Stephenson

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