The Dictionary of National Biography appears to have overlooked the significance of the Dixon family from County Durham, possibly in favour of the Lanarkshire dynasty of ironmasters noted for Dixon Blazies in Glasgow. The Durham family cradled Jeremiah Dixon responsible for the Mason-Dixon Line and possibly for introducing Dixie into the American vocabulary. Jeremiah is in the ODNB and his biographer calls his father, George, a "well-to-do" Quaker coalmine owner, The Durham family were major "movers" towards the concept of public railways, and had gathered their wealth from mining coal near Bishop Aucklland and initially looked towards a canal to move their coal to Stockton. They were Quakers who earned their living from coal pits at Cockfield, presumably on Cockfield Common, assembled for worship at Staindrop in a listed Friends Meeting House and must have been involved in the affairs of the nearby Raby Castle. Cockfield is between Barnard Castle and Bishop Auckland and when biographers refer to "Bishop Auckland" this must have been the local administrative centre
George Dixon (1)
An affluent Quaker and coal-mine owner probably born in late seventeenth or early eighteenth century: father of George (born 18 November 1731), and of Jeremiah.
George Dixon (born on 18 November 1731 at "Bishop Auckland", probably at Cockfield and died at the latter on 29 September 1785. George was a chemist, mathematician, engraver, china-painter, engineer, geologist and coalmine operator, who helped pioneer the use of coal gas in heating and gas lighting one of his gas experiments leading to the destruction of his own house. George was also indirectly instrumental in moves towards the Stockton & Darlington Railway by attempting to cut a canal from the Cockfield area to Stockton and a trial length was dug on Cockfield Common. George married Sarah Raylton (born 20 August 1732; died 18 April 1796), the daughter of an innkeeper John Raylton and Barbara Dixon, on 13 September 1753. The marriage produced eight children: Mary, George, George (infant deaths often led to the same name's being used for the next child), Jeremiah, John, Thomas, Sarah and Elizabeth. The name 'Raylton' occurs again with his great-grandson Sir Raylton Dixon, the prominent Victorian shipbuilder. (Internet 8 July 2012)
Born at Cockfield (ODNB probably states incorrectly Bishop Auckland) on 27 July 1733. He was educated at John Kipling's school in Barnard Castle and whilst still young made the acquaintance of William Emerson, a mathematician, John Bird, an instrument maker and Thomas Wright, a natural philosopher. In 1760 the Royal Society chose Charles Mason to go to Sumatra to observe the 1761 transit of Venus. Dixon was selected to assist Mason. Due to an encounter with a French frigate they failed to reach Sumatra and had to observe the transit from the Cape of Good Hope on 7 June 1761. Their return to England was delayed by conducting gravity experiments. In August 1763 Thomas Penn and Frederick Calvert signed an agreement with Mason and Dixon to assist in establishing the boundary between Pennsylvania and Maryland: this became the Mason-Dixon Line and probably led to the term Dixie. In 1769 Dixon attempted to observe another transit of Venus from Norway, but cloud hindered the task. He returned to County Durham and worked as a surveyor on the local estates. He died at Cockfield on 22 January 1779. He did not marry. Derek Howse biography ODNB.
Born in Raby, near Bishop Auckland on 25 November 1796 (Marshall probably states more precisely "Cockfield" where his father (also John) and grandfather the inventive George) was the colliery proprietor). He died in Darlington on 10 October 1865. John had brothers: Edward and James. He began his career as an apprentice land surveyor under his father at Cockfield Colliery. His grandfather George had been associated with the unsuccessful canal scheme to link the coalfield with Stockton in 1767. He moved to Backhouse & Co. in Darlington when Jonathan Backhouse acquired the colliery business Bachhouse encouraged Dixon to join the Stockton & Darlington Railway. John was appointed as one of the two Resident Engineers during construction between 1823 and 1825. Bailey also states that he took a close interest in locomotive construction. He moved to the Canterbury & Whistable Railway as Resident Engineer where he oversaw the construction of the Tyler Hill Tunnel. When the money for this line ran out he moved to the Liverpool & Manchester Railway where he supervised the crossing of Chat Moss and the bridges and viaduct on the approach to the Liverpool Road terminus in Manchester. He was present at the Rainhill Trials (Ahrons notes his observations on Hackworth's Sanspariel) and contributed much to improving the early locomotives in service: Ahrons notes that he suggested the use of hard brass tubes to avoid the wear from coke burning in copper tubes. He was the Engineer to the Chester & Birkenhead Railway. He was closely associated with the Stephensons and latterly worked as a full time Consulting Engineer to the Stockton & Darlington Railway, notably on its extensions including several unfulfilled projects.
Resident Engineer on the Stockton & Darlington Railway. Brother of John. He developed a novel way of positioning the ribs of cast-iron arches using pontoons for a bridge across the Tees. Michael R. Bailey (Chrimes)
Born in Raby, near Bishop Auckland on 13 July 1809 Michael R. Bailey (Chrimes) not June as recorded in the Institution of Civil Engineers obituary and cited by Marshall who probably states more precisely "Cockfield" where his father (also John) and grandfather the inventive George) was the colliery proprietor). Educated at Ackworth School. Edward began his enginering career on the Liverpool & Manchester Railway under his brother John on the crossing of Chat Moss. Later he worked under Robert Stephenson on the London & Birmingham Railway on the Wolverton to Kilsby section and under under Locke on the London & Southampton Railway. Returning to Robert Stephenson he worked on surveys for railways in Buckinghamshire and Warwickshire. In 1852 he was offered the position of Engineer of the London & North Western Railway, but declined this and moved to Southampton where he acquired Messrs. Twynam, a seed crushing business. Here he was elected president of the Chamber of Commerce and a JP. He was a founder of the Union Steam Ship Co. which became the Union Castle Line. He retired in October 1873 and died in Wandsworth on 18 November 1877.
John Dixon (born 1835)
Born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne on 2 January 1835 and died in East Croydon 28 January 1891 (Marshall). He was the eldest son of Jeremiah Dixon (not the Jeremiah) and brother of Raylton Dixon (born 8 July 1838; died 28 July 1901) who was a shipbuilder at Middlesbrough and knighted. They were nephews of John Dixon and Edward Dixon. He was educated at Dr Bruce's School in Newcastle and then apprenticed to Robert Stephenson & Co. He became engineer at Consett Iron Co.'s Bishopwearmouth ironworks, later going into business on his own and restarting the old ironworks at Bedlington. This was unsuccessful so he moved to London where he began a successful career as engineer and contractor. Among his railway works was the first, experimental, railway in China from Shanghai to Woosung, about 20 miles, a 2ft 6in gauge line opened in 1876. He built the Lisbon Custom House piers and 60 miles of railway in Portugal. His most famous achievement was the transporting of Cleopatra's Needle from Alexandria to London. He was an accomplished water colour artist mainly of seascapes. Michael R. Bailey and Julian Rainbow (Chrimes) includes portrait.