Cover of Michael Robbins' book

George Stephenson and Robert Stephenson
& Brandreth
& Losh 
Steamindex home page

Norman McKillop's The lighted flame pge 10 states: [George] Stephenson was not only a great engineer: he was a great man. The italics belong to Norman.

The Stephensons, genius father George and his brilliant son, made a remarkable contribution to the development of railways. George did not invent the steam locomotive, but he did ensure that something which was beginning to come together from a variety of sources was engineered into a practical machine. In this respect a man of relatively humble origins became one of the world's greatest engineers and he was brilliantly astute in ensuring that his son, Robert, lacked for nothing in assisting the engineering of the early railways. KPJ does not normally like to make reference to material which is still to be inspected, but Bailey's compilation on Robert Stephenson must be an exception for it is clearly a seminal work, although the reviewer (Biddle) fails to mention whether it casts light upon his father.

KPJ has some reservations about Rogers contribution to the assessment of locomotive development but he considers that in his book on Chapelon his summary of the Stephenson contribution is highly apt. Perhaps Rogers own origins in Wylam may not be irrelevant:

The passage of the years has done nothing to dim the remarkable achievements of the two Stephensons (for it is difficult to separate father and son). Their inventive genius was most brilliantly displayed, perhaps, during the year 1829-30, but this was by no means the end. They put their final seal on the shape of the locomotive when in 1833 they added a pair of carrying wheels behind the firebox to produce the first 2-2-2 engine 'Patentee'. This became a standard passenger type in both France and Great Britain and was built in the latter country until 1894. Their last major contribution was in 1842 when they were the first to provide engines with a link motion valve gear, a wonderful invention which was so eminently suitable for locomotives that it was still being used for new construction in the last great days of steam.

See also page on Early locomotives, especially part relating to the Rocket

George Stephenson

Marshall records that he was born in Wylam, Northumberland, on 9 June1781; and died at Tapton House, near Chesterfield on 12 August 1848. Son of Robert Stephenson senior, fireman at Wylam Colliery where George worked as a boy. By 1798 George had become 'plugman' on the pumping engine. He also took some lessons in reading and writing. at which he never became proficient. In 1801 he became brakesman at Callerton Colliery. Having by now achieved some substance, on 28 November 1802 he married Frances Henderson, and at about the same time became engineman at Willington Quay. Here, in his spare time, he became skilled in repairing watches and clocks. Wliliam Fairbaim, an apprentice in the neighbourhood, became his close friend at this time. On 16 October 1803 his only son Robert was born. In 1804 he moved to Killingworth where his wife died of tuberculosis on 14 May1806. During 1807 he managed a Boulton & Watt engine at Montrose. On his return he and two other men continued to manage the engines at Killingworth Colliery. His father became incapable of further work and George had to support his parents. He also had to find money to avoid conscription. His mechanical skill led to his appointment as enginewright at Killingworth in 1812.
He acquired sdentific knowledge which he applied to the invention of a miner's safety lamp which he tested on 21 October 1815. On 30 November 1815 he tested an improved lamp himself in the most dangerous part of the mine. His invention was independent of Sir Humphrey Davy (1778-1829), the famous chemist who also invented a miner's safety lamp on the same principles in 1815.
Stephenson, already familiar with the steam locomotives working on the Wylam waggonway and elsewhere, now became interested in its development and on 25 July 1814 his first engine, named Blucher after Wellington's ally at the battle of Waterloo, successfully pulled 30 tons up an incline of 1 in 450 at 4mph. It had 2 cylinders and gear drive. In February1815 he patented an improved engine in which he used the steam blast to draw the fire. The wheels were directly driven, without gears. He now had to design an improved rail to carry the locomotives. In 1819 he supervised the laying of an 8-mile railway at Hetton Colliery, opened 18 November 1822. Traction was by stationary engines and locomotives. On 29 March1820 he married Elizabeth Hindmarsh. They had no children.
On 19 April 1821 the Stockton & Darlington Railway Act was passed. Stephenson was appointed engineer by Edward Pease, the promoter. He re-surveyed the route and in 1823 began construction. He recommended malleable iron rails instead of cast iron, This caused trouble with one of the directors, a manufacturer of cast-iron rails, so that part of the line had to be laid with these. He also advised the use of locomotives. To manufacture these he induced Edward Pease and his cousin Thomas Richardson (1771-1853) to join him in establishing a wks in Newcastle to be known as Robert Stephenson & Co. The works began operation in August 1823. The SDR opened on 27 September1825, but the first locomotives, named Locomotion, Hope, Black Diamond and Diligence, were barely successful, and it was only after Hackworth had established the reliability of the steam locomotive in 1827 that the works began to prosper.
Stephenson's work on the SDR led the promoters of the Liverpool & Manchester and Manchester & Leeds Railways to appoint him as engineer in 1825, but, because the steam locomotive was still not an established success, a competition was held at Rainhill on the LMR in 1829 for locomotives to prove themselves. It was won by Rocket, designed and built largely by Robert Stephenson. The Stephensons were awarded the £500 prize. RS & Co also built the stationary engine for working the steep Wapping tunnel at Liverpool, to be delivered by 4 November1829, with a penalty of £500 for late delivery. It was despatched by sea from Newcastle. On 5October1829 the ship was wrecked off Aberdeen. The engine was recovered, repaired at Newcastle, and this time sent to Liverpool via the Forth & Clyde canal. But RS & Co had to pay the Penalty and so the LMR recovered the prize money won by the Stephensons at the Rainhill Trials.
Stephenson was engineer to the Leicester & Swannlngton Railway, 1833; Birmingham & Derby Junction Railway, completed in 1839; the North Midland Railway, 1840; York & North Midland Railway, 1839, and other lines. After living for a period close to collieries nr Ashby de la Zouch, in 1843 he moved to Tapton House near Chesterfield to be near the collieries aqd the Ambergate lime works which he had opened up \close to the North Midland Railway. He made several visits to Belgium to advise on railways, and in 1845 visited Spain to examine the course of a proposed railway. In that year his second wife died and early in 1848 he married Miss Gregory who nursed him in his final illness. In 1847 he became a founder Member of the !ME of which he was the first president. At Tapton House .he indulged his favourite recreation of horticulture, With notable success (see Markham).
His place of birth is highly appropriately maintained by the National Trust), George Stephenson did more than anyone else to make the steam railway an accepted part of society.

Statues formerly part of Euston station now rusticated to York, and in Newcastle and Liverpool see Backtrack, 2011, 25, 740

Monuments see Humm J. Rly Canal Hist. Soc.,, 2015, 38, 252. and Tyson J. Rly Canal Hist. Soc.1995, 31, 423-8; 496-502; 1996, 32, 26-31

On the fallacies of the rotary engine. Proc. Instn Mech. Engrs, 1848, 1
This sole formal contribution (written from Tapton House) appears to have been inspired by a demonstration of a rotary engine in a locomotive designed by a Mr Onion (at which time George had turned his attention to vegetable growing!) demonstrated on the Midland Railway near Derby under the eye of Kirtley.

See W.O. Skeat's George Stephenson: the engineer and his letters.

This book is also a highly useful source for material about memorials (in many forms) to George Stephenson.

3,887 28 February 1815: Construction of locomotive-engines with Dodd: [Connecting rod: cylinder to wheels]
4,067 26 November 1816 Fascilitating the conveyance of carriages, goods, and materials, along railways and frameways, by improvements in the construction of the machine, carriages, carriage wheels, railways and frameways employed for that purpose.with Losh [Steam spings: via piston into boiler to provide locomotive suspension]  
4,662: 21 March 1822: Steam engines.
6,111: 30 April 1831: Constructing wheels for railway-carriages.
11,086: 11 February 1846: Locomotive steam-engines with William Howe..

William George Armstrong's Address of the President. Proc. Instn Mech. Engrs., 1861, 12, 110-20 is interesting for giving a contemporary assessment: "As in the case of steam navigation, the propulsion of carriages by steam power on land had its origin in very small beginnings. From the days of Watt, who first suggested the application of the steam engine for this purpose, up to the time when George Stephenson, the illustrions first President of this Institntion, devoted with wonderful perseverance the inventive powers of his mind to its perfection, the Locomotive Engine had attained no practical value. But in the hands of Stephenson it took as great a stride as did the condensiiig engine in the hands of Watt. The ever memorahle ‘Rocket,” which carried off the prize at the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, became the type of all succeeding locomotives, just as the condensing engine as left by the original master has remained the standard of that class of engines. Of all the achievements of mechanical engineers the locomotive engine is the greatest. As a work of skill it presents the most remarkable instance of strength and power, combined with lightness, that can be found in the whole field of mechanical engineering ; while in point of utility it has served more than any other invention to develop the resources of every country in which it has been employed.".

Charles E. Lee's Tyneside tramroads of Northumberland. Trans. Newcomen Soc.. 26, 199-229. comfirms that gauge of Killingworth Wagonway was 4f 8½ in. Notes that George Stephenson was a "light-hearted young fellow, proud of his muscular power, and that creation of Robert Stephenson & Co. showed father's great faith in son's ability.

Eventually this gradual improvement in locomotive technology gave him the confidence to seek out Edward Pease and encourage him to consider steam traction for the Stockton & Darlington Railway. In his surveying work he was at his best when helped by his son Robert, but the first steam locomotive of the Stockton & Darlington, Locomotion, was mainly his conception. Later, with Robert, he produced the famous Rocket that, at the Rainhill Trials in 1829, established the reputation both of the Stephensons and of steam rail traction. His advocacy of a standard gauge was far sighted, but his preference for 4ft 8½in. was possibly not. He died at Tapton House, near Chesterfield on 12 August 1848.

George Stephenson was a man of many achievements, but like many others, few of which were uniquely his, that is not to imply any lessening of his achievements, but merely implies that he had the ability to respond to what was needed at the time. This is especially true of the miner's safety lamp where Sir Humphrey Davy produced something which became much better known with the aid of scientific knowledge, but George Stephenson produced something empirically and tested it with great courage in the known dangerous areas of the local mines. When Davy challenged Stephenson's invention Stephenson was able to enlist the support of the local elite in the North East to support his claim.

In terms of the locomotive he was able to demonstrate that adhesion was possible using iron driving wheels on iron track. With his brilliant son (and it must never be forgotten that the intellectual grooming of his son in itself showed brilliance and foresight) he/they developed the tubular boiler and the blast-pipe and combined these in the Rocket. His advocacy of steam traction on the Stockton & Darlington Railway and his prize-winning Rocket for the Liverpool & Manchester Railway directed the course of history. From a very early date Stephenson was aware of the network concept. Later he tended towards conservatism with his continuing use of the inclined plane and his proposal to go across Morecambe Bay rather than climb to Shap. He was founder of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

Elsewhere, Hamilton Ellis is sometimes sought for his views: in his Pictorial Encyclopedia of Railways (an eccentric compilation) he stated that Stephenson was "Entirely self-taught, his virtues included perserverance, integrity and mechanical judgement." His son is dismissed as the first "millionaire-engineer". There are portraits (reproduced in black & white) of both men (pp. 24 and 25)

Pearce, whose magisterial study of the Locomotives of the Stockton and Darlington Railway has been heaped with praise,  summed up the relative achievements of "Cap'n Dick Trevithick, Mathew Muuray, Timothy Hackworth, I.K. Brunel and David Gooch, to name but a few, George Stephenson's charisma, persitance and sheer ability in his own field overshadow them all. And it was Stephenson's character and Stephenson's locomotives that made it possible for the Stockton & Darlington Railway to open when it did and to operate with steam traction. He was certainly not the great engineer that he wished to be, but that he got things done!". It is this sort of deeply researched judgement which the presumably relatively unread author, Vaughan, seeks to rubbish.

Gilks (Joseph Locke and the Stephensons. Backtrack, 2005, 19,. 368-73) notes that George had "great vision and drive, but he could not claim to have good organizational skills or attention to detail." and "George was quintissentially the man of vision, a rough and rude battler, blessed with great foresight." This feature as a whole is mainly concerned with Joseph Locke and his relationship with the Stephensons.

Pearce also notes that the Stockton & Darlington Raliway was the first to use wrought iron edge rails to any large extent, and as the advantages of these became obvious, most of the track was changed to wrought iron as soon as possible and convenient, and the weight of the rail increased to cope with the increasing traffic, although the few remaining sections of cast-iron rail continued to give trouble for years. We have George Stephenson to thank for this foresight; as Consultant Engineer he insisted on the use of wrought iron rail for at least half the original track, against his own immediate financial interest, since he was a partner and co-patentee with William Losh in a firm that made improved cast-iron rails! [italicised by KPJ]. His reputation and trust in him gained from it, all the same. He had also an interest in the Bedlington Ironworks and their wrought iron rails, so he probably made up later what he lost at the time.

The Stephensons' Rocket by Michael R. Bailey and John P. Glithero should be added to the list of references: this work was glowingly reviewed by Michael Rutherford in Backtrack, 17, 234. Michael R. Bailey is also the author of the excellent concise biography in Chrimes' Biographical Dictionary (pp. 730-3 which includes a list of Stephenson's Patents; and Bailey also wrote the entry in the Skempton volume pp. 657-8...

Sir Henry Fowler in his Presidential Address to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers stated that "I have always been impressed by the fact that George Stephenson seemed to be not only conversant with, but an expert on all that was known and of interest concerning mechanical engineering in his day."

J. Scott Russell's Memoir of George Stephenson (Proc. Instn Mech. Engrs. 1848 Vol. 1) may surprise some current revisionist historians. Having refered to George Stephenson's many interests including electricity, the obiturist's most thought provoking phrase was "Was there ever a bolder theorist than he was?" For those willing to see this aspect of his character was most evident in his miners' safety lamp which he himself tested. Less obvious was the audacity of using steam pressure vessels in very public places.
In part Parsonage's later brief biography in Proc. Instn Mech. Engrs, 1937, 136, 373 is dependent on the Scott Russell material: as an extensive extract forms the conclusion. This was written to celebrate the centenary of Holy Trinity Church in Chesterfield in which Stephenson is buried and there are photographs of the tomb and the memorial tablet. It was hoped to build a Stephenson chancel..

On page 489 of Smiles' Life of George Stephenson
he relates that Stephenson discussed electricity with Emerson at Whittington House: Emerson said how much he had everywhere been struck by the haleness and comeliness of the English men and women; and this diverged into a further discussion of the influences which air, climate, moisture, soil, and other conditions exercised upon the physical and moral development of a people. From this the conversation was directed upon the subject of electricity, upon which Mr. Stephenson launched out enthusiastically, explaining his - views by several simple and striking illustrations. From thence it diverged into the events of his own life, which he related in so graphic a manner as completely to rivet the attention of the American.
Afterwards Emerson said, "that it was worth crossing the Atlantic to have seen Stephenson alone; he had such native force of character and vigour of intellect."

Hunter Davies biography of George Stephenson is not surprisingly excellently written and concentrates on the character of the man, rather than on technical minutae. Nevertheless, he does include important players like John Birkinshaw who invented malleable wrought iron rails. He appears to have spent about three years in researching his subject. Here is Hunter Davies on the Blucher..

In later Northumbrian dialect, 'Blucher' became a term of passing contempt for anything big, awkward and brutish. It first ran on 25 July 1814, on the Killingworth colliery wagon way outside Stephenson's West Moor cottage, and quite a crowd turned up to watch its progress. No contemporary drawings exist but Nicholas Wood, who wrote about it later, described it as having two cylinders, a boiler eight feet long, flanged wheels and ran on smooth edged rails. It pulled eight wagons, weighing thirty tons, at the rate of four miles an hour. George's elder brother James was the first driver of the Blucher. He seems to have followed George round the various collieries as George progressed over the years. George named one of his stationary engines the Jimmy after him. Like George, he lived in a cottage beside the Killingworth wagon way with his wife, a large, buxom woman called Jinnie. According to one Thomas Summerside, who knew the Stephensons at the time and some fifty years later wrote a delightful memoir of those early days, Blucher used to break down frequently on its journey up and down the line. Jinnie was usually the one called out to give it a shove, 'Come away Jinnie and put your shoulder to her,' so her husband would shout. Then she would go back to her work beside the track, cutting the grass to feed her cows. She must have been a busy woman. It was also her job first thing in the morning at four o'clock to get up and light a fire in Blucher's grate to get the steam going.

The Blucher was constantly developed as George Stephenson thought of new improvements. To try and get up more power and to lessen the noise of the escaping steam he turned the exhaust into the chimney and produced what became known as the blast pipe. Arguments raged for many years amongst the experts about whether this was Stephenson's own idea, or if he had seen someone else doing it, or whether perhaps he'd discovered it by accident, not realising it would increase the steam power.. Other developments on Blucher included new types of valves and the introduction of connecting rods on the wheels which solved some of the problems caused by having so many roughly made gears. This was the first use of such a system, a system which became a familiar sight on all steam engines for decades.

Mountford, Colin E. The Hetton Railway — Stephenson's original design and its evolution. Early Railways 3, 76-95.
Interesting in that the line was engineered by George Stephenson and used a mixture of stationary and locomotionary forms of haulage.

References to

Warren's introduction is most interesting in its assessment of Smiles versus Jeaffreson:

The best known authorities [in 1923] are still the biographies by Smiles, in his Lives of the Engineers, and the Life of Robert Stephenson, by Jeaffreson; there are other memoirs, of which the most valuable is an 'Address on the two late Eminent Engineers,' delivered in 1860 to the North of England Institute of Mining Engineers, by Nicholas Wood, whose own  early career was closely connected with that of George Stephenson, and whose pen did valiant service in the cause of the locomotive. Smiles's biography of George Stephenson has been condemned for its too high lights, and it may be that to satisfy the canons of criticism to-day some toning down would be required; but to a similar charge made in his own lifetime

Smiles replied

I wrote the Life of George Stephenson simply because I admired the Man his perseverance his noble mindedness, and his great railway works. I found, from Robert Stephenson, that no other person was likely to write his father's life; and I determined, so far as I could, to supply the defect. The only assistance which I received from him was in information, which was very valuable. He even warned me against writing the life, as he believed that it would probably end in loss of time and labour, as well as of money.

Jeaffreson in some instances contradicts Smiles, and, since unfortunately neither biographer was a trained engineer, the deductions of  both on technical matters from the material which they had at their disposal must be received with caution, while some are manifestly incorrect. But Smiles  has always been, and will remain, the classic authority, and his portrait of the elder Stephenson will ever be an inspiration to a great public, for whom the technical details of the locomotive, or the difference between an 'exhaust' and a 'blast' pipe, are matters of small moment.

Further assessment of Smiles is given in Rutherford's Railway Reflections No. 69 where he refers to his Life of  George Stephenson as "pure hagiology" and infers that Stalin's approach to history as being comparable to that of Smiles.


Asa Briggs states that Stephenson "said": it is possible and even probable that one of the great uses to which Electric Force will be applied eventually will be the simple conveyance of power by means of large wires

Duffy, M.C. Technomorphology and the Stephenson traction system. Trans. Newcomen Soc., 54, 55-74. Disc.: 74-8.
The author both confirms George Stephenson's original brilliance and soundly condemns "late" steam locomotive engineering (especially that of Riddles and Bulleid) to the dustbin of history.  

See: L.T.C. Rolt, George and Robert Stephenson (1960);

Buchanan, R. Angus. Engineering dynasties in transport history. J. Rly Canal Hist. Soc., 2004, 34, 654.
Includes a very useful family tree.
E.L. Ahrons, The British Steam Railway Locomotive 1825-1925 (1927).
Fowler, Sir Henry. Address by the President. Proc. Instn Mech. Engrs., 1927, 113, 723-47.
Two themes were intertwined: the significance of George Stephenson and the significance of metallurgy on mechanical engineering. "I have always been impressed by the fact that George Stephenson seemed to be not only conversant with, but an expert on all that was known and of interest concerning mechanical engineering in his day."
Kirby, M.W. separate biographies of both father and son in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
Nock, O.S. Railway enthusuast's encyclopedia
J.G.H. Warren, A Century of Locomotive Building (1923).
Reynolds, Paul George Stephenson's 1819 Llansamlet locomotive. Early Railways 2, 165-76.
William and Sampson Sandys reported the sight of a steam locomotive working on Scott's Railway near Swansea in October 1819: the author attempts fairly successfully to show that George Stephenson was involved and supplied the locomotive with Robert Mills and Philip Maddison, both of whom originated in Killingworth.

Riemsdijk, J.T. van. The engineer as hero (George Stephenson Bientenary Lecture). Proc. Instn Mech. Engrs., 1981, 195, 261-9,
Coming back to George Stephenson and trying to avoid the pitfalls of recommending reforms in our education system (reforms which I am sure we all feel necessary), it is refreshing to remember that George Stephenson established himself as a man to be listened to exactly by showing that he could do something that the others could not. I am referring of course to the incident in 1810 when the Grand Allies, the most powerful group of colliery owners in England, installed a Newcomen type pumping engine in the new Killingworth High Pit. This engine represented the most advanced kind of Newcomen engine of the period, as it incorporated the improvements due to Smeaton. Even so, it was quite unable to do the necessary work and moreover Stephenson predicted that this would be the case. He talked freely of this engine among his colleagues and said that he reckoned he knew how to make it work properly. The Grand Allies were his employers but his status at the time was lowly, he was only a brakesman, and there were plenty of nominally more skilled enginewrights who were unable to make this pumping engine work. When his employers got wind of what Stephenson was saying they invited him to prove himself. Of course, he succeeded, otherwise we would probably not be here tonight celebrating the two-hundredth anniversary of his birth; but the real point of this story is threefold: he won the confidence of his superiors to the point where they would let him try; he had the support of his equals who certainly carried the story of his ideas to the ears of his superiors, and who clearly wanted him to succeed; and lastly by demonstrating that he was cleverer than others, and had a better understanding of the principles of the engine, he qualified himself to be a leader.
As always with great men, there have been detractors, and it has often been suggested that George Stephenson was not a man of outstanding technical ability, certainly as compared with his son Robert. This is plainly nonsense. The modification that transformed the engine of Killingworth High Pit was carried out in about three days and in those three days there was no experimenting at all. Stephenson knew exactly what he wanted to do, and what he wanted to do was inspired by an intellectual process of a high order, considering the state of scientific knowledge of the time. He wanted to improve the vacuum created under the piston, having calculated that, in order to do the work, the piston had to have an unprecedented pressure difference between its two sides. To obtain this, the efficiency of condensation had to be greatly improved and so he modified the water jet inside the cylinder, making it deliver more water more effectively and so greatly speeding up the production of the required vacuum. It is quite obvious that this represents something very different from the rather rudimentary skills, such as mending simple clocks and repairing boots, with which much play has been made in some books about him. And this scientific cast of mind showed itself many times in the next twenty years of his career. His conception of the miner’s safety lamp shows the same ability to observe and deduce in non-mechanical areas. His study of the nature of the flame and his development of the lamp, at first with a single central tube, and then with perforated plates, eventually led to a solution which was technically much the same as that arrived at by a trained scientist, Sir Humphrey Davy, though the actual form of the lamp was slightly different. Later he experimented with some sort of steam jet in the firebox of a locomotive as a means of improving the completeness of combustion. Though this experiment did not produce any effect better than the induced draft which Trevithick had remarked upon already in 1804, it is worth pointing out that forced draft was to appear in Marc Seguin’s engines on the St. Etienne-Lyon Railway, that the Novelty’s fire was activated by a bellows driven off the engine, and that in much more recent years steam in the firebox has been used as a smoke consuming device and has, of course, been an unavoidable but possibly beneficial feature of mechanical stoking of locomotives.
Between 1815 and 1825 George Stephenson seems to have been the only exponent of the steam locomotive. There were survivors from the earlier period, on the Middleton Railway, and at Wylam, but only Stephenson was doing anything new. In fact he was showing extraordinary ingenuity and in those years he tried out many of the devices which were later to be widely applied in locomotive engineering. He seems to have made about sixteen locomotives, and in addition was of course heavily involved with stationary engines. He anticipated some of the earlier ideas for articulated locomotives by coupling the front wheels of the tender to the rear wheels of the engine by means of chain. Years later this was done in the Bavaria built by Maffei for the Semmering trials of 1852; and of course the same idea, though with different transmission, characterized the long line of Engerth locomotives that were used for so long on heavily graded routes in Europe. He invented coupling rods, with their cranks set at right angles, but at first he planned to use these inside, necessitating two crank axles. In fact, when he actually used coupling rods he fitted them outside, but the original idea was not as far-fetched as it may seem: in the late 1930s there appeared in France a series of extremely successful ten-coupled heavy freight locomotives in which the four compounded cylinders were all outside, the high and low pressure engines apparently driving separate groups of wheels, but in fact inside coupling rods maintained the synchronism and transmitted a small amount of the power. These inside coupling rods gave no trouble and the engines gave distinguished service until the end of steam traction on the SNCF.
This fruitful period of mechanical invention coincided with the formative years of the young Robert Stephenson and culminated in the opening of the Stockton and Darlington Railway. It is surely entirely admirable in George Stephenson that he decided at that point to give major engineering responsibility to his son and to devote himself to the advocacy, surveying and construction of the railways themselves. Some of the de-bunking of George Stephenson has centred round the Rocket, which undoubtedly is the locomotive most closely associated with the name of Stephenson. It is now widely stated that the credit for this machine is his.

Smail, H.C.P. A new portrait of George Stephenson? Rly Mag., 1960, 106, 92-4. 2 ports.
Portrait bought by Ernest A. Chapman, a London art dealer, in 1957 from Mrs M. Guest of Christchurch, Hants who in turn acquired at an auction in Bournemouth. May have been work of Sir Thomas Lawrence.
Watson, W.F. The invention of the miners' safety lamp: a reappraisal. Trans. Newcomen Soc., 1998, 70, 135-42.

Robert Stephenson

Marshall states that Robert Stephenson, son of George, was born at Willington Quay, near Newcastle upon Tyne on 16 October 1803 and died in London on 12 October 1859. He was the son of George Stephenson. His mother died on 14th May 1806. He was educated at Bruce's Academy, Newcastle, from 1814 to 1819 and in the latter year was apprenticed to Nicholas Wood (qv) at Killingworth colliery. Robert received the kind of education that his father realized he lacked himself, and was to make of his son an admirable partner. Robert assisted his father in most of his early projects but later asserted a degree of independence.

In 1821 he assisted his father in the survey of the Stockton & Darlington Railway. In 1822 he spent 6 months studying at Edinburgh University where he met George Parker Bidder who became a life-long friend and with whom he performed much professional work. On leaving Edinburgh in 1823 he took up the management of the newly established firm of Robert Stephenson & Co. Bad health forced him to leave England, and in 1824-06 he sailed to South America to superintend mining gold and silver in Colombia. There he met Richard Trevithick, then without money, whom he helped to repatriate. Stephenson returned in 1827 and at once became involved in the dispute over the form of traction for the Liverpool & Manchester Railway, resulting in the building of the Rocket in 1829 (covered in Warren).

As manager of the Robert Stephenson & Co. locomotive works in Newcastle he played a key part in the design of the Rocket, and went on with his Planet and Patentee to evolve what in essence was the mainstream, classic, or 'Stephenson' steam locomotive. The Rocket introduced the multi-tubular boiler, the Planet brought cylinders down beneath the boiler, and further locomotives introduced other features that would become standard practice. However, the Stephenson valve gear, which enabled locomotive crews to select different points at which steam admission to the cylinders could be cut off, simply by operating a lever on the footplate, was not invented by Stephenson but by two of his skilled workers.

Other than establishing the basic style of the steam locomotive, Robert Stephenson attained great honour and success as a civil engineer, both in Britain and overseas. The London & Birmingham Railway, for which he was the engineer-in-charge, was described as the greatest feat of engineering since the building of the pyramids. Tring cutting, although widened later still gives an indication of the majesty of early railway works: the nearby cutting and embankment constructed by Telford at Dunstable appears puny in comparision. The canal is a mere ditch through the Chilterns. The construction of Kilsby Tunnel was extremely difficult due to the ingress of water. Many of his bridges still stand, in whole or in part: the Royal Britannia bridge is unfortunately a pale reflection of its former glory, however. It should be noted, however, that Stephenson's reputation could have been destroyed by the failure of the bridge across the Dee in Chester. Other successful bridges were the High Level bridge in Newcastle upon Tyne and the Victoria Bridge in Montreal. He died in London on 12 October 1859.

The cause of the rift between the father and the son which led to Robert Stephenson going to Bolivia (where he rescued Trevithick) remains an obscure episode in the lives of both great men.

On 16 June 1829 he married Frances Sanderson of London. He was elected MICE in 1830 and was President in 1856-7.

Stephenson was active in the 'battle of the gauges', upholding the standard gauge against Brunel's 7ft gauge. Despite this, Stephenson and Brunel were close personal friends to the end of their lives. On 4 October 1842 his wife died, aged only 39, without children.

Stephenson is best known for his bridges. His career could have been ruined by the collapse of the bridge over the Dee at Chester on 24 May 1847 (Horne gives a succinct account of this event in Backtrack, 11, 308). The accident led to a scrutiny of all cast iron spans by a Royal Commission. He survived this, however, and went on to build the High Level Bridge at Newcastle, 1846/9, and the Royal Border Bridge, Berwick, a stone viaduct of 28 spans 6lft 6in, 1850. With his father's friend William Fairbairn he evolved the wrought iron tubular girder which he used successfully in the Conway (1847-9) and Menai (1847-50) bridges on the Chester & Holyhead Railway and the Victoria Bridge (1854-9) over the St Lawrence at Montreal, then the world's longest bridge. Horne (Backtrack, 1999, 13, 389) is critical of the status accorded to the Menai crossing..

Gilks (Joseph Locke and the Stephensons. Backtrack, 2005, 19,. 368-73) is mainly concerned with Locke rather than with Robert Stephenson, but the famous John Lucas painting of Robert Stephenson with Locke and Brunel with the largely complete Menai Bridge in the background is very clearly reproduced.

During the erection of the tubes of the Menai bridge, in his most anxious moments he was supported by the presence of Brunel. Stephenson returned this support during the erection of Brunel's Saltash bridge in 1859. On 30 June 1847 Stephenson was elected Conservative MP for Whitby, remaining its representative until his death, but he rarely spoke in Parliament except on engineering matters. He opposed the Suez Canal scheme. Early in 1859 his health gave way and he was forced to give up work. A yachting cruise to Norway failed to restore him. He was buried in Westminster Abbey beside Telford. He was President of both the Institution of Civil Engineers and the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

Statue outside Euston station see Backtrack, 2011, 25, 740

Plaque on wall of surviving workshops of Robert Stephenson & Co. in South Street, Newcastle and another plaque outside Newcastle Literary & Philosophical Society building to mark his period as President in 1855-9 see Humm J. Rly Canal Hist. Soc., 2015, 38, 252


Observations on the comparative merits of locomotives and fixed engines as applied to railways... Liverpool 1830 [with J. Locke to Directors of Liverpool & Manchester Railway]
Ottley 285

Proc. Instn Civ Eng., 1849, 6, 242.

Patents (Woodcroft)

5325 23 January 1826 Axletrees to remedy the extra friction on curves to waggons, carts, cars, and carriages used on railroads, tramways, and other public roads.
Not listed by Buchanan.
6092 11 July 1831 Improvements to axles and bearings of railway wheels
Buchanan's date (previously noted as March by Woodcroft): bearings at centre of wheels for carriages to travel on edge railways.
6372 26 January 1833 Improvements to steam locomotive engines.
6484 7 October 1833 Improvements to steam locomotive carriages
Planet type: steam brake (see Rowatt Trans Newcomen Soc.1927, 8, 19) and tyres [tires] without projecting flanges: Buchanan cites date as 3 December 1833.
6524 11 December 1833 Improvements in the mode of supporting the iron-rails for edge-railways.
8998 23 June 1841. Improvements in locomotive engines.
Arrangement and the combination of the parts of locomotive-engines: long boiler locomotives: rear wheels behind firebox Buchanan cites date as 22 December 1841...

References to:
Addyman, John and Haworth, Victoria Robert Stephenson: Railway Engineer. North Eastern Railway Association & The Robert Stephenson Trust. 172pp.
Reviewed by Gordon Biddle in J. Rly Canal Hist. Soc., 2006, 35, 377. who note that it is necessary to consult Bailey and Rapley.
Ahrons, E.L. The British Steam Railway Locomotive 1825-1925 (1927)
Bailey, Michael. (editor) Robert Stephenson: the eminent engineer. 2003.
This is a very important treatise, judging by the review (by Gordon Biddle) in J. Rly Canal Hist. Soc., 2004, 34, 637. Most of the biographical material was written by Mike Chrimes (Librarian of the Civils), who rightly suggested that this work should be noted on this website. KPJ considers that Biddle's comment that "He is largely forgotten" is an over-statement, but would agree that some great national institution should be named after him. Perchance this web page has been edited alongside an entry made for William Prime Marshall whose career was clearly moulded by Robert Stephenson.

Buchanan, R. Angus. entry in Chrimes Biographical Dictionary pp. 739-45: also entry in Volume 1 (by Skempton) by Michael R. Bailey.
Haworth, Victoria. The making of a prodigy, Robert Stephenson: engineer and scientist. Newcastle: Robert Stephenson Trust.

Reviewed by R.H. Hennessey in Backtrack, 2006, 20, p. 638. The review in itself adds to our understanding of this great engineer: "Gradually, item by item, the world awakes to the astonishing achievement of Robert Stephenson, all-round, lateral-thinking engineer par excellence." Also reviewed by Mel Holley in Steam World, 2006, (227), 65.
Jeaffreson, J.C. Life of Robert Stephenson. (1864)
Kirby, M.W. separate biographies of both father and son in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
Nock, O.S. Railway enthusuast's encyclopedia
Nock, O.S. Steam locomotive. 1958.
Rapley, John. The Britannia and other tubular bridges. Stroud (Gloucs.): Tempus. 160pp.
Reviewed by Martin Barnes in J. Rly Canal Hist. Soc, 2004, 34, 488 where it is stated that it is a "model of effective history"
Robbins, Michael. George and Robert Stephenson. 1966.
Rolt, L.T.C. .George and Robert Stephenson (1960);
The co-biography is divided not by subject but into two parts: The years of endeavour 1781-1830 and The years of fame 1830-1859. The former is divided into Chapters on George's early days at Killingworth; the safety-lamp controversy; the birth of the locomotive, the Stockton & Darlington Railway, the temporary rift between the father and son, the improvement of the steam locomotive and its acceptance following the extraordinary Rainhill trials and the completion of the Liverpool & Mancheter Railway. The second part shows how the railway network developed and how railway engineering became heroic in character as at Kilsby Tunnel on the London & Birmingham Railway and for crossing the Menai Straits in spite of Telford's earlier masterpiece. Note Robbins Trans Newcomen Soc., 56, p. 59 et seq. considered that the Rolt work should be used with caution.
Ross, David, George & Robert Stephenson: a passion for success. Stroud: History Press, 2010. 317pp.

Robbins (ibid) is not in bibliography
Warren, J.G.H., A Century of Locomotive Building (1923)

Robert Stephenson Trust

Robert Stephenson Senior (George's brother)
Born in Wylam, Northumberland, on 10 March 1788 (elder brother of George); died Pendleton, Salford, on 15 January 1837. In 1806 he married his brother George's housekeeper and on 20 October 1819 they had a son George Robert. In 1819 George Stephenson was asked to build a new colliery railway between Hetton Colliery and Bishopwearmouth, about 8 miles. Sinking of the colliery was began in December 1820. He was appointed resident engineer during construction of railway and sinking the pits: the railway opened on 18 November 1822. Between 1822 and 1825 he was employed under Robert Daglish on constructing the Bolton & Leigh Railway. He was also engaged about the same time on constructing the Nantlle Railway in North Wales, which  opened in 1828,  with a gauge of 3ft 6in. At the opening of the LMR in 1830 he drove the North Star. Shortly after this he was appointed chief engineer of the Pendleton collieries near Manchester where he spent the rest of his career. Marshall.

Roper, Robert Stephenson. Robert Stephenson, senior, 1788 - 1837. Early Rlys 2,  26-36
That is one of George Stephenson's brothers and his involvement in railway work at Stratford on the Stratford & Moreton Railway, the Nantlle Railway and on the Bolton & Leigh Railway. Includes a letter from Robert junior to "Dear Uncle"

George Robert Stephenson
Born in Newcastle upon Tyne on 20 October 1819; died in Cheltenham on 26 October 1905. Only son of the elder Robert Stephenson. Began by assisting with the underground surveys and working in the shops of the Pendleton Colliery near Manchester, where his father was chief engineer. Aged 15 he entered King William's College, Isle of Man, for two years. On the death of his father in 1837 his uncle George placed him in the drawing office of the Manchester & Leeds Railway under Thomas Gooch. In 1843 he was appointed to superintend engineerig at Tapton collieries near Chesterfield, but soon he was invited by his cousin Robert to take charge of the new lines of the SER. In 1848 he was engineer on the Liverpool, Crosby & Southport Railway; in 1849-50 on the Nottingharn-Grantham Railway, and the Northampton-Market Harborough line, LNWR. He was then appointed with Bidder as chief engineer, Danish Government Railways, and was consulting engineer to the province of Canterbury, New Zealand. He built the first railway there, from the shallow harbour of Ferrymead to Christchurch, to a gauge of 5ft 3in, opened on 1 December l863. In 1864 he was associated with Hawkshaw on constructing the East London Railway includIng the adaptation of Marc Brunel's Thames tunnel. He also built many bridges of which one of the first was the Sutton swing bridge over the River Nene in 1851. In conjunction with Robert Stephenson he designed the great tubular bridge over the St Lawrence at Montreal. On the death of Robert Stephenson in 1859 he succeeded to the management of the collieries at Snibston in Leicestershire and at Tapton near Chesterfield, and to managing Robert Stephenson & Co, Newcastle. Marshall. 

Joseph Stephenson
Encountered with obituary of Crawford Marley in Moores Monthly Magazine p. 42 who had been present, and assisted at, the transfer of Locomotion No. 1 on to the Stockton & Darlington Railway and enjoying a ride on the locomotive as the reward for assisting to fill the boiler.

Thomas Shaw Brandreth

Born on 24 July 1788 in Cheshire and died in Worthing on 27 May 1873. Educated at Eton and Trinity College Cambridge: mathematician and barrister. Friend of George Stephenson and director of Liverpool & Manchester Railway. Involved in survey across Chat Moss and designer of Cycloped: horse-powered "locomotive". Marshall. Also Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry by Stanley Lane-Poole rev. R.C. Cox.

William Losh

William Losh (1770–1861) was a chemist and industrialist who is credited with introducing the Leblanc process for the manufacture of alkali to the United Kingdom. William Losh worked in a family business manufacturing chemicals in Walker-on-Tyne, near Newcastle upon Tyne, England. The firm manufactured alkali and saltsake by processes patented by Archibald Cochrane. Losh went to Paris in 1802 where he learnt about the Leblanc process and then started to use it in his own factory. Losh also became involved in the early development of the railways, when he collaborated with George Stephenson in the development of improved cast-iron rails that did not break as easily as existing rails. (Wikipedia).

Amazingly (or is it?) two of the Losh family, who came from Woodside in Wreay, Cumberland are listed in the ODNB: one was James who settled in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and worked as a barrister and was brother of William, and Sara (sister) who stayed at home and is noted for being a proto-female architect and is thus worthy of the skew ODNB's attention. Rennison, R.W.  The Newcastle and Carlisle Railway and its engineers; 1829­1862. Trans. Newcomen Soc., 2001, 72, 203-33. .

Hunter Davies in his work on George Stephenson succinctly notes

Losh was a highly cultivated gentleman, a friend of Humboldt, the great German naturalist and explorer who was currently being read and followed with great excitement by most of England's educated classes. Losh was known throughout Tyneside and was one of the leading gentleman defenders of George during the safety lamp row. For George's two days a week at his ironworks Losh paid him £100 per annum.,... which didn't affect George's £100 a year from the Grand Allies, though it reduced his time with them. George had therefore good reason to be grateful to William Losh. The success of his Killingworth engines and his Losh-Stephenson rails led to a demand for similar lines elsewhere.

Patents via Bennett Woodcroft
Woodcroft lists four further patents by William Septimus Losh which relate to chemical processes: these may be those of a son or other relative.

3905/1815 Fire-places or furnaces for heating ovens and boilers, and the water or other liquids in the same, and for converting such liquids into steam for the purpose of working engines, and for other uses. 8 April 1815
4067/1816 Construction of machines, carriages, carriage-wheels, railways and frameways, for facilitating the conveyance of carriages, goods, and materials along the said ways. 30 Sept. 1816
4591/1821 Construction of iron-rails for railways. 14 Sept. 1821
5704/1828 Formation of iron-rails for railroads, and chairs or pedestals upon which the rails may be placed. 18 Sept. 1828
5989/1830 Construction of wheels for carriages to be used on railways. 31 Aug. 1830
7523/1837 Decomposing muriate of soda or common salt ;-partly applicable to the condensing of vapours in other processes. 23 Dec. 1837
9009/1841  Manufacture of railway-wheels. 26 June 1841
9335/1842 Construction of wheels for carriages and locomotive-engines, intended to be employed on railways. 28 April 1842
10,058/1844 Manufacture of metal-chains, for mining and other purposes. 17 Feb. 1844
12,265/1848 Steam-engines. 4 Sept. 1848

Andrew Dow's Railway considers Losh on p. 28

Updated 2015-11-14