George Stephenson : biography
George Stephenson (9 June 1781 – 12 August 1848) was an English civil engineer and mechanical engineer who built the first public inter-city railway line in the world to use steam locomotives, the Liverpool and Manchester Railway which opened in 1830. Renowned as the "Father of Railways", the Victorians considered him a great example of diligent application and thirst for improvement, with self-help advocate Samuel Smiles particularly praising his achievements. His rail gauge of , sometimes called "Stephenson gauge", is the world’s standard gauge.
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 in 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.
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.
Stephenson became a reassuring name rather than a cutting-edge technical adviser. 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 – tunneling for the North Midland Railway revealed coal seams, and Stephenson put money into their exploitation.
Stephenson’s skew arch bridge
1830 also saw the grand opening of the skew bridge in Rainhill over of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. The bridge was the first to cross any railway at an angle. It required the structure to be constructed as two flat planes (overlapping in this case by 6′) 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.
The bridge is still in use at Rainhill station, and carries traffic on the A57 (Warrington Road). The bridge is a listed structure.
Stockton and Darlington Railway
In 1821, a parliamentary bill was passed to allow the building of the Stockton and Darlington Railway (S&DR). The 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, assisted by his eighteen-year-old son Robert and construction began the same year.
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. On an early trade card, Robert Stephenson & Co was described as "Engineers, Millwrights & Machinists, Brass & Iron Founders". 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 (15 km) in two hours, reaching a speed of 24 miles per hour (39 km/h) 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.