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George Stephenson was 23 years old when, with his wife Fanny and their baby son Robert, he moved to Dial cottage, Killingworth in 1804.
George had just been appointed brakeman in charge of winding machinery, at West Moor Colliery. The following year Fanny gave birth to a daughter but within the year sadly both mother and child had died, George continued to live at Killingworth almost continually for 18 years, until 1823. It was during this period that his inventive genius blossomed and he rose from obscurity to international fame.
When George first arrived at Dial Cottage it consisted of one room and a garret, reached by a ladder. By the time he left he had extended and converted the premises to become a comfortable four-roomed house. There was a small garden attached to the cottage, in which, Stephenson took a pride in growing leeks and cabbages. In order to protect his garden crops from birds he invented a "flay-craw" which moved its arms with the wind. His odd and eccentric contrivances caused a lot of excitement among the local villagers and the cottage was alleged to have been filled with the results of George Stephenson's relentless experiments with gadgets.
It was in 1810 that George was first to make his name as an engineer following an accident which took place at the nearby Killingworth High Pit. The pit had flooded and all efforts to fix the pumping engine had failed. George offered his services and was successful in restoring the engine. Shortly afterwards he was given charge of all machinery at the Colliery.
About this time the question of an improved means of locomotion was beginning to occupy a number of minds, and George took up the study of the subject to the point of obsession. George's first locomotive, the Blucher, was built in the colliery workshops near his home, and it was placed on the wooden rails of Killingworth Wagonway, behind the cottage on 25 July 1814. This was an event that was to launch all of his great achievements.
Over the next few years George constructed several locomotives, which firmly established the superiority of steam over horses for hauling coals from the collieries of the area, along the waggonways to the River Tyne for shipment.
Then came his next great stride forward, the construction of the Stockton to Darlington line in 1821, which became the world's first passenger railway. Stephenson had already opened his locomotive works in Newcastle and when the Stockton to Darlington line opened, it was one of the earliest engines from the works, "Locomotive No. 1" that provided the traction.
Among all of his achievements one of the things he was most proud of was that his son, Robert, received a good education. George helped to fund Robert's education by mending clocks and watches at night.
Throughout Robert's childhood George helped and encouraged him in his studies. In their efforts to understand mathematics they used Ferguson's "Astronomy" to construct the sundial, from which the cottage now takes it name. The dial bears the date 11.8.1816. The sundial is still preserved above the cottage door, where it has counted the passing hours for almost two centuries.
By the beginning of 1824 the family had left Dial Cottage and moved to Eldon Place, Newcastle, as George was increasingly called in as a consultant on engineering projects in the North East.
George was next appointed construction engineer for the proposed Manchester and Liverpool Railway in 1824. Robert joined George in his business in 1827 and it was under Robert's personal supervision that "Stephenson's Rocket" was built, which was chosen as the best locomotive for the new line. The line opened on 15 September 1830.
Together George and Robert went on to build the London to Birmingham, the Manchester to Leeds and several other railways. Railway travel was developing rapidly in other countries by now and George's services were also in high demand on the Continent where he worked on several projects.
As he grew older George withdrew from public life and active business, and in 1840 he moved to Tapton Hall, near Chesterfield. He died on 12 August 1848, aged 67, not long after his third marriage. He was buried quietly at Trinity Church, Chesterfield. His inventions and engineering achievements were to earn him the title "Father of the Railways".
Speaking of himself he said, "I may say without being deemed egotistical, that I have mixed with a greater variety of society than perhaps any other man living. I have dined in mines, for I was once a miner and I have dined with kings and queens, and with all the graces of nobility, and have seen enough to inspire me with the hope that my exertions have not been without beneficial results - that my exertions have not been in vain.
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