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Robert Stephenson

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Robert Stephenson

Robert Stephenson
Robert Stephenson in 1856
Born (1803-10-16)16 October 1803
Willington Quay, Northumberland
Died 12 October 1859(1859-10-12) (aged 55)
Resting place Westminster Abbey
Nationality English
Spouse(s) Frances née Sanderson
Parent(s) George Stephenson
Frances née Henderson
Engineering career
Significant projects
Significant awards

Robert Stephenson [2] he built on the achievements of his father. Robert has been called the greatest engineer of the 19th century.[3]

Robert was born in Killingworth, where Robert was taught at the local village school. Robert attended the middle-class Percy Street Academy in Newcastle and at the age of fifteen was apprenticed to the mining engineer Nicholas Wood. He left before he had completed his three years to help his father survey the Stockton and Darlington Railway. Robert spent six months at Edinburgh University before working for three years as a mining engineer in Colombia. When he returned his father was building the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, and Robert developed the steam locomotive Rocket that won the Rainhill Trials in 1829. He was appointed chief engineer of the London and Birmingham Railway in 1833 with a salary of £1,500 per annum. By 1850 Robert had been involved in third of the country's railway system. He designed the High Level Bridge and Royal Border Bridge on the East Coast Main Line. With Eaton Hodgkinson and William Fairbairn he developed wrought-iron tubular bridges, such the Britannia Bridge in Wales, a design he would later use for the Victoria Bridge in Montreal, for many years the longest bridge in the world. He eventually worked on 160 commissions from 60 companies, building railways in other countries such as Belgium, Norway, Egypt and France.[4]

In 1829 Robert married Frances Sanderson who died in 1842; the couple had no children and he did not remarry. In 1847 he was elected Member of Parliament for Whitby, and held the seat until his death. Although Robert declined a British knighthood, he was decorated in Belgium with the Knight of the Order of Leopold, in France with the Knight of the Legion of Honour and in Norway with the Knight Grand Cross of the order of St. Olaf. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1849.[1] He served as President of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and Institution of Civil Engineers. Robert's death was widely mourned, and his funeral cortege was given permission by Queen Victoria to pass through Hyde Park, an honour previously reserved for royalty. He is buried in Westminster Abbey.


  • Early life 1
  • Stockton and Darlington Railway 2
  • Colombian mines 3
  • Locomotive designer 4
    • Newcastle 4.1
    • Liverpool and Manchester Railway 4.2
  • Civil engineer 5
    • George Stephenson and Son 5.1
    • London and Birmingham Railway 5.2
    • Great George Street 5.3
    • Cambridge Square 5.4
    • Bridge builder 5.5
  • Politics 6
  • The house that has no knocker 7
  • Legacy 8
  • Notes and references 9
    • Notes 9.1
    • References 9.2
    • Sources 9.3
  • Further reading 10
  • External links 11

Early life

Robert Stephenson was born on 16 October 1803,[note 1] at Killingworth. On 13 July 1805 Fanny gave birth to a daughter who only lived for three weeks, Fanny's health deteriorated and she died on 14 May 1806.[8][9]

Dial Cottage, Killingworth, where Robert grew up

George employed a housekeeper to look after his son and went away for three months to look after a

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Aaron Chapman
Member of Parliament for Whitby
Succeeded by
Harry Stephen Thompson
Professional and academic associations
Preceded by
George Stephenson
President of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers
Succeeded by
William Fairbairn
Preceded by
James Simpson
President of the Institution of Civil Engineers
December 1855 – December 1857
Succeeded by
Joseph Locke
  • Hansard 1803–2005: contributions in Parliament by Robert Stephenson
  • The Robert Stephenson Trust
  • Menai Heritage A community project and museum telling the story of Stephenson's Britannia Tubular Bridge

External links

  • Addeyman, John; Haworth, Victoria (2005). Robert Stephenson: Railway Engineer. North East Railway Association.  
  • Bailey, Michael R., ed. (2003). Robert Stephenson; The Eminent Engineer. Ashgate.  

Further reading

  • Allen, Cecil J. (1974) [1964]. The North Eastern Railway.  
  • Conder, F.R. (1868). Personal Recollections of English Engineers and of the Introduction of the Railway System in the United Kingdom. Hodder & Stoughton.  
  • Davis, Hunter (1975). George Stephenson: A Biographical Study of the Father of Railways. Weidenfeld and Nicolson.  
  • Jeaffreson, J.C.; Pole, William (1864b). The Life of Robert Stephenson FRS Vol. 2. Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts and Green.  
  • Rolt, L.T.C. (1984). George and Robert Stephenson: The Railway Revolution. Penguin.  
  • Ross, David (2010). George and Robert Stephenson: A Passion for Success. History Press.  
  • Wilson, Arnold T (1939). The Suez Canal: Its Past, Present, and Future (PDF). Oxford University Press.  


  1. ^ a b c "Fellows of the Royal Society". London:  
  2. ^ Davis 1975, Title of book.
  3. ^ "Robert Stephenson". Westminster Abbey. Retrieved 19 March 2014. 
  4. ^ a b Bailey, Michael R., ed. (2003). Robert Stephenson; The Eminent Engineer. Ashgate. p. XXIII.  
  5. ^ Rolt 1984, p. 10.
  6. ^ Rolt 1984, pp. 9–10.
  7. ^ Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, pp. 8–9.
  8. ^ Rolt 1984, p. 11.
  9. ^ Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, p. 13.
  10. ^ Rolt 1984, pp. xix, 12, 197, 201.
  11. ^ Rolt 1984, pp. 11–12.
  12. ^ Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, pp. 15–17.
  13. ^ Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, pp. 18, 22–23.
  14. ^ Rolt 1984, pp. 15–16.
  15. ^ Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, pp. 19–17, 29.
  16. ^ Smiles 1868, pp. 165–166.
  17. ^ Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, pp. 30, 33–34.
  18. ^ Rolt 1984, pp. 16–17.
  19. ^ Davis 1975, p. 14.
  20. ^ Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, pp. 35–36.
  21. ^ a b c Kirby, M.W. (2004). "Stephenson, Robert". The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.  
  22. ^ Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, pp. 42–44.
  23. ^ Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, p. 46.
  24. ^ Rolt 1984, pp. 8–9, 17.
  25. ^ Ross 2010, p. 54.
  26. ^ Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, pp. 47–49.
  27. ^ Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, p. 50.
  28. ^ Allen 1974, pp. 15–16.
  29. ^ Tomlinson 1915, p. 53.
  30. ^ Kirby, Maurice W. (4 July 2002). The Origins of Railway Enterprise: The Stockton and Darlington Railway 1821–1863. Cambridge University Press. pp. 33, 37.  
  31. ^ Allen 1974, p. 17.
  32. ^ Rolt 1984, pp. 64–65.
  33. ^ Davis 1975, pp. 62–65.
  34. ^ Tomlinson 1915, p. 74.
  35. ^ Rolt 1984, p. 69.
  36. ^ Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, pp. 53–54.
  37. ^ Allen 1974, p. 20.
  38. ^ Tomlinson 1915, pp. 79–80.
  39. ^ Allen 1974, p. 19.
  40. ^ Rolt 1984, p. 77.
  41. ^ Tomlinson 1915, p. 83.
  42. ^ Rolt 1984, pp. 90–92.
  43. ^ Ross 2010, pp. 58–60.
  44. ^ Tomlinson 1915, pp. 85–86.
  45. ^ Tomlinson 1915, pp. 86–87.
  46. ^ Rolt 1984, pp. 80–81.
  47. ^ Allen 1974, p. 24.
  48. ^ Rolt 1984, pp. 101–102.
  49. ^ a b Rolt 1984, p. 102.
  50. ^ Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, pp. 66–68.
  51. ^ Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, pp. 69, 72.
  52. ^ Smiles 1868, pp. 301–302.
  53. ^ Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, pp. 74–75.
  54. ^ Rolt 1984, pp. 95–96.
  55. ^ Davis 1975, pp. 103, 112–113.
  56. ^ Ross 2010, pp. 66–69.
  57. ^ Davis 1975, pp. 100–101.
  58. ^ Davis 1975, pp. 102, 322–323.
  59. ^ Davis 1975, pp. 111–112.
  60. ^ Natural Features of Venezuela. Popular Science Monthly at Wikisource, The Free Library
  61. ^ Rolt 1984, pp. 119–120.
  62. ^ Rolt 1984, pp. 120–121.
  63. ^ Rolt 1984, pp. 120–123.
  64. ^ Ross 2010, pp. 83–84.
  65. ^ Rolt 1984, pp. 123–124.
  66. ^ Smiles 1868, pp. 305, 307.
  67. ^ Ross 2010, pp. 93–94.
  68. ^ Rolt 1984, pp. 124–126.
  69. ^ Smiles 1868, pp. 108–109.
  70. ^ Rolt 1984, pp. 126–127.
  71. ^ Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, pp. 112–113.
  72. ^ Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, pp. 114–115.
  73. ^ Rolt 1984, p. 188.
  74. ^ Rolt 1984, pp. 131, 148.
  75. ^ Rolt 1984, pp. 148–149.
  76. ^ Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, pp. 130–131.
  77. ^ Ross 2010, pp. 106–107.
  78. ^ Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, pp. 132–134, 137.
  79. ^ Smiles 1868, p. 353.
  80. ^ Rolt 1984, p. 206.
  81. ^ Rolt 1984, pp. 158–159.
  82. ^ Rolt 1984, p. 160.
  83. ^ a b Rolt 1984, pp. 162–165.
  84. ^ Rolt 1984, pp. 135–136.
  85. ^ Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, pp. 126–128.
  86. ^ Rolt 1984, p. 162.
  87. ^ Ross 2010, pp. 101–102.
  88. ^ Ross 2010, pp. 107, 294.
  89. ^ Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, pp. 141–143.
  90. ^ Rolt 1984, pp. 166–171.
  91. ^ Rolt 1984, pp. 171–173.
  92. ^ Rolt 1984, p. 176.
  93. ^ Rolt 1984, pp. 180–184.
  94. ^ Watkins, J. Elfreath (1891). Camden and Amboy Railroad: Origin and early History (PDF). Gedney & Roberts. pp. 3, 33–34. 
  95. ^ Rolt 1984, p. 187.
  96. ^ Ross 2010, p. 127.
  97. ^ Rolt 1984, pp. 188–192.
  98. ^ Davis 1975, p. 201.
  99. ^ Rolt 1984, pp. 196–199.
  100. ^ Rolt 1984, pp. 103–105.
  101. ^ Rolt 1984, pp. 211–212.
  102. ^ Rolt 1984, pp. 205–206.
  103. ^ Rolt 1984, p. 207.
  104. ^ Rolt 1984, pp. 208–210.
  105. ^ Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, p. 164.
  106. ^ Rolt 1984, pp. 212–215.
  107. ^ Rolt 1984, p. 215.
  108. ^ Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, pp. 166–167.
  109. ^ Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, p. 165.
  110. ^ Ross 2010, p. 121.
  111. ^ Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, pp. 169–172.
  112. ^ Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, pp. 166–167, 172.
  113. ^ Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, pp. 177–178.
  114. ^ Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, pp. 179–180, 185.
  115. ^ Acts relating to the London and Birmingham Railway. George Eyre and Andrew Spottiswoode. 1839. p. 1. 
  116. ^ Rolt 1984, pp. 223–224.
  117. ^ Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, p. 188.
  118. ^ Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, p. 186.
  119. ^ Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, pp. 185–187.
  120. ^ Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, pp. 188–192.
  121. ^ Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, p. 213.
  122. ^ Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, pp. 193–203.
  123. ^ Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, pp. 206–208.
  124. ^ Conder 1868, p. 32.
  125. ^ Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, p. 206.
  126. ^ Rolt 1984, pp. 232–234.
  127. ^ Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, pp. 235–236.
  128. ^ Rolt 1984, pp. 245, 247.
  129. ^ Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, p. 209.
  130. ^ a b Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, pp. 232–233, 243.
  131. ^ Ross 2010, p. 140.
  132. ^ Conder 1868, pp. 22–23.
  133. ^ a b Ross 2010, pp. 242–243.
  134. ^ Rolt 1984, pp. 231–232.
  135. ^ Ross 2010, p. 141.
  136. ^ Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, p. 237.
  137. ^ Rolt 1984, pp. 255–257.
  138. ^ Ross 2010, pp. 148, 177.
  139. ^ Rolt 1984, pp. 257–259.
  140. ^ Rolt 1984, p. 293.
  141. ^ Allen 1974, pp. 42–43.
  142. ^ Hoole, K. (1974). A Regional History of the Railways of Great Britain: Volume IV The North East. David & Charles. pp. 188–189.  
  143. ^ Rolt 1984, p. 263.
  144. ^ Rolt 1984, pp. 265–266.
  145. ^ Allen 1974, p. 75.
  146. ^ "Stanhope and Tyne Railroad Company (RAIL 663)".  
  147. ^ Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, pp. 246–250.
  148. ^ Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, p. 261.
  149. ^ Allen 1974, pp. 61, 69, 71, 89.
  150. ^ Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, pp. 238–241.
  151. ^ Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, p. 255.
  152. ^ Ross 2010, pp. 251–252.
  153. ^ Ross 2010, p. 149.
  154. ^ Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, pp. 253–255.
  155. ^ Ross 2010, p. 274.
  156. ^ Ross 2010, p. 272.
  157. ^ Ross 2010, p. 305.
  158. ^ Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, pp. 259–260.
  159. ^ Rolt 1984, pp. 275–276.
  160. ^ Jeaffreson & Pole 1864a, pp. 257–258.
  161. ^ Allen 1974, p. 76.
  162. ^ Rolt 1984, pp. 280–281.
  163. ^ Jeaffreson & Pole 1864b, pp. 9–11, 17–19.
  164. ^ Rolt 1984, pp. 293–294.
  165. ^ Jeaffreson & Pole 1864b, pp. 27–28.
  166. ^ Davis 1975, p. 75.
  167. ^ "Robert Stephenson (1803–1859)". Network Rail. Retrieved 25 March 2014. 
  168. ^ Rolt 1984, pp. 282–283.
  169. ^ Rolt 1984, pp. 288, 295–298.
  170. ^ Rolt 1984, pp. 299–300.
  171. ^ Rolt 1984, pp. 301–304.
  172. ^ Conder 1868, pp. 286–292.
  173. ^ Jeaffreson & Pole 1864b, p. 37.
  174. ^ Jeaffreson & Pole 1864b, pp. 81, 101.
  175. ^ Ross 2010, pp. 235–256.
  176. ^ Jeaffreson & Pole 1864b, pp. 82, 84–89.
  177. ^ Rolt 1984, p. 305.
  178. ^ Rolt 1984, p. 307.
  179. ^ Rolt 1984, pp. 309–313.
  180. ^ Rolt 1984, pp. 277–278.
  181. ^ Rolt 1984, pp. 283–286.
  182. ^ "Fellows". The Royal Society. (See complete listing for Robert's election as Fellow). Retrieved 29 April 2014. 
  183. ^ Jeaffreson & Pole 1864b, pp. 144–145.
  184. ^ Rolt 1984, pp. 324–326.
  185. ^ Ross 2010, p. 247.
  186. ^ Ross 2010, p. 266.
  187. ^ a b "The Army Before Sebastopol". The Times (21965). 31 January 1855. p. 8. 
  188. ^ a b Rolt 1984, pp. 326–327.
  189. ^ Wilson 1939, pp. 9–10.
  190. ^ Wilson 1939, p. 11.
  191. ^ Rolt 1984, p. 315.
  192. ^ Rolt 1984, pp. 318–319.
  193. ^ a b Rolt 1984, pp. 328–329.
  194. ^ Ross 2010, pp. 237–238.
  195. ^ Ross 2010, pp. 253–254.
  196. ^ Rolt 1984, p. 324.
  197. ^ "Norwegian Grand Trunk Railway". Illustrated London News. 7 October 1854. pp. 336–338. 
  198. ^ Rolt 1984, pp. 315–316.
  199. ^ Smiles 1868, p. 485.
  200. ^ a b c d Davis 1975, p. 287.
  201. ^ Rolt 1984, p. 319.
  202. ^ Rolt 1984, p. 323.
  203. ^ Rolt 1984, pp. 256, 331–333.
  204. ^ "Funeral of Robert Stephenson in Westminster".  
  205. ^ Rolt 1984, p. 333.
  206. ^ a b Jeaffreson & Pole 1864b, p. 253.
  207. ^ Davis 1975, pp. 288–290.
  208. ^ Rolt 1984, p. ix.
  209. ^ Jones, Robin, ed. (2013). The Rocket Men: George and Robert Stephenson. Morton's Media. p. 23.  
  210. ^ Davis 1975, p. 295.
  211. ^ "Notes recently withdrawn from circulation". Bank of England. Retrieved 24 December 2013. 
  212. ^ "Join the railway revolution (about us)". Stephenson Railway Museum. 2014. Retrieved 20 March 2014. 


  1. ^ Robert and George both gave the month of Robert's birth variously as October, November or December.[5] Jeaffreson & Pole (1864a, p. 7) states that although he celebrated his birthday on 16 November, the October date was determined by looking at an extract from the register. Most biographies, such as Rolt (1984, p. 10) and Davis (1975, p. 8), give this date of birth except Ross (2010, pp. 21, 288), who gives the November date because George's younger brother Robert laid out the Bolton and Leigh Railway and the narrow gauge [10] ^
  2. ^ Smiles had this story of Elizabeth and George meeting in an early edition, but removed it in later editions after being told by Elizabeth's brother that he had introduced the couple to each other in 1818 or 1819.[25] However, subsequent biographers, such as Jeaffreson & Pole (1864a, p. 49) and Rolt (1984, p. 17) repeat the earlier account.
  3. ^ Pease was a Quaker and after approximately a third of the shares were bought by Quakers and Pease, his family and other local Quakers had control of the managing committee the railway became known as "the Quaker line".[30]
  4. ^ In Smiles' biography, George had travelled down with Wood to see Pease uninvited, but Wood later stated publicly that the meeting had been by appointment. However, notes probably dictated by an elderly George were published in 1973 that said he had travelled to Darlington to see Pease because of the advice of friends,[33]
  5. ^ When George was commissioned to survey the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, William James was left without a job, and was eventually bankrupt. Rolt argues that Robert's sympathies were with James, using a letter from Robert Stephenson to James as evidence,[57] but after Rolt wrote his book this letter was re-attributed to George's brother, Robert.[58] Davis quotes a letter from Robert to Longbridge, sent before George had got the L&MR contract, in which Robert is excited about going to Colombia.[59]
  6. ^ In a contemporary account of the meeting, Trevithick claimed to have sat talking to George with an infant Robert on his knee many years before.[67] However Davis (1975, pp. 158–159) and Ross (2010, pp. 94–95) both consider it unlikely that the Cornish Trevithick had met the Stephensons in Newcastle.
  7. ^ Ross (2010, pp. 164, 297) notes that Robert was not seen at any meetings and did not join an English lodge, and considers the membership as a form of insurance.
  8. ^ Fanny (1803–1842) was the daughter of John Sanderson of London.[21] A relative has been quoted as saying that Fanny was intelligent and able to influence people without them knowing, and not beautiful, but had expressive dark eyes.[77]
  9. ^ To reverse earlier locomotives the driver had to manipulate the valves manually in sequence; with no brakes on the locomotive and wooden brakes on the tender this was the only way of stopping. There was only one S&DR driver that could do this in the dark, the others required the firemen to hold up a light. [84]
  10. ^ Marc Seguin, engineer to the St Etienne and Lyon Railway, had the idea at about the same time, and had a French patent. He built such a boiler that summer and fitted it to a locomotive two months after the Rainhill Trials. Although Seguin had visited the S&DR and ordered locomotives from Robert Stephenson & Co,[86][87] the Booth-Stephenson design was different, and Seguin and the Stephensons had not discussed the idea.[88]
  11. ^ The L&MR was built with the tracks 4 feet 8 12 inches (1.435 m) apart, although later the distance was increased to 6 feet (1.8 m).[98]
  12. ^ In 1830 a civil engineer was any engineer not in military service.[110]
  13. ^ This increased to £2,000 to match the salary Isambard Kingdom Brunel was awarded when he became chief engineer of the Great Western Railway.[118]
  14. ^ After gaining the contract for the Great Western Railway, Brunel borrowed copies of Robert's drawings and modelled his system of draughting on that used by Robert.[121]
  15. ^ Locomotives were used after July 1844 and the stationary engines were moved to a silver mine in Russia.[125]
  16. ^ Later, British locomotive manufacturers were absent when the builders of the line through the Semmering Pass in Austria held trials in 1851 to select a locomotive that could haul 140 long tons (142 t; 157 short tons) up a 1 in 40 gradient. The competition was won by Bavaria, built in Munich with eight coupled wheels.[152]
  17. ^ In 1857 Robert became godfather to   repeats the rumour that the child resulted from an long-term affair between Robert and Henrietta Baden-Powell, but there is no evidence for this other than gossip.[157]
  18. ^ Smiles (1868, p. 234) states that early tramroads had rails 4 ft 8 in apart, but Tomlinson (1915, pp. 82–83) challenges this, stating that the most common gauge of the early tramroads and waggonways was of the order of 4 ft (1,219 mm), and some, such as the Wylam waggonway, had the rails 5 ft (1,524 mm) apart.
  19. ^ Early documents gave 4 ft 8 in as the gauge on both the S&DR and L&MR, but the distance between the rails was later measured as 4 ft 8 12 in, and this became the standard gauge used by 60 per cent of railways worldwide. The difference of 12 inch (13 mm) is a mystery.[166][167]
  20. ^ For more details see Lewis, Peter (2007), Disaster on the Dee: Robert Stephenson's Nemesis of 1847, History Press,  .
  21. ^ Fairbairn claimed credit for the design in his book Fairbairn, William (1849), An account of the construction of the Britannia and Conway tubular bridges , to which Robert responded with Clark, Edwin; Stephenson, Robert (1849), General description of the Britannia and Conway tubular bridges on the Chester & Holyhead Railway .[175]
  22. ^ Although Rolt (1984, p. 325) states that Robert supported the radicals, Ross (2010, p. 266) states he voted with the government, and he was included in the list of noes published in The Times the day after the vote.[187]
  23. ^ For details of this journey see Bidder, Elizabeth (2012), The Elizabeth Bidder Diary, Robert Stephenson Trust .
  24. ^ It was reported in The Morning Post that "Great disappointment was felt at the entire exclusion of ladies", but that space was limited.[204]
  25. ^ Sources differ as whether the legacy was valued over[200] or under £400,000.[206]


Notes and references

[212] The Victorian self-help advocate

[206][200] Robert's death was deeply mourned throughout the country, especially since it happened just a few days after the death of Brunel. His funeral cortege was given permission by the Queen to pass through

Robert Stephenson statue outside Euston station


In late 1858 Robert sailed with some friends to Alexandria,[note 24] where he stayed on board Titania or at Grand Cross of the order of St. Olaf. He fell ill at the banquet on 3 September and returned to England on board "Titania" in the company of a doctor, but the journey took seven days after the yacht ran into a storm. As Robert landed in Suffolk, Brunel was already seriously ill following a stroke and died the following day. Robert rallied, but died on 12 October 1859.[203] He was three years older than Brunel.

During his life he had become close friends with Brunel and Locke, and in 1857, although weak and ill, he responded to a plea for help from Brunel in launching the SS Great Eastern. Robert fell from the slipway into riverside mud, but continued without an overcoat until the end of his visit. The following day he was confined to his bed for two weeks with bronchitis.[202]

Having served as vice-president of the Institution of Civil Engineers since 1847, he was elected president in 1856, and the following year received a Honorary Doctorate of Civil Law at Oxford along with Brunel and Dr Livingstone.[201]

In 1855 Robert was decorated Knight of the Legion of Honour by the Emperor of France.[199][200]

In 1850 the route for the Norwegian Trunk Railway from Oslo (then Christiania) to Lake Mjøsa was surveyed, and Robert became chief engineer. Bidder stayed on as resident engineer, Robert returning in 1851, 1852 and 1854.[196][197] In August 1852 Robert travelled to Canada to advise the Grand Trunk Railway on crossing the St Lawrence River at Montreal. The 8,600-foot (2,600 m) Victoria Bridge had a 6,500 feet (2,000 m) long tube made up of 25 wrought iron sections,[198] and was to become for a time the longest bridge in the world.[21]

Robert found that he attracted the unwelcome attention of inventors and promoters; if he was too ill be at Great George Street they found him at home in Gloucester Square. In part to defend himself from these intrusions in 1850 he commissioned a 100-ton yacht, calling her Titania. Finding he that he had no unwanted visitors when aboard, he referred to her as "the house that has no knocker"; when he went aboard, he seemed to grow younger and would behave as an excited schoolboy.[193] He joined the Royal Yacht Squadron in 1850, becoming its first member not from an upper-class background.[194] Titania missed the 1851 Royal Squadron Cup race, which America won and started the America's Cup challenge, but lost to America in a private race a few days later.[195] A second yacht, also Titania but 90 feet (27 m) long and 184 tons, was built in 1852 after the first was destroyed by fire.[193]

Robert had moved to 34 Gloucester Square in 1847; when in London he would socialise at the Athenaeum and Carlton clubs, delaying returning home until late. By 1850 Robert had been involved in a third of the country's railway system, and had prematurely aged and become ill with chronic nephritis, then known as Bright's Disease,[4][192][133] a condition he had come to share with Isambard Brunel, for much the same reasons.

The first Titania in 1850, as reported by the Illustrated London News

The house that has no knocker

Robert had become a member of the Société d'Études du Canal de Suez in 1846, and the following year had accompanied Talabot and Alois Negrelli to look at the feasibility of a Suez canal. He advised against a canal, saying it would quickly fill up with sand,[188][189] and assisted in the building of a railway between Alexandria and Cairo, with two tubular bridges that he had designed. This opened in 1854, and was extended to Suez in 1858.[190][191] He spoke in Parliament against British involvement in a Suez canal scheme in 1857 and 1858.[188]

[note 23][187][186] but supported the government in January 1855, although the government lost the vote and the prime minister resigned.Crimean War He later condemned the way the British had fought the [185] in which the creator is to be worshiped – the true spirit of Christianity is never allowed to appear."form; Robert wrote in a private letter that this was aggressive, saying that in the "battle as to the mere Reformation since the Roman Catholic Cardinal as the first English Bishop Wiseman In 1850, the pope appointed [184] In the summer of 1847 Robert was invited to stand in the election for the Member of Parliament for


The route north of Newcastle to Newcastle and Berwick Railway in 1843.[180] The required Act, which, was given Royal Assent in 1845, included a high level road and rail bridge across the Tyne at Newcastle and the Royal Border Bridge across the Tweed at Berwick. The High Level Bridge is 1,372 feet (418 m) long and 146 feet (45 m) high and made from cast-iron bows held taut by horizontal wrought-iron strings. The first train crossed the Tyne on a temporary wooden structure in August 1848; the iron bridge was formally opened by Queen Victoria in September 1849, Robert having been elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in June. The bridge across the Tweed is a 28-arch stone viaduct, and was opened by the Queen on 29 August 1850. At the celebratory dinner Robert sat beside the Queen; he had just been offered a knighthood, but had declined.[181][182]

The High Level Bridge in Newcastle

The Britannia Bridge was built for the Chester & Holyhead Railway to cross the Menai Straits from Wales to the island of Anglesey.[173] The bridge needed to be 1,511 feet (461 m) long, and the Admiralty insisted on a single span 100 feet (30 m) above the water.[174] Problems during the launch of the wrought-iron steamship the Prince of Wales meant that she fell with her hull not supported for 110 feet (34 m), but was undamaged. Robert was inspired by this and with William Fairbairn and Eaton Hodgkinson designed a wrought-iron tubular bridge large enough for a train to pass through.[note 22] They experimented with models in 1845 and 1846,[176][177] and decided to use similar design on the 400-foot (120 m) Conwy Bridge to gain experience.[178] The first Conwy tube was floated into position in March 1848 and lifted the following month, allowing a single line railway to open on 1 May. The second tube was lifted into position that October; on these days Brunel was with Robert supporting his friend. The positioning of the first of the four tubes for the Britannia Bridge was carried out in June 1849, when both Brunel and Locke were with Robert, and this was lifted into position in October. The second tube was in lifted into place 7 January 1850, a single line was open to public traffic through these tubes 18 March 1850, and the second line was open 19 October.[179]

The Chester & Holyhead Railway received its permission in 1845 and Robert became the chief engineer and designed an iron bridge to cross the River Dee just outside Chester. Completed in September 1846, it was inspected by the Broad of Trade Inspector, Major-General Paisley, on 20 October.[170] On 24 May 1847 the bridge gave way under a passenger train; the locomotive and driver made it across, but the tender and carriages fell into the river. Five people died. Conder attended the inquest at Chester: he recounts that Paisley was so agitated he was nearly unable to speak, Robert was pale and haggard and the foreman of the jury seemed determined to get a verdict of manslaughter. Robert had been prepared to admit liability, but was persuaded to present a defence that the cast-iron girder could only have fractured because the tender had derailed due to a broken wheel. Robert was supported by expert witnesses such Locke, Charles Vignoles, Gooch and Kennedy, and a verdict of accidental death was returned. Robert never used long cast-iron girders again and a Royal Commission was later set up to look at the use of cast iron by the railway companies.[171][172][note 21]

The original box section Britannia Bridge, circa 1852.
The Dee bridge after the collapse

Bridge builder

Robert's stepmother, Elizabeth had died in 1845. That year George was returning ill from a trip to Spain and suffered an attack of Institution of Mechanical Engineers, and Robert took over that role until 1853.[169]

When George had built the Stockton & Darlington and Liverpool & Manchester he had placed the rails 4 ft 8 in (1,422 mm) apart, as this was the gauge of the railway at the Killingworth Colliery.[note 19] Isambard Kingdom Brunel, chief engineer to the Great Western Railway, had adopted the 7 ft (2,134 mm) or broad gauge, arguing that this would allow for higher speeds.[162] Railways built with the different gauges met for the first time at Gloucester in 1844, and although an inconvenience to passengers, this became a serious problem for goods, with delays and packages being lost at Gloucester. In 1845 a Royal Commission was appointed and of the forty-six witnesses that gave evidence, only Brunel and his colleagues at the Great Western supported the broad gauge.[163] Comparisons between a Stephenson locomotive between York and Darlington and one built by Brunel between Paddington and Didcot showed the broad gauge locomotive to be superior, but the commissioners found in favour of a 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) gauge, due in part to the greater number of route miles that had already been laid.[164][165][note 20] Brunel also supported propelling trains using the atmospheric system. Robert sent assistants to the Dalkey Atmospheric Railway in Ireland to observe, but advised against its use as the failure of one pump would bring traffic to a stop.[168]

An Illustrated London News cartoon showing passengers changing trains at Gloucester

Robert grew to dislike the house on Haverstock Hill after the death of his wife. He moved to Cambridge Square in Westminster to be nearer to London's [159][160][161]

Cambridge Square

Robert, like his father, planned a railway line that avoided gradients as much as possible, extending the route if necessary,[note 17] and proposed such a route for a line between London and Brighton, but an alternative was selected.[153] In August 1841 Robert himself was made Knight of the Order of Leopold for his improvements to locomotive engines. In the summer of 1842 Robert was away working on the N&DJR, in September in Cardiff and then in London working on a report for the French Railways. Fanny had been diagnosed with cancer two years previously and she grew seriously ill at the end of the month. Robert stopped work to be with her for five days before she died on 4 October 1842. Her wish was that Robert remarry and have children, but he stayed single for the rest of his life. Her funeral was on 11 October, and Robert returned to work the following day,[154] although he was to visit to her grave for many years.[155][note 18]

"My dear Fanny died this morning at five o'clock. God grant that I might close my life as she has done, in true faith and in charity with all men. Her last moments were perfect calmness."

Robert Stephenson diary entry on 4 October 1842[151]

Some work still needed to be completed on the L&BR, and the North Midland Railway and lines from Ostend to Liege and Antwerp to Mons in Belgium required Robert's attention. In 1839 he visited France, Spain and Italy for three months to advise on railways, meeting the leading French railway engineer Paulin Talabot. When he returned he was in demand, travelling the country, giving evidence to Parliament and was often asked to arbitrate in disputes between railway companies and their contractors.[150]

The [148][149]

After Robert had moved to London, William Hutchinson filled the gap with his design and technical skills at the locomotive works in Newcastle. Longbridge left in 1836 and was replaced by Edward Cooke, Fanny's uncle; Cooke and Robert were on first name terms and Cooke was someone Robert felt he could trust. The Stephenson valve gear was developed in 1842, although whoever at Newcastle first thought of it was disputed; Robert authorised the manufacture of a full size prototype on seeing a small model.[139] The six-coupled Stephenson long-boiler locomotive design was developed into a successful freight locomotive, but was unsuitable for sustained high speeds.[140]

Robert Stephenson & Co. works in Newcastle

[138][137] and in 1844 he moved along the street to No. 24, next door to the Institution of Civil Engineers building; this became the headquarters for both father and son.21 35 In 1835 Robert travelled with his father to Belgium. George had been invited to advise

Great George Street

While living at Haverstock Hill, Robert would work six days a week, rising at 5 am, when he would study the sciences and read poetry; he was a firm Tory, but avoided reading political articles in newspapers.[130] He was respected and known as "The Chief",[131] but told a friend that he felt that his reputation would "break under me like an eggshell"; he smoked cigars and he used calomel, a form of mercury chloride;[132] this was commonly mixed with opium.[133] His friend and writer, Francis Roubiliac Conder, said that if Robert was needed on site somewhere he would catch the northbound coach, sometimes sitting on the outside seat without an overcoat on a winter's evening.[134] He did not play his flute at this time. However, Robert would be at home on Sundays attending church and spending time with his wife. Robert and Fanny had no children, but were surrounded by family. Fanny was liked by Robert's friends who would visit, such as Bidder, Gooch, John Joseph Bramah, and the company's solicitor, Charles Parker.[130][135] She was said to rule "her husband without ever seeming to do so"; to please her he successfully applied to the Herald's College for a coat of arms, paying for it in November 1838, but he never liked it, calling it a "silly picture" just before his death.[136]

Robert was unable to order from Robert Stephenson & Co. due to railway company rules about conflict of interest, and so locomotives were purchased from Edward Bury and Company.[126] Charles Wheatstone, Robert's friend, installed the first electric telegraph between Euston square and Camden Town stations in autumn 1837.[127] Trains started running on 24 June, and the L&BR opened ceremonially on 15 September 1838. Construction had taken four years and three months, but had cost £5.5 million against the original estimate of £2.4 million.[128][129]

[note 16][124][123]. This incline, with a slope between 1 in 75 and 1 in 66, was too steep for the locomotives of the time, and was worked by a stationary engine at Camden − trains from Euston were drawn up by rope, whereas carriages would descend under gravity.Euston Square, who owned the land to the south, had strongly opposed the railway in the Lords in 1832. Later, Southampton changed his mind and authority was gained for an extension of the line south over Regent's Canal to Baron Southampton), as Chalk Farm tube station at Camden (near Regent's Canal The line permitted by the 1833 Act terminated north of [122] opposed the railway and tried to prevent a bridge being built and this was settled in court in 1835.Grand Junction Canal, all had engineering problems and were completed using direct labour. The Rugby railway station, 6 miles (9.7 km) south of Kilsby Tunnel Primrose Hill tunnel, Wolverton embankment, and [note 15][120] and he and Fanny moved from Newcastle to London, first briefly to [note 14] Robert was awarded a salary of £1,500 plus £200 expenses per annum,

The incline and stationary steam engine chimneys at Camden Town.

On 18 September 1830 George Stephenson & Son signed a contract to survey the route for the Coventry, rather than an alternative via Oxford, but it was Robert that did most of the work;[108] that same year Robert joined the Institution of Civil Engineers as a member.[109][note 13] There were two surveys in 1830–31, which met opposition from landed gentry and those who lived in market towns on the coach route that would be bypassed.[111] Robert stood as the engineering authority when a bill was presented to Parliament in 1832[112] and it was suggested during cross-examination that he had allowed too steep an angle on the side of the cutting at Tring. Remembering that Thomas Telford had cut through similar ground at Dunstable, Robert left with Gooch in post-chaise that night, and arrived at the cutting at dawn to find it the same angle he had proposed. He returned and was in the company solicitor's office at 10 am.[113] That year the bill passed through the Commons but was defeated in the Lords. After a public campaign and another survey by Robert, the necessary Act was obtained on 6 May 1833,[114][115] and it was Robert, not yet 30 years old, that signed the contract on 20 September 1833 to build the 112-mile (180 km) railway from Camden Town to Birmingham.[116][117]

London and Birmingham Railway

[106] The route of

[105][104] Soon after he had returned from America Robert took over responsibility for overseeing the construction of the

George Stephenson & Son had been created on the last day of 1824, when Robert was in South America, with the same partners as Robert Stephenson & Co. Formed to carry out railway surveys and construction, George and Robert were both listed as chief engineers and responsible for Parliamentary business, and the list of assistant engineers included Joseph Locke, John Dixon, Thomas Longridge Gooch and Thomas Storey. The company took on too much work[100] that was delegated to inexperienced and underpaid men.[101]

George Stephenson and Son

Civil engineer

[99] and died that evening.Eccles Huskisson was taken by train to [note 12] passing on the other track.Rocket, stepped down from a carriage and was hit by William Huskisson travelling in one of the inaugural trains. During a stop on the journey another passenger, a member of parliament, Duke of Wellington the Prime Minister on 15 September 1830 with the L&MR opened The [97] There was still opposition to the use of steam locomotives, and before the L&MR opened George and directors hosted a number of private viewings. The actress

The L&MR purchased Rocket and ordered four similar locomotives from Robert Stephenson & Co. before the end of October.[92] Four more similar locomotives followed, before Planet was delivered on 4 October 1830 with cylinders placed horizontally under the boiler. Hackworth was building Globe at the Robert Stephenson & Co. works at the same time, and Edward Bury delivered Liverpool the same month, both with cylinders under the boiler. It has been alleged that Robert copied Hackworth or Bury; he later said he had no knowledge of Liverpool at the time he was designing Planet.[93] John Bull, a Planet type locomotive, was shipped to the US and became the first movement by steam on a railway in New Jersey when it ran on the Camden and Amboy Railroad in 1831.[94] So many orders for locomotives were received that Robert proposed in 1831 to open a second locomotive works. It was agreed that the Stephenson name would not be attached to any other works, and what was to become the Vulcan Foundry was developed at Newton-le-Willows.[95][96]

The Sans Pareil was found to be overweight the following Tuesday, but allowed to run. She burnt fuel at more than three times the rate of Rocket before her boiler ran dry. Novelty was tried again the following day, was withdrawn after a joint failed again, and Rocket was declared the winner.[91]

The L&MR directors had not decided whether to use fixed engines with ropes or steam locomotives, and resolved on 20 April 1829 to hold trials to see if a steam locomotive would meet their requirements.[81] On the last day of August the date was set to 1 October and the location to a two-mile (3.2 km) double-track railway that was to be built at Rocket is not known.[83]

Liverpool and Manchester Railway

In March 1828 Robert wrote to a friend saying he had an attraction to Broad Street in London as Frances (Fanny) Sanderson lived there.[note 9] Robert and Fanny had known each other before he had gone to South America, and after calling on her soon after returning he had an invitation from her father to be a frequent visitor. He introduced her to his father in August 1828, and she accepted his proposal of marriage at the end of that year. Robert spent so much time in London the following year that his partners accused him of neglecting his business. Robert had not wished for a long engagement, but it took some time until a suitable house was found at 5 Greenfield Place in Newcastle, and Robert and Fanny married in London on 17 June 1829.[78][79][80]

In 1827 George had built the Experiment with sloping cylinders instead of the vertical ones on previous locomotives built in Newcastle.[74] Robert wanted to improve the way the wheels were driven and had a chance when an order arrived in January 1828 from the L&MR. The Lancashire Witch was built with inclined cylinders that allowed the axles to be sprung, but the L&MR withdrew the order in April; by mutual agreement the locomotive was sold to the Bolton and Leigh Railway. A number of similar locomotives with four or six wheels were built in the next two years, one being sent to the US for the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company.[75] As well as working at the locomotive works, Robert was also surveying routes for railways and advised on a tunnel under the River Mersey.[76]

Lancashire Witch (1828)
Rocket (1829)
A Planet type locomotive (1832)

George was living in Liverpool at the time, working as the chief engineer of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway (L&MR), and Robert stayed briefly as a guest at his father's house.[71] Robert travelled to London to meet the directors of the Colombian Mining Association, and then started on the business of Robert Stephenson & Co. with a visit to Brussels. He spent Christmas in London, and was impressed with the tidiness of Gurney's steam carriages, before returning to Newcastle, where he was to spend the next five years.[72][73]


Locomotive designer

Robert's contract ended on 16 July 1827. He travelled to Cartagena to see if he could walk across the Panama Isthmus, but this proved too difficult. While waiting for a ship to New York, he met Richard Trevithick,[note 7] who had been looking for South American gold and silver in the mines of Peru and Costa Rica, and gave him £50 so he could buy passage home. Robert caught a ship to New York; en route this picked up shipwrecked survivors that were so weak they had to be winched aboard, before the ship he was on sank in another storm. Everyone was saved, but Robert lost his money and luggage. He noticed that one second-class passenger was given priority over first-class passengers in the lifeboats: the captain later said privately that he and the passenger were Freemasons and had sworn an oath to show such preference to each other in times of peril. Robert was impressed and became a Freemason in New York.[68][69][note 8] Wishing to see something of North America, Robert with four other Englishmen walked the 500 miles (800 km) to Montreal via Niagara Falls. He returned to New York, caught the packet Pacific across the Atlantic and arrived in Liverpool at the end of November.[70]

He travelled overland with an interpreter and a servant to Bogotá, then the capital of Greater Colombia, arriving on 19 January 1825.[61] Travelling onward, Robert found the heavier equipment at Honda on the Magdalena River; there was no way to get it to the mines as the only route was a narrow and steep path. The mines were another 12 miles (19 km) from Mariquita, and Robert set up home at Santa Ana in a bungalow built from bamboo.[62] The Mining Association sent Cornish miners to work the mine, but they proved difficult to manage and drank so heavily that only two-thirds were ever available for work on any given day. They refused to accept that Robert, who had not been brought up in Cornwall, could know anything about mining.[63] One night Robert broke up a drunken party that was shouting they would not obey a bearded boy, saying that he would not fight them as he was sober.[64] Robert felt that his reports to London were being ignored, as heavy equipment continued to be sent.[65] He suffered from fevers, and once felt his "old complaint, a feeling of oppression in the breast."[66]

Robert's cottage at Santa Ana

After a five-week journey Robert arrived at the port of La Guayra in Venezuela on 23 July 1823. He investigated building a breakwater and pier at the harbour and a railway to Caracas. A railway linking Caracas to its port was an ambitious project as Caracas is situated at nearly 1000m above sea level: one was not completed until the 1880s.[60] Robert had potential backers for his railway in London, but he concluded that while the cost of a pier, estimated at £6,000, would be sustainable, that of a breakwater or railway would not.

[49] Michael Longbridge, who had agreed to take over management of Robert Stephenson & Co. in Robert's absence, understood that it would only be for a year.[note 6][56][55] Later biographers, Hunter Davis (1975) and David Ross (2010), argue that Robert was seeking to assert his independence from the control of his father.[54] from Sir William Congreve On 18 June 1824 Robert had set sail on the

Colombian mines

[48][47] and the railway opened on 27 September 1825.[46] The S&DR ordered two steam locomotives and two stationary engines from Robert Stephenson & Co. on 16 September 1824,[45] In June 1823 the Stephensons and Pease opened [44] On 23 May 1823, a second S&DR Act received Assent with the Stephensons' deviations from the original route and permission for the use of "loco-motives or moveable engines".

Robert had not completed his apprenticeship, but he was showing symptoms of tuberculosis and his work was hazardous; he was down West Moor Pit when there was an underground explosion. Wood agreed to release the 18-year-old Robert so that he could assist his father during the survey.[35][36] By the end of 1821 they reported that a usable line could be built within the bounds of the Act, but another route would be shorter and avoid deep cuttings and tunnels.[37] George was elected engineer by shareholders with a salary of £660 per annum.[38] He advocated the use of steam locomotives,[39] Pease visited Killingworth in the summer of 1822[40] and the directors visited Cambridge, but agreed to a short academic year as he wished that Robert not become a gentleman, but to work for his living. Robert first helped William James to survey the route of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, and then attended classes at Edinburgh University in Natural Philosophy, Natural History and Chemistry between October 1822 and April 1823.[42][43]

[34] Ways were investigated in the early 19th century to transport coal from the mines in the

The opening of the Stockton and Darlington Railway in 1825

Stockton and Darlington Railway

[27] Robert learnt to play the flute, which he played during services at the local parish church.[26] in Newcastle.High Level Bridge, he made one that he would later use to survey the mining compass As an apprentice Robert worked hard and lived frugally, and unable to afford to buy a [note 3][24] After leaving school in 1819, Robert was apprenticed to the mining engineer

Robert was first sent to a village school 1 12 miles (2.4 km) away in sundial together, which is still in place above the cottage door.[21][22]


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