|Outside George Stephenson's birthplace, Wylam, Northumberland|
Don't imagine the Stephensons had all that cottage space behind me to live in. In fact the entire family, Old Bob and Mabel with what were eventually six children, lived in the one tiny room located where you can see the shutter just above my left shoulder. There was only one bed, with some of the children sleeping in a shakedown underneath. I can tell, you it's a very modest space indeed. This picture is taken from the likely position of the bed in the room.
|Inside the Stephenson cottage|
Dial Cottage is now on a major road called the Great Lime Road, but was once part of the much more romantic-sounding Paradise Row. I think it's a shame that North Tyneside Council have not preserved and furnished the interior of this cottage as the National Trust have George's birthplace, especially as Dial Cottage has the greater claim to importance in the Stephenson history, but there is a plaque, the sundial, and you can peer through the windows into the bare interior - though the last time I did I noticed an empty bottle of cheap sherry, evidence I guess of recent habitation by a down-and-out.
To be fair to North Tyneside Council they are involved, along with Tyne & Wear Museums with the Stephenson Railway Museum in nearby North Shields, which is home to an early Stephenson locomotive Billy. Having just checked the website I note that today is the start of a Half Term Family Festival which is running for the next month, so now's the time to take the kids - there's a train ride to look forward to.
Travel from North Tyneside to nearby Newcastle and you will find plenty of interesting Stephenson stuff, mainly in the vicinity of Newcastle Central Station. In Forth Street behind the station is the building that housed Robert Stephenson and Company, where Locomotion No.1 and The Rocket were built. Until recently, at certain times you could go inside the building and see part of the works restored by the Robert Stephenson Trust, and an excellent display. Unfortunately, private developers have now kicked the Trust out of the building, despite efforts at a reprieve. Ironically, the developers are labelling their commercial opportunity 'The Stephenson Quarter'.
Not far from the front of the Central Station is the Newcastle Assembly Rooms, now an entertainment and function venue, which was the original home of the Newcastle Literary and Philosophical Society where Robert studied in the library and George demonstrated his miner's safety lamp several months before Sir Humphry Davy came up with his own 'invention'. A few steps across the road is the existing Lit & Phil Building, opened in 1825 and still housing the largest independent library outside London. The adult Robert saved the Lit & Phil from debt, became its President, and left a legacy. Next door is the Mining Institute where I researched parts of the Stephenson story from original documents and records. Right outside the door is a statue of George himself, dressed somewhat incongruously in classical robes.
|Stephenson monument in Westgate Road, Newcastle|
|Newcastle High Level Bridge, with the Swing Bridge in the foreground|
|Tyne Bridge in foreground, Swing, High Level and railway bridges behind|
|Newcastle bridges at night|