Grave - George Stephenson (9th June 1781 to 12th august 1848)


In 2019 I went to have a look at Stephenson’s Rocket engine which was on show at Manchester's Science & Industry Museum. I would have spent the afternoon there but there must have been a problem with the drains as there was a foul smell. I had a good look at the famous locomotive Rocket engine though. It was invented by George who known as the father of British steam railways. The distance between nearly all the world railways sleepers is 4 feet 8 1/2 inches wide (1.435 m) due to George’s various rail inventions. Here I am at the church where he lies (under the communion table) and the home where he died.


He was born to parents who couldn't read and he was 17 years old by the time he could write. Aged 21 he was operating engines at a coal mine. He started designing them in his spare time and by 27 he’d built his first locomotive. It pulled heavy wagons of coal across a coal site but it was a start. More engines and improvements followed and his reputation was in locomotion much so he was hired to build an 8-mile railway from Hettor coilery to Sunderland. An engine was needed to propel itself and negate the need for horses. He was 42 by the time this was completed and a working success. At the time coal wasn’t just the King in Britain but an Emperor and coal pits were looking for efficient ways to get it around the country. Aged 44 George completed the first locomotive for the Stockton and Darlington Railway. For the first time purpose-built passenger car (called Experiment) which pulled along some dignitaries for the opening journey.


Where did the Rocket come from? Money is a powerful incentive and when George was 48 he learnt the bosses of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway were offering a £500 prize (now £70,000) and contract to build the locomotives for the new railway. His entry was the Rocket which was fast - 30phm at top speed! It won the competition. At the time it was most famous machine in the world. After this George was bombarded with offers of work and the busiest time of his life commenced (but I won’t go into it here.)


Over his life George was married three times, his first two wives dying quite young. He had a son and daughter though the latter died within a few weeks. By the time he married his third wife (who’d been his housekeeper) he was wealthy. Sadly seven months after the wedding he contracted pleurisy and died aged 67 at noon on Saturday 12th August 1848 at his home Tapton House in Chesterfield, Derbyshire.


George’s grave : I’m afraid the church where he’s buried was locked so I didn’t fix my short-sighted eyes on his tomb. There’s a memorial statue in the cemetery but I don’t think it counts. I prefer to see where the bones lie forever (he’s buried under the communion table alongside his second wife.) Afterwards I sat in the car and had a peanut-butter sandwich and frothy coffee in sight of Chesterfield’s crooked spire.


George’s home. Not far from the church lies Tapton House. You head up a winding drive to reach the house where he lived for his final ten years. There’s an innovation centre there now but the house and grounds are still intact. The old heavy gates to the house were closed but I give them a shove and one moved so I went in. There’s a circle at the front of the place where horses and carriages brought people to and from the main door. Thankfully the place doesn’t look to have been butchered with additions or extensions. In its life Tapton House has been a gentleman's residence, a ladies' boarding school and a co-educational school. Nowadays Chesterfield Council rent it the rooms as offices.


I strolled across the lawns at the rear and down to the small golf course below. George was a keen gardener all his adult life and here in the grounds he built hothouses where he grew exotic fruits. The house and gardens are in keeping with a wealthy inventor though there was only him and a son. There must have been a raft of gardeners and maids. I looked up at the many windows and wondered which room George had died in. He did well, developing railways which accelerated the Industrial Revolution. Privately he also a kind and generous chap, financially supporting the wives and families of (mostly) men who’d died in his employment due to accident or misadventure. I did a salute and left.







At George's home where he lived for ten years (and died)...