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Statue of George Stephenson (1862)
Westgate Road and Neville Street junction, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
Statue of George Stephenson (1862)
associated engineer
George Stephenson
date  2nd October 1862
era  Victorian  |  category  Monument to Engineer  |  reference  NZ246639
photo  Jane Joyce
Bronze statue of George Stephenson (1781-1848), first president of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, sculpted by Northumberland-born John Graham Lough. The monument is on a traffic island outside Newcastle Central Station. Though there are other memorials to Stephenson in Liverpool and York, this one is situated fittingly in his home city.
The 2.1m high statue of Stephenson tops a tapered grit stone column and stepped plinth 5m square with rusticated bands, with a figure at each corner. All the figures are larger than life-size and are modelled with classical overtones. The monument is simply inscribed ‘STEPHENSON’ on its east face and bears the sculptor’s signature on the base.
Stephenson stands with a rolled plan in hand, swathed in a length of Northumberland plaid. The four reclining figures denote an engineer, a blacksmith, a miner and a railway plate layer — all trades of particular relevance to Stephenson — and George’s son Robert is thought to be the model for two of them. The engineer holds a model steam locomotive, the blacksmith an anvil, the miner a safety lamp and the plate layer a rail.
In 1815, both Stephenson (at Killingworth Colliery) and Sir Humphry Davy (in London) developed safety lamps that allowed miners to work underground without using naked lights and risking mine-gas explosions.
Dubbed ‘the father of the locomotive’ by Victorian biographer Samuel Smiles, Stephenson designed his first locomotive Blucher, the earliest to use flanged wheels, for the Killingworth Colliery in 1814. Early locomotives were heavy in relation to the power they produced and tended to damage the tracks they ran on, so Stephenson also developed improved the design of iron rails and patented a new method of joining them, in association with William Losh.
Stephenson’s new malleable iron rails were first laid on the Stockton & Darlington Railway in May 1823. His famous locomotive Rocket was built in Newcastle, supervised by Robert at their own factory (within walking distance of the site of the statue), and successfully completed its testing on 6th October 1829.
The monument was paid for by public subscription, which raised more than £4,500 between October 1858 and April 1859. Some 10,000 people took part in the unveiling ceremony, watched by a crowd of 100,000. It is Grade II* listed and is now cared for by Newcastle City Council.
Sculptor: John Graham Lough
Research: ECPK
bibliography
"The Life of George Stephenson, Railway Engineer" by Samuel Smiles, fifth edition, John Murray, London, 1858
http://pmsa.cch.kcl.ac.uk
www.oxforddnb.com
www.victorianweb.org
Location

Statue of George Stephenson (1862)