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Statue of George Stephenson (1854)
Main Hall, National Railway Museum, Leeman Road, York, UK
Statue of George Stephenson (1854)
associated engineer
George Stephenson
date  1852 - 1854
era  Victorian  |  category  Monument to Engineer  |  reference  SE592519
photo  © National Railway Museum and SSPL released under CC licence [ CC BY-SA 3.0 ]
A larger than life size marble statue of railway pioneer George Stephenson, the first to be commissioned after his death. Originally placed in the Great Hall of Euston Station in London (pictured above), it was moved to its present location at the National Railway Museum in York when Euston was rebuilt in the 1960s. It now stands above a working replica of the steam locomotive Rocket.
George Stephenson (1781-1848) is remembered chiefly for his considerable contribution to Britain’s railway network. He led the way in transforming steam locomotion from niche to commonplace, enabling people and goods to travel faster than ever before.
Stephenson was the first president of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, and after his death the institution started a subscription to pay for a commemorative statue. A sum of £3,000 was raised through donations from its members and Stephenson's friends and admirers — among them 3,150 working men. Stephenson’s biographer Samuel Smiles (1812-1904) notes that the latter group contributed "an average of two shillings each" and "embraced this opportunity of doing honour to their distinguished fellow workman".
The memorial was to be installed in the Great Hall of Euston Station, the terminus of the London & Birmingham Railway, which was engineered by his son Robert Stephenson (1803-59). The station had been in use since 20th July 1837 (fully open from 17th September 1838), though the Great Hall was constructed during later expansion works and opened on 27th May 1849. Designed by architect Philip Charles Hardwick (1822-92), the triple height space was considered to be "the largest railway waiting room in the British Isles" at 38.4m long, 18.6m wide and 19.5m high.
The white marble statue of Stephenson is 3m high and was commissioned in 1852 from sculptor Edward Hodges Baily (1788-1867). It was placed on a rectangular column plinth, 1.5m high and inscribed with Stephenson's name and dates, located (original location TQ294827) at the foot of the hall’s sweeping double staircase. The frock-coated figure steps slightly forward onto his right foot, with his left hand at his lapel — apparently a characteristic pose — and holds an unfurling roll of drawings or plans in his right hand. Together the statue and plinth weigh around 6 tonnes.
The inauguration in April 1854 was criticised by The Times newspaper (11th April 1854) for downplaying the importance of the person being honoured. The statue was unveiled "Without much ceremonial observance, in the presence only of the more active members of the committee". The editorial commented further that Stephenson was "a man who stands more nearly and intimately associated with the spirit of the 19th century than we are yet willing to recognize", and concluded it might be "a characteristic of the age that the fame of such a man is so quietly left to the good keeping of the works which he had achieved".
By the 1960s, the Euston Station was too small to accommodate the required volume of rail traffic. In 1961-2, the original building was demolished and a much larger complex constructed in a functional modern style (opened 1968).
Stephenson’s statue was removed in 1961, ahead of demolition of the Great Hall in 1962. The sculpture and its plinth were transported to the National Railway Museum in York and re-erected in the main display hall. In 1990, Stephenson was placed in a purpose-built red brick niche (SE593520) at the north west end of the hall, overlooking a full size copy of the steam locomotive Rocket, winner of the famous Rainhill Trials. Rocket operated on the Liverpool & Manchester Railway in the 1830s, and was designed by Robert Stephenson with input from George Stephenson and Henry Booth (1788-1869).
Research: ECPK
bibliography
"Heroes of Invention: Technology, Liberalism and British Identity, 1750-1914" by Christine MacLeod, Cambridge University Press, 2007
http://eustonarch.blogspot.co.uk
http://lostbritain.uk
www.nrm.org.uk
reference sources   Smiles3
Location

Statue of George Stephenson (1854)