Robert Stephenson Trust
c/o The North of England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers, Neville Hall, Westgate Road, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 1SE
Email: rstrust@robertstephensontrust.com

The Life of Robert Stephenson – a Timeline


Childhood and Early Years


1803  Robert was born on 16th October (throughout his life he thought his birthday was 16th November).  His birthplace was an upper room in a terraced cottage at Willington Quay, a few miles east of Newcastle upon Tyne.  Robert’s parents were George and Frances Stephenson (George also played a major role in the development of railways and the, often overlapping, achievements of George and Robert Stephenson are frequently confused).


1804  His parents moved to Paradise Row (despite the name, one room and a loft), West Moor, Killingworth where George was working.


1806  His mother, Frances, died.  Robert was left in the care of 20 year old Ann Snaith while his father, George, in his grief, went to work in Montrose, Scotland.


1808  Ann Snaith married George’s brother (also called Robert) and took the young Robert into their home.  When George returned later that year, he







resumed Robert’s care at Paradise Row.


ca 1810  Robert went to the village school in Longbenton and was taught by the parish clerk Tommy Rutter. He earned pennies taking miners’ picks to be sharpened at the local smithy.


1815  Robert started at a ‘proper’ school, Percy Street Academy, Newcastle. He became a reading member of the Literary and Philosophical Society.  In the same year he helped his father make what became known as the ‘Geordie’ safety lamp.


1816  Robert did the calculations for a sundial which he and George then made and put up over their front door (hence the later name of ‘Dial Cottage’).


1819  He left school to become an apprentice mining engineer under Nicholas Wood at Killingworth Colliery.


1819 – 22  Robert helped superintend the Hetton Railway and helped his father survey the line for the Stockton & Darlington Railway.  In charge of the engine workshop at West Moor he modified Losh and Stephenson’s 1816 patent engine and built a high pressure, and hence lighter, four-wheeled loco; he started to construct locos for the Hetton Railway.


1822  Robert helped William James with the first Liverpool and Manchester line survey. He advocated travelling engines, rather than the fixed engines commonly used with colliery waggonways.  In October he enrolled as a student at Edinburgh University where he completed two terms.


1823  With the formation of Robert Stephenson & Co. he became managing partner at the age of 19. With Michael Longridge, he set up the new company and recruited staff.


1824  In February Robert attended a Parliamentary Committee over 34 days for the third Stockton and Darlington Railway Bill.  In April he signed a 3 year contract with Herring, Graham and Powles, agents for what became the Colombian Mining Association.  He completed engine designs for the Stockton & Darlington Railway.