Robert Stephenson

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: British History 1750-1900

Robert Stephenson.
Robert Stephenson.

Robert Stephenson FRS ( October 16, 1803– October 12, 1859) was an English civil engineer. He was the only son of George Stephenson, the famed railway and locomotive engineer; many of the achievements popularly credited to his father were actually joint efforts of father and son.


Robert Stephenson was well-educated prior to officially starting his career. His mother and sister died early in his life so young Robert spent much of his time as a child in the shadows of his father George Stephenson. Although lacking any formal education of his own, George had considerable engineering skills having improved mining operations for the Killingworth pits near their home. Robert thus developed a growing familiarity with mining equipment and machinery as he grew up in the Tyneside mining community. Early on, George saw great potential in Robert and was very dedicated to seeing that Robert was as well-educated and schooled as possible.

After a private education at the Bruce Academy in Newcastle upon Tyne, an apprenticeship to Nicolas Wood, the manager of Killingworth Colliery, and a period at the University of Edinburgh, Robert went to work with his father on his railway projects, the first being the Stockton and Darlington. In 1823 Robert set up a company in partnership with his father and Edward Pease to build railway locomotives; the firm, Robert Stephenson and Company, built a large proportion of the world's early locomotives and survived into the mid-20th century. The original factory building still exists, at Forth Street in Newcastle, as the Robert Stephenson Centre.

Robert did a good deal of the work for the Rainhill Trials-winning Rocket; following its success, the company built further locomotives for the Liverpool and Manchester Railway and other newly-established railways, including the Leicester and Swannington Railway.

In 1833 Robert was given the post of Chief Engineer for the London and Birmingham Railway, the first main-line railway to enter London, and the initial section of the West Coast Main Line. The line posed a number of difficult civil engineering challenges, most notably Kilsby Tunnel, and was completed in 1838. Stephenson was directly responsible for the tunnel under Primrose Hill, which required excavation by shafts. Early locomotives could not manage the climb from Euston Station to Chalk Farm, requiring Stephenson to devise a system that would be draw them up the hill by chains using a steam engine near The Roundhouse. This impressive structure remains in use today as an Arts Centre.

He constructed a number of well-known bridges, including the High Level Bridge at Newcastle upon Tyne, the wrought-iron box-section Britannia Bridge across the Menai Strait, the Conwy railway bridge between Llandudno Junction and Conwy, Arnside Viaduct in Cumbria, the Royal Border Bridge at Berwick-upon-Tweed and a joint road and rail bridge in 1850 over the River Nene at Sutton Bridge in Lincolnshire.

One of Stephenson's few failures was his design of the Dee bridge, which collapsed under a train. He was heavily criticized for the design, even before the collapse, particularly for the poor choice of materials, which included cast iron.

He served as Conservative Member of Parliament for Whitby from 1847 until his death. He was a commissioner of the short-lived London Metropolitan Commission of Sewers from 1848. He was President of the Institution of Civil Engineers for two years from 1855. His remains are interred at Westminster Abbey.

Stephenson was well respected by his engineering peers and had a lifetime friendship with Joseph Locke, a rival engineer during his career. One other such friendship included a friendship with Isambard Kingdom Brunel who often help Stevenson on other various projects.

The Stephenson Railway Museum in North Shields is named after George and Robert Stephenson.

In fiction

Stephenson appears as a character in the anime film Steamboy, in that world having apparently lived until 1866. In the English dub of the film his character also speaks with a rather posh stereotypical English accent and not the northern tones Stephenson used.

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