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Steaming ahead on legend's legacy; From humble beginnings he shaped city.

Byline: Tony Henderson

HE was born 206 years ago this week in humble circumstances on the banks of the Tyne at Willington Quay, where his parents rented one room.

Yet Robert Stephenson, who died 150 years ago yesterday, became only the second engineer in British history to be buried in Westminster Abbey.

He was the force behind the development of the modern locomotive and the railway system, and his invention of the tubular girder meant that great bridges - and ultimately skyscrapers - could be built.

Two of the region's most famous bridges - the High Level over the Tyne and the Royal Border bridge over the Tweed at Berwick - are Robert's work.

Tyneside's Robert Stephenson changed the world, and yesterday the anniversary of his death was marked by wreath-laying, prayers and thanksgiving. The ceremony took place at the Stephenson monument in Westgate Road. Plans for the statue to his father and kindred railway pioneer George were under way when Robert died, and one of the figures seated at the monument plinth is believed to have been modelled on Robert.

The Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) North East decided to mark the anniversary by laying wreaths in Newcastle and at Westminster Abbey in London.

After laying the first wreath at the Stephenson Monument with the Sheriff of the City of Newcastle councillor Brenda Hindmarsh, and ICE North East chairman Greg Lutton, regional director Stephen Larkin took a second wreath on the train to London for a repeat ceremony.

Mr Larkin said: "He was arguably the greatest civil engineer in the world.

"He not only designed locomotives but promoted them and the railway system.

"It can be argued that he is the greatest individual the North East has produced and the esteem in which he was held is shown by the fact that he is buried in Westminster Abbey."

Mr Lutton said: "This year's celebrations of the life and work of Robert Stephenson have been a chance to reflect, not only regionally but nationally as well, upon the legacy he has left.

"We have the Stephenson family to thank for such great feats in engineering and today has been a real day of remembrance for those achievements." Vicky Howarth has lived in Robert's former home in Greenfield Place in Summerhill, Newcastle, for 33 years.

She is the author of one book and the co-author of a second on Robert, and was also a founder member of the Robert Stephenson Trust - set up to save his locomotive factory in South Street, behind the Central Station, on which Robert also worked.

She said: "Robert's contribution to the world is as meaningful now as it was during his lifetime.

"It is vitally important that we strive to maintain the reputation of the greatest engineer the region has produced.

"He epitomised progress and the spin-off from the railways was colossal.

His 1833 patent design was that from which all locomotives have developed.

"As far as making an impact on the world, he has got to be one of the most important figures Tyneside has ever produced."

Kath Lawless, head of development management at Newcastle City Council, said: "It was important that the anniversary was marked locally.

"The council is very keen to celebrate the lives of important local figures and to raise the profile and understanding of the roles they played." Last night a special service to commemorate Robert was held in St Nicholas Cathedral in Newcastle . The achievements of Robert and George Stephenson were the equivalent of the technological leap forward precipitated by the invention of the internet, said the Very Rev Christopher Dalliston, Dean of Newcastle who led the monument ceremony.

He said: "The Stephensons helped shape the city and its character and in may ways symbolise the spirit and creative talent of its people."

A LIFETIME OF ACHIEVEMENTS 1803: Robert Stephenson born in Willington Quay, now North Tyneside, to father George, an engine brakesman, and his wife Frances.

1805 Frances dies. Robert goes on to attend school in Longbenton and Percy Street Academy, Newcastle.

1819 Robert is apprenticed as a mining engineer to Nicholas Wood at Killingworth Collieries.

1821 Robert helps George with surveying the Stockton & Darlington railway and also builds a high pressure four-wheel steam locomotive.

1823 At 19 years of age, becomes managing partner in Robert Stephenson & Co, and sets up the world's first purpose-built locomotive factory in South Street, Newcastle.

1824 -27 Leads mining project in Colombia in South America.

1829 Marries Frances Sanderson.

They live in Greenfield Place, Newcastle. Plays major role in design of the Rocket locomotive, which wins the Rainhill trials.

1834 In charge of building the unprecedented 111-mile London to Birmingham railway. Later travels Europe as a railway consultant.

1841 Draws up plans for a tubular girder bridge for the Menai Straits. Appointed engineer in chief for the Newcastle & Berwick Railway, with responsibility for all structures including the High Level Bridge, Newcastle Central Station, Dean Street viaduct and the Royal Border Bridge.

1842 Frances dies.

1851 Accepts post of engineer in chief for Alexandria-Cairo railway in Egypt and Oslo-Miosen railway in Norway.

1853 Goes to Canada.His tubular girder bridge across the St Lawrence is the world's longest.

1859 Robert dies, less than a month after fellow engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel.


TRIBUTE Victoria Haworth at Robert Stephenson's house. HONOUR John McCabe, president of North of England Mining and Mechanical Engineering places flowers next to one of the figures on the plinth of the Stephenson memorial, said to have been modelled on Robert.
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Oct 13, 2009
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