Biography of George Stephenson

Portrait of George Stephenson

George Stephenson was a nineteenth century pioneer in steam locomotion and seen as the father of early railways.

When and Where was he Born?

9th June 1781, at High Street House, Wylam-on-Tyne, Northumberland, England.

Family Background:

George Stephenson was the second of six children of Robert Stephenson, a colliery fireman, and Mabel Carr. Four families would have lived at High Street House.


Rudimentary learning at local night school.

Timeline of George Stephenson:

1789: The family leave High Street House and George works on a farm but is soon back again working at the Wylam Colliery with his father (aged eight) driving gin horses and moving coal.

1802: Now married to Frances Henderson, George Stephenson moves to Willington Quay near Wallsend.

1803: Birth of his son Robert.

1804: He is promoted to Brakesman and moves to Moor Cottage, Killingworth.

George Stephenson's Birthplace
George Stephenson’s Birthplace Wylam, Northumberland¬†
(copyright Anthony Blagg)
National Trust Plaque for Stephenson
National Trust sign outside Stephenson Birthplace

1805: Death of his wife. He accepts a post at a spinning works in Angus, Scotland.

1812: Stephenson becomes engine-wright at Killingworth Colliery.

1814: He builds his first Engine the eight-ton “Blucher” which was slow and unreliable on the wooden colliery tramroads. Undaunted he set his mind to not only improving the locomotives but also the trackways.

1815: He invents a miner’s safety lamp (contemporaneously with the more famous one by Sir Humphrey Davy). This lamp preferred by Tyneside miners was nicknamed the “Geordie Lamp”, a name which has passed into history for the fiercely proud local people. He receives a public testimonial of ¬£1,000 pounds for this invention, an immense sum for one from such a poor background.

1818: He joins with his partner Edward Pease of Darlington and obtains an Act of Parliament to allow the construction of a passenger railway from Witton Colliery to Stockton on Tees.

1820: He marries Elizabeth Hindmarsh.

1821: Stephenson surveys the proposed railway from Stockton to Darlington.

1822: The first rail is laid on 23rd May.

1825: The railway is completed on 27th September and is opened. The “Locomotion” Engine, built by Stephenson pulls the first train at speeds of up to fourteen miles per hour, a then unheard of speed.

1826: Stephenson is appointed engineer for the proposed Liverpool and Manchester railway.

1830: At the Rainhill Trials in Manchester his new Engine “Rocket” wins the competition to pull several wagons. It achieves speeds of up to 30 miles per hour. The other competitors fail to complete the course. Opening of the Liverpool to Manchester railway on 15th September.

1831: He begins offering his services as an engineer to various railways in the north and midlands of England and gives advice on the laying of the East and West Coast main lines between London and Scotland.

1835: His fame had now spread abroad and he begins advising King Leopold of Belgium and the Spanish government amongst others, on how to build railways there.

1838: Stephenson moves to Tapton House in Derbyshire as he had now become a wealthy man. Despite being in semi-retirement his ideas flowed apace and he designed model houses for miners and opened new coal mines.

Statue of Stephenson in Newcastle
Statue of George Stephenson in Newcastle City Centre
(copyright Anthony Blagg)

1845: Death of his Elizabeth his wife.

1848: Stephenson marries his his housekeeper. but dies the same year.

NOTE: His son Robert, born in 1803 at Willington Quay, took over his father’s locomotive works and made several engineering projects in his own right such as the Conway Bridge, Wales in 1848, the high level bridge at Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1849 and the Britannia Tubular Bridge in 1850. He was later to become an M.P. and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

When and Where did he Die?

12th August 1848 in Tapton House, Chesterfield, Derbyshire, England from pleurisy (a lung disease).

Age at Death:



1802 to Frances Henderson. (died 1805).
1820 to Elizabeth Hindmarsh. (died 1845).
1848 to his housekeeper.

Site of Grave:

Holy Trinity Church, Chesterfield, Derbyshire, England.

Places of Interest:


Darlington Railway Centre and Museum, North Road Station Darlington. Home of Stephenson’s “Locomotion” built in 1825.


Tapton House, Chesterfield.


George Stephenson, Museum, Rochdale.


The Science Museum.


George Stephenson’s Birthplace, Wylam. (National Trust – One room where the entire family lived for several years is on view).
Dial Cottage, Great Lime Road, Killingworth.


Bowes Railway, Springwell Village, Wreckenton.
Stephenson Railway Museum Project, North Shields, Tyne and Wear.


National Railway Museum, York.