Stephenson's Legacy 1850 - 2000

150 years of the iron road from Newcastle

Exhibition - including 'North East Focus' from the National Railway Museum, York.

Friday the 7th of July until - Saturday the 5th of August 2000

A new exhibition of the work of Robert Stephenson will be on show September 2009
9am -5pm , Closed Sundays

at Newcastle Arts Centre, 67 Westgate Road, NE1 1SG

The names of George Stephenson and his son Robert are probably best known for the locomotive ‘Rocket’ built in Newcastle in 1829 at the worlds first locomotive works alongside what is now the Central Station. The performance of the ‘Rocket’ as an efficient, reliable and fast steam engine proved the value of the steam train and established a new industry. However the Stephenson’s main concern was not the locomotive but the engineering of the railway.

The ‘Rocket’ was built by Robert Stephenson & Co in Newcastle for the world’s first inter city steam railway, the Liverpool & Manchester, engineered by George Stephenson. All early railways were tracks to carry Coal from mine to ship but this new public railway was designed for the fast transport of goods between port and factory and passengers from City to City. The L&M was a great work of Civil Engineering that would have a massive economic and social impact by setting design and construction precedents that would spread world wide.

The Stephenson’s vision was not for more short industrial lines but for a national network that would rival the ship as the main form of cargo and passenger transport. Shipping and Shipbuilding was the main trade of the Tyne and it is therefore not surprising that the City of Newcastle was slow to embrace the idea of a line that would link the City to London and Scotland. In fact before the building of Robert Stephenson’s High Level Bridge there were 15 proposals for a new Tyne crossing, some of which would have by-passed the City. The Stephensons used their national and international reputation to promote the argument for the rail system that would link Newcastle to all points of the compass.

Typically Newcastle was seen by the various companies that built lines to the city as a destination not a hub and without the vision of John Dobson, George Hudson and the Stephensons, Newcastle would have been left with a number of unconnected Terminal Stations on lines at different levels across the City. To achieve one High Level system across the City and the Tyne was a major economic and engineering success for Newcastle which is well illustrated by John Storey's famous print. George Stephenson died two years before the completion of his son’s work in Newcastle.

Robert was honoured by a banquet in the Station on July 30th 1850 to celebrate his achievements which included -

The London & Birmingham Railway, The High Level Bridge1849, the Britannia Tubular Bridge 1850 (Anglesey), The Royal Border Bridge 1850 at Berwick and the completion of the north east coast route from London to Edinburgh, and this show commemorates that 150th anniversary.

The Railways became the vital arteries of the Industrial Age, with its rapid economic and social change, for a hundred years until the development of electronic communication. The British rail network is once again undergoing a revival with faster trains and more passengers producing a political, economic and environmental pressure for development in a way that was not forecast in the 1960’s when the railway was regarded as yesterday’s technology.

The main part of this show is ‘North East Focus’ an exhibition lent by the National Railway Museum to which we have added more than twenty historic pictures illustrating the Stephenson legacy. This is also presented as a feature on our web site.

“North East Focus” looks back at the last days of the steam railway in the North East 35 years ago with photographs that recorded the end of an era of industrial power, grime and exploitation. The romance of the snorting steam engine with fire in it’s belly and potent power was a motivation for these pictures, but the awareness of a new age of change and uncertainty sparked an immediate need to record these scenes. At the time they were taken some train spotters found these pictures hard to understand, you can rarely see more than a glimpse of the engine let alone spot the number ! This show breaks with the old narrow conventions of railway photography (to produce sharp well lit pictures of locomotives) by recording trains in context almost regardless of the light or the weather.

Stephenson’s Legacy Acknowledgements

Additional photographs by Malcolm Dunnett, Trevor Ermel, Bob Payne, W.B. Greenfield (Courtesy North East Locomotive Preservation Society), R.W. Swinburn, our thanks to Colin Ashton of Northumberland Print for the loan of Carmichael’s lithograph of the High Level Bridge.

Picture research Ken Groundwater, Text Mike Tilley, Photographic printing Trevor Ermel at Monochrome,Digital Image restoration and printing Mike Tilley at Newcastle Arts Centre.
Photographs are for sale

When visiting this exhibition also allow time to visit the Central Station and the Castle Keep. The Keep built in the 11th Century is well worth a visit and a climb to the roof is rewarded by excellent views of the City, the Railway and the High Level Bridge. Admission to the Keep is £1.50.


Books - The High Level Bridge and the Central Station - John Addeyman and Bill Fawcett

North East Focus - the book of the Exhibition

Newcastle's Railways - Ken Groundwater



Worth a visit - The Tanfield Railway and the Causey Arch - phone 0191 388 7545

 more pictures

Riverscape exhibition 2001

Click here for the High Level

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