Kilsby Tunnel, illustration by John Cooke Bourne

Art of Engineering

Illustrating the pioneering work of Robert Stephenson



9-5 MON - SAT admission free


A commemorative exhibition produced at Newcastle Arts Centre.


Robert Stephenson’s designs show the care and sensibility of a young man whose work changed the world’s perception of speed and time and reduced the distance between nations.

In the second quarter of the nineteenth century, Britain was fortunate in having two heroic engineers whose ambition and ability would rival anything produced by the Egyptians or the Romans. They were inspired by the great constructions of the past and worked to use the new industrial technology to create monuments of engineering that are still in use today.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Robert Stephenson both had enormous drive and commitment that led them to complete great engineering works the like of which few individuals have achieved before or since. Brunel and Stephenson were both rivals and friends and surprisingly died within a month of each other. This exhibition focuses on the civil engineering works of Robert Stephenson in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of his death on 12th October 1859.

Robert Stephenson the son of “the father of railways” George Stephenson was born at Willington Quay near Wallsend in 1803. Educated in Newcastle and Edinburgh he worked with his father on the Stockton and Darlington railway and gave his name to the world’s first locomotive works, Robert Stephenson & Co which opened at South Street, Newcastle 1823. He left Newcastle on a gold mining adventure to Columbia and on his return toured the North East of the USA surviving a shipwreck. He returned home at the request of his company shareholders and took charge of the Newcastle works to build the famous Rocket locomotive, a thoroughbred design which is the ancestor of the express passenger steam locomotive. During this time he lived only a street away from the Arts Centre. This exhibition includes original drawings, lent by Arup, for the world’s first metropolitan steam hauled railway, The London and Birmingham .

Robert’s most famous work in Newcastle is the High Level Bridge, now a grade one listed building that has just received a European Heritage award for its restoration. His work as a locomotive builder went world wide including the first locomotive for a German railway, the first to be delivered to the USA, and the North Star the only successful locomotive to be delivered for the opening of Brunel’s Great Western Railway.

Stephenson’s major engineering works were that of an internationally renowned civil engineer who built pioneering structures, which extended far from his native North East, including works in Europe, Egypt and Canada. Fine examples of his work can be seen only a short walk from this exhibition in Newcastle City Centre, the High Level Bridge, the cast iron bridge outside the Castle Keep and the great stone arch that spans Dean Street.

a detail from John Storey's famous view of Newcastle a detail from John Storey's famous view of Newcastle

This show is made up of original drawings from the Stephenson office, Reprints of J C Bourne's illustrations, photographs, historical information and a working model railway. Part of a historic collection of Toy Trains will run in and out of the Exhibition daily , noon til 12.45 and 4pm til 4.45pm. Tuesday - Saturday.

The exhibition of working drawings of structures on the London Birmingham Railway is courtesy of the worldwide engineering design firm Arup.

Also featured in this show are new art prints made at Newcastle Arts Centre from the lithographs of John Cooke Bourne.

John Cooke Bourne was born on 1 September 1814, in Hatton Garden. His godfather was the artist and engraver, George Cooke (1781 - 1834).
It is probable that he used a portable camera obscura as an aid in the years immediately before photography.

n 1836, a short walk from Bourne's home in Lamb’s Conduit Street, London, Robert Stephenson was beginning to build the London & Birmingham Railway. It started at Euston and ran through the streets and tenements of Camden Town and on towards the Midlands.

Regent's Canal Bridge

At the age of 22 Bourne began a series of sketches and watercolour drawings of Stephenson's construction work. Bourne sent several examples of the sketches to John Britton a writer and patron of the arts, who became his sponsor. The publication of the folio 'Bourne's London and Birmingham Railway' in 1838 is an amazing document of the building of the railway from which we have made fresh high quality exhibition prints which are for sale.

As part of the Robert Stephenson 150 Commemorative Regional Events organised by ICE (institute of Civil Engineers) this exhibition is presented by, ICE and the Robert Stephenson Trust.

Camden Town Engine House - detail


More about Robert Stephenson
Stephenson's Legacy ... High Level Bridge

67-69 Westgate Road near the Central Station

0191 2615999

more about Robert Stephenson at