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Stephenson's birthplace

Wylam

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The River Tyne at Wylam

Wylam sits on the north bank of the River Tyne and was the birthplace of one of Northumberland’s most famous sons, George Stephenson, one of the early railway pioneers and inventor of the Rocket. Although it was once an industrial village, with several collieries and an ironworks, it is now mainly residential. It makes a nice day out from Newcastle as it offers pretty walks by the river, a couple of pubs, and a visit to Stephenson’s Cottage. The latter is operated by the National Trust and has a good tea room with a pretty garden.

By the River Tyne

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Flowers by the Tyne

A footpath and cycle path leading east out of the village, known as the Wylam Waggonway, follows the river bank for some distance.

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Information board

There are meadows leading down to the water, perfect for a picnic in fine weather and with benches so you can sit and watch the water flow past – very restful. These meadows are a protected site as they constitute relatively rare Calaminarian grassland. A sign along the path explains that such grasslands are only found where the soil is rich in heavy metals. These are the legacy of the mining industry, when mining spoil was washed away and deposited by the Tyne and Allen rivers. Normally environments rich in toxic metals (like lead, cadmium, copper) would not support thriving plant communities but Calaminarian grasslands have been populated by metal-loving plants known as metallophiles, such as mountain pansy, spring sandwort and alpine penny-cress. Other plants such as thyme and bladder campion have also adapted to the conditions and grow here. Only 93 hectares of Calaminarian grassland can be found in the whole of the UK, so this is a rather special spot.

Stephenson’s Cottage

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Stephenson's Cottage

Stephenson’s Cottage lies about three quarters of a mile east of the village, along the river path. This is where he was born, in June 1781, and where he lived for the first eight years of his life. It is now owned by the National Trust but currently (2017) closed while they evaluate its future – sadly it seems it has been receiving too few visitors and they need to rethink how they operate it. Unfortunately, this means that the tea room and pretty garden, where we had lunch on our latest visit to Wylam, are also currently closed. Hopefully this will not be permanent.

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At Stephenson's Cottage

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At Stephenson's Cottage

George Stephenson’s father, Robert, was the fireman for Wylam Colliery pumping engine and illiterate. George had little schooling and as a child was also illiterate, but when he started work himself, as an engineman at Water Row Pit in Newburn, he paid to study at night school to learn reading, writing and arithmetic. Despite this, and despite his considerable success in developing early locomotives he was always regarded with suspicion by the scientific elite of his time, mainly due to his broad Northumbrian dialect. He invented a safety lamp for miners, rivalling that of Humphrey Davy, but never received the credit he deserved.

Incidentally, one theory behind the nickname Geordie used for people from Newcastle is that the miners in the north east, who used Stephenson’s lamp rather than Davy’s, called it a Geordie Lamp after its inventor (Geordie being a popular diminutive for George) and the name spread to mean first of all any local miner and later any local.

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In the garden of Stephenson's Cottage

Later George was inspired the work of Richard Trevithick, a Cornishman who is credited with the first realistic design for a steam locomotive in 1802 and who later designed an engine for a north east mine owner. He designed his first locomotive in 1814, a travelling engine designed for hauling coal on the Killingworth wagonway. He went on to build the 8 mile (13 km) Hetton colliery railway, which was the first railway to use no animal power and opened in 1822, and to set up a company in Newcastle to manufacture locomotives. This company produced the famous engine known as Locomotion, for the Stockton and Darlington Railway, which although designed to haul coal became the first engine to pull passenger cars. The gauge Stephenson chose for this line, 4 feet 8.5 inches (1,435 mm) was subsequently adopted as the standard gauge for railways, not only in Britain, but throughout the world.

But his most famous achievement was the invention of the locomotive Rocket, which won a contest to build engines for the first steam passenger railway, the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. Stephenson became famous and went on to build more engines, design railways and bridges, and to become the first president of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in 1847. A far cry from his modest beginnings here in Wylam!

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Farmland near Stephenson's Cottage

Posted by ToonSarah 06:24 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged landscapes flowers history views village river garden Comments (8)

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