One of the great Railway Engineers
1803 to 1859
Robert Stephenson was born on the 16th October 1803, the only son of the famous railway and locomotive engineer George Stephenson. After completing a private education in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Stephenson served an apprenticeship and went on to study at the University of Edinburgh. He spent three years as a mining engineer in Colombia, returning to Britain in 1827 to continue working alongside his father.
It is commonly taken that many of the achievements accredited to George Stephenson were actually a product of the father-son partnership. This family partnership was instrumental in the early period of railway history. Not only did they pioneer the Rocket – arguably the most famous locomotive in the World. But they also built numerous other locomotives for the newly established railway networks. In 1833, Robert Stephenson was appointed Chief Engineer for the London to Birmingham railway, which was the first inter-city railway to enter London. This proved to be a difficult task and upon completion in 1838 Stephenson gained much respect in the engineering World.
One of Stephenson’s friends was Isambard Kingdom Brunel, one of the most famous engineers ever. Although the pair were competitors, they often helped each other with projects and gave advice when needed. As his career progressed Stephenson became more involved with bridges, constructing many notable bridges around the World. The most notable of these bridges being the ground-breaking tubular bridges including the Britannia Bridge. He also constructed the renowned High Level Bridge at Newcastle-upon-Tyne and the Royal Border Bridge near Berwick-upon-Tweed.
Like Thomas Telford, Stephenson became President of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1855 and served two years. He was also President of the newly formed Institution of Mechanical Engineers. He was Member of Parliament for Whitby from 1847 until his death in 1859, and is buried in Westminster Abbey. In their honour the Railway Museum in North Shields is named after the Stephenson family.