Not only is this the birthplace of George Stephenson but it is a beautifully preserved 18th century cottage. A chance to see how the common man would have lived 250 years ago; there would have been four families shoe-horned into this humble abode. George Stephenson was born on 9 June 1781 in this cottage, 9 miles (15 km) west of Newcastle upon Tyne. He was the second child of Robert and Mabel Stephenson, neither of whom could read or write. Robert was the fireman for Wylam Colliery pumping engine, earning a very low wage, so there was no money for schooling. At 17, Stephenson became an engineman at Water Row Pit in Newburn. George realised the value of education and paid to study at night school to learn reading, writing and arithmetic – he was illiterate until the age of 18. In 1801 he began work at Black Callerton Colliery as a 'brakesman', controlling the winding gear at the pit. In 1802 he married Frances Henderson and moved to Willington Quay, east of Newcastle. There he worked as a brakesman while they lived in one room of a cottage. George made shoes and mended clocks to supplement his income.
Quaint and welcoming as it now seems to us the entire family lived in just one room. The costumed guide tells the story of how challenging life was for mining families, like George’s, that once crammed into this now charming little stone cottage, nestled in a pretty garden near the river Tyne. George Stephenson is both a classic example of a self-made man and of the class-distinctions prevalent at the time. In 1815, aware of the explosions often caused in mines by naked flames, Stephenson began to experiment with a safety lamp that would burn in a gaseous atmosphere without causing an explosion. At the same time, the eminent scientist and Cornishman Humphry Davy was also looking at the problem. Despite his lack of scientific knowledge, Stephenson, by trial and error, devised a lamp in which the air entered via tiny holes, through which the flames of the lamp could not pass. A month before Davy presented his design to the Royal Society, Stephenson demonstrated his own lamp to two witnesses by taking it down Killingworth Colliery and holding it in front of a fissure from which firedamp was issuing. The two designs differed; Davy's lamp was surrounded by a screen of gauze, whereas Stephenson's prototype lamp had a perforated plate contained in a glass cylinder. For his invention Davy was awarded £2,000, whilst Stephenson was accused of stealing the idea from Davy, because he was not seen as an adequate scientist who could have produced the lamp by any approved scientific method.
Recognizing this George paid for his son, Robert, to be privately educated. Robert continued his father's engineering work and desinged the 'Rocket', the first passenger train which won the Rainhill trials. There are a number of artefacts relating to this at the excellent museum in the cottage. There is wheelchair access but it should be noted that the Mobility car parkis half a mile to property via a bridleway. Fully accessible toilet. Braille guide available. Admission includes the tour with a well trained tour guide. You can enjoy a light snack in the cosy Stephenson tea-room
Location : near Wylam, Northumberland, NE41 8DS
Transport: Wylam (National Rail) 1/2 mile. Bus X84/X85 - Newcastle to Ovington (Tynedale Express) - stops in Wylam.
Opening Times: Thursday to Sunday and Bank Holidays 11:00 to 17:00
Tickets: Adults £3.00 Children £1.50
Tel: 01661 853457