Last year the Newcastle & Northumberland Society was asked to support the Killingworth Local History Society in their campaign to have the Locomotive sculpture restored and placed in a prominent part of the town. The sculpture, which was fixed to the bridge link of the now demolished Killingworth Centre, was created by the late Charles Sansbury of Allendale [1916 -1989] and it was his own interpretation of the early development of railways. The piece was commissioned by Killingworth New Town developers Costain Property Investments Ltd and installed on 3rd October 1971. It was an obvious subject choice considering Killingworth and neighbouring West Moor’s links with George and Robert Stephenson. Sansbury was also the creator of the 480 unique miniature metal sculptures for the lift doors at Newcastle Civic Centre along with seven rise and fall portcullis screens and a series of gas flambeaux for the main entrance.
After many meetings between various interested parties and North Tyneside Council, which has been extremely supportive, and having obtained Heritage Lottery Funding, the Locomotive, is now standing proudly on the Southgate Roundabout in the town not far from its original wall mounted site. Its restoration and reinstatement is part of a number of celebrations of the bicentenary of the first running of George Stephenson’s Blucher, arguably the world’s first practical working travelling steam engine. It will be officially dedicated in July with some of the sculptor’s family in attendance. A play based on the life of George with a mix of professional actors and locals has been performed at nearby George Stephenson High School to rave reviews and a book entitled “North Tyneside Steam” is being launched also in July – please look out for it!
North Tyneside Council, who managed the project, also received the full support of the Stephenson Trust along with a small donation. Talks are ongoing about providing a suitable backdrop to the sculpture as it was intended to be viewed from one side only as a wall mounted artwork. An interpretation board will be placed nearby which will also remind residents of its history.
The N&N Society have suggested that the nearby site of the Westmoor Colliery, [where George Stephenson first worked on his steam engines and was the most famous colliery in the world in its day], be commemorated in a similar way to Killingworth High Pit in the old village with its interpretation board and winding gear set on a concrete plinth. Westmoor Colliery owners employed Stephenson, he built his engine and the rest they say is history. Westmoor certainly played a part in what has become known as the industrial revolution and arguably it could be described as the birth place of the steam engine and this deserves greater recognition. N&N are currently liaising with local historian Bob Mitchelson of the Killingworth Local History Society to ascertain the site of the capped shafts using old ordnance survey maps and contemporary photographs before reporting back to the Council to see what can be done before the developers move in.
The site is currently cleared for redevelopment so this is a great opportunity to add to North Tyneside’s Stephenson trail and to recognise the extraordinary events which took place on this site and remember the early beginnings of the region’s industrial heritage. In Stephenson’s day, a railed line stretched from Westmoor Colliery to Burradon Colliery. This was all part of the same mine complex, linked underground and was probably the route of the line on which Blucher was trialled in about 1813. There is some controversy as to the name of this engine and I have added this little snippet from “The First Locomotive Engineers” by LG Charlton published in 1974.
“……. Blucher, generally thought to have been named after the Prussian general of that name whereas it is actually an old Northumbrian word spelt “blutcher or bloater” defined by Heslop in his “Northumbrian Words” as “a heavy unwieldy instrument or thing; it is also used to describe a huge animal – an apt name for the large puffing monster which was replacing the horse”. This certainly seems plausible.
The Colliery Complex was linked up with the main east coast railway via sidings whilst another junction on the site continued the line past the end of George’s home at Dial Cottage, crossing Great Lime Road to coal staiths at Howden on Tyne, through what is now the suburb of Forest Hall. A 1940’s council housing estate “Rocket Way”, not far from where I was born was named in honour of the most famous of Stephenson engines and it and Ivy Road Secondary School backed onto this by then defunct wagon way which in places can still be followed as a public right of way.
The N&N have also asked for a blue plaque on the site of Rutters School in Front Street Longbenton where Robert received his first proper education, along with Thomas Addison. The Council have plans for 2 plaques to be placed at Cross House and Jasmine House in Wallsend on the site of where Robert was baptised and to recognise the graves of George’s first wife and daughter who died while he and Robert lived in Dial Cottage Westmoor. They were interred in St Bartholomew’s Church Yard in Benton.