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250 ALTON GRANGE. Chap. XIV
Alton Grange — General Adoption Of Railways, And
Mr. Stephenson resided in Liverpool until some time after the completion and opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Eailway. He then removed to Alton Grange, near Asbbyde-ld-Zouch, in Leicestershire, where he lived for several years. Whilst his son Eobert was engaged as engineer in superintending the construction of the Leicester and Swannington Eailway in 1830, his experience as a coal-viewer and practical geologist suggested to him that coal was to be found in the estate of Snibston, near Ashby, then advertised for sale, and lying in the immediate neighbourhood of the line of railway. He mentioned the circumstance to his father, who inspected the ground, and came to the same conclusion.
The large manufacturing town of Leicester, about fourteen miles distant, had up to that time been exclusively supplied with coal brought by canal from Derbyshire; and Mr. Stephenson was quick to perceive that the railway under construction, from Swannington to Leicester, would furnish him with a ready market for any coals which he might find at Snibston. Having induced two of his Liverpool friends to join him in the venture, the Snibston estate was purchased in 1831: and shortly after, Mr. Stephenson removed his home from Liverpool to Alton Grange, for the purpose of superintending the sinking of the pit. He travelled thither by gig with his wife,—his favourite horse " Bobby" performing the journey by easy stages.
Sinking operations were immediately commenced, and
SINKS A COAL-PIT.
proceeded satisfactorily until the old enemy, water, burst in upon the workmen, and threatened to drown them out. But by means of efficient pumping-engines, and the skilful casing of the shaft with segments of cast-iron,—a process called "tubbing," which Mr. Stephenson was the first to adopt in the Midland Counties,—it was eventually made water-tight, and the sinking proceeded. When a depth of 166 feet had been reached, a still more formidable difficulty presented itself,—one which had baffled former sinkers, and deterred them from further operations. This was a dyke of fused granite, which had been brought down by volcanic action from the adjacent Charnwood Forest range, and here over
lapped the coal bed of the district. Mr. Stephenson fell back upon his old motto, "Persevere:" he determined to go on boring; and down through the solid granite he went until, twenty-two feet lower, he came upon the coal measures. In the mean time, however, lest the boring at this point should prove unsuccessful, he had commenced sinking 252 COLLIERT AT SNIBSTON. Chap. XIV.
another pair of shafts about a quarter of a mile west of the "fault;" and after about nine months' labour he reached the principal seam, called the "main coal."
The works were then opened out on a large scale, and Mr. Stephenson had the pleasure and good fortune to send the first train of main coal to Leicester by railway. The price was immediately reduced there to about 8s a ton, effecting a pecuniary saving to the inhabitants of the town of about 40,000/. per annum, or equivalent to the whole amount then collected in government taxes and local rates, besides giving an impetus to the manufacturing prosperity of the place, which has continued down to the present day. The correct and scientific principles upon which the mining operations at Snibston were conducted offered a salutary example to the neighbouring colliery owners. The numerous improvements thus introduced were freely exhibited to all, and they were afterwards reproduced in many forms all over the Midland Counties, greatly to the advantage of the mining interests.
At the same time Mr. Stephenson endeavoured to extend the benefit of railways throughout the district in which he now resided. He suggested to Lord Stamford the importance of constructing a branch line from the Leicester and Swannington Eailway through his property, principally for the purpose of opening out his fine granite quarries at Groby. The valuable advice was taken by Lord Stamford, and Mr. Stephenson laid out the line for him and superintended the works gratuitously. Another improvement which he effected for Lord Talbot proved of even greater pecuniary value. He contrived for his lordship, with no slight difficulty, a plan for "tubbing off" the fresh water from the salt at his mines near Tamworth, which enabled the saltworks there to be subsequently carried on to a great profit, which had not before been practicable. Mr. Stephenson was less successful in his endeavours to induce the late Marquis of Hastings to consent to the Birmingham and Derby Eailway, of which he was the engineer, passing through the mineral district of Ashby-de-la-Zouch. The Marquis was the principal owner
HIS CARE OF HIS WORKPEOPLE.
of the colliery property in the neighbourhood, and Mr. Stephenson calculated upon his lordship's influence in support of a scheme so certain to increase the value of his estate. But the Marquis, like many others of his class, did not yet detect the great advantages of railways, and he threatened his determined opposition if the Derby line were attempted to be brought through his coal-field. The line was consequently taken further to the west, by way of Burton; and thus Ashby for a time lost the benefits of railway communication. Twenty years elapsed before Mr. Stephenson's designs for its accommodation were carried into effect.
Nor was Mr. Stephenson less attentive to the comfort and well-being of those immediately dependent upon him—the
Coalville, with part of Snlbston Colliery on the left.
workpeople of the Snibston colliery and their families. Unlike many of those large employers who have "sprung from the ranks," he was one of the kindest and most indulgent of masters. He would have a fair day's work for a fair day's wages; but he never forgot that the employer had his duties as well as his rights. First of all, he attended to the proper home accommodation of Ms workpeople. He erected a village of comfortable cottages, each provided with a snug 254 INCREASE OF BUSINESS. Chap. XIV.
little garden. He was also instrumental in erecting a church adjacent to the works, as well as Church schools for the education of the colliers' children; and with that broad catholicity of sentiment which distinguished him, he further provided a chapel and a school-house for the use of the Dissenting portion of the colliers and their families,—an example of benevolent liberality which was not without its salutary influence on the neighbouring employers.
When at home, in the intervals of his now extensive business as a railway engineer, Mr. Stephenson delighted to snatch an occasional hour to indulge his love of rural life. When he could, he went bird-nesting in spring, and nutting in autumn; occasionally he did a little gardening, or took a rural ride on his favourite "Bobby," now growing old.* His uniform kindness and good temper, and his communicative, intelligent disposition, made him a great favourite with the neighbouring farmers, to whom he would volunteer much valuable advice on agricultural operations, drainage, ploughing, and labour-saving processes.
Shortly after Mr. Stephenson had settled down at Alton Grange, railway projects of great magnitude began to spring up all over England, and he was often called away for the purpose of making surveys, and conferring with committees of directors as to their parliamentary procedure. For several years he spent most of his time in travelling about on such business, besides frequently going down to Lancashire to watch over the working of the Liverpool and Manchester line. His correspondence increased so much, that he found it necessary to engage a private secretary, who accompanied him on his journeys. He was himself exceedingly averse to writing letters. The comparatively advanced age at which he learnt the art of writing, and the nature of his duties while engaged at the Killingworth colliery, precluded that facility in correspondence which only constant practice can give. He possessed, however, great facility in dictation,
* "Bobby " was about twenty years old when he died, in 1845. During the last few years of his life he was a pensioner, living in clover and doing no work.