« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
the ground underneath, consequent upon the excavation of the coal, that it was considered dangerous to enter it. On this occasion, Robert Gray and Anne Henderson, who had officiated as bridesman and bridesmaid at the wedding, came over again to Willington, and stood as godfather and godmother to little Robert, as the child was named, after his grandfather. After working for about three years as a brakesman at the Willington machine, George Stephenson was induced to leave his situation there for a similar one at the West Moor Colliery, Killingworth. It was while residing at Killingworth that his remarkable practical qualities as a workman were first recognised by his employers, and that he slowly but surely acquired that reputation as an Engineer and Inventor by which he afterwards became so extensively known and honoured.
been crept under, being above an old mine. “It’s only the pit a creeping,” said the parish clerk, by way of encouragement to the people to remain. But it would not do ; for there was a sudden creep out of the congregation. The clerk went at last, with a powdered head, crying out, “It’s only a creep.”— Our Coal Fields and our Coal Pits.
THE village of Killingworth lies about seven miles north of Newcastle, and is one of the best known collieries in that neighbourhood. The workings of the coal are of vast extent, giving employment to a large number of workpeople. The colliery stands high, and commands an extensive view of the adjacent country; it overlooks the valley of the Tyne on the south, and the pinnacles of the Newcastle spires may be discerned in the distance, when not obscured by the clouds of smoke which rise up from that vast hive of manufacturing industry. To this place George Stephenson first came as a brakesman in the year 1804. He had scarcely settled down in his new home, ere he sustained a heavy loss in the death of his wife, for whom he cherished the sincerest affection. Their married life had been happy, sweetened as it was by daily successful toil. The husband was sober and hard-working, and his young wife made his hearth so bright and his home so snug, that no attraction could draw him from her side in the evening hours. But this domestic happiness was all to pass away; and the twinkling feet, for which the lover had made those tiny shoes at Callerton, were now to be hidden for evermore from his eyes. It was a terrible blow; and he long lamented his bereavement, cherishing tenderly his dear wife's memory. Shortly after this event, while his grief was still fresh, he received an invitation from some gentlemen concerned in large spinning works near Montrose in Scotland, to proceed thither and superintend the working of one of Boulton and Watt's engines. He accepted the offer, and made arrangements to leave Killingworth for a time. Having left his boy in charge of a worthy neighbour, he set out upon his long journey to Scotland on foot, with his kit upon his back. It was while working at Montrose that he first gave proofs of that remarkable readiness in contrivance for which he was afterwards so distinguished. It appears that the water required for the purposes of his engine, as well as for the uses of the works, was pumped from a considerable depth, and that it was supplied from the adjacent extensive sand strata. The pumps frequently got choked by the sand drawn in at the bottom of the well through the snore holes, or apertures through which the water to be raised is admitted. The barrels soon became worn, and the bucket and clack leathers destroyed, so that it became necessary to devise a remedy; and with this object the engineman proceeded to adopt the following simple but original expedient. He had a wooden box or boot made, twelve feet high, which he placed in the sump or well, and into this he inserted the lower end of the pump. The result was, that the water flowed clear from the outer part of the well over into the boot, and was drawn up without any admixture of sand; and the difficulty was thus conquered. During his short stay, being paid good wages, Stephenson contrived to save a sum of 28l., which he took back with him to Killingworth, after an absence of about a year. Longing to get back to his own kindred—his heart yearning for the son whom he had left behind, our engineman took leave of his Montrose employers, and trudged back to Killingworth on foot as he had gone. He related to his friend, on his return, that when on the borders of Northumberland, late one evening, footsore and wearied with his long day's journey, he knocked at a small farmer's cottage door, and requested shelter for the
chap. v1.] SUPPORTS HIS INFIRM FATHER. 37
night. It was refused, and then he entreated that, being sore tired and unable to proceed any further, they would permit him to lie down in the outhouse, for that a little clean straw would serve him. The farmer's wife appeared at the door, looked at the traveller, then retiring with her husband, the two confabulated a little apart, and finally they invited Stephenson into the cottage. Always full of conversation and anecdote, he soon made himself at home in the farmer's family, and spent with them a few pleasant hours. He was hospitably entertained for the night, and when he left the cottage in the morning, he pressed them to make some charge for his lodging, but they would not hear of such a thing. They asked him to remember them kindly, and if he ever came that way, to be sure and call again. Many years after, when Stephenson had become a thriving man, he did not forget the humble pair who had thus succoured and entertained him on his way; he sought their cottage again, when age had silvered their hair; and when he left the aged couple, on that occasion, they may have been reminded of the old saying that we may sometimes “entertain angels unawares.” Reaching home, Stephenson found that his father had met with a serious accident at the Blucher Pit, which had reduced him to great distress and poverty. While engaged in the inside of an engine, making some repairs, a fellowworkman accidentally let in the steam upon him. The blast struck him full in the face — he was terribly scorched, and his eyesight was irretrievably lost. The helpless and infirm man had struggled for a time with poverty; his sons who were at home, poor as himself, were little able to help him, while George was at a distance in Scotland. On his return, however, with his savings in his pocket, his first step was to pay off his father's debts amounting to about 15l. ; soon afterwards he removed the aged pair from Jolly's Close to a comfortable cottage adjoining the tram-road near the West Moor
at Killingworth, where the old man lived for many years, supported entirely by his son. He was quite blind, but cheerful to the last. One of his greatest pleasures, towards the close of his life, was to receive a visit from his grandson Robert, who would ride straight into the cottage mounted on his “cuddy,” and call upon his grandfather to admire the points of the animal. The old man would then dilate upon the ears, fetlocks, and quarters of the donkey, and generally conclude by pronouncing him to be a “real blood.” Stephenson was again taken on as a brakesman at the West Moor Pit. He does not seem to have been very hopeful as to his prospects in life about the time (1807–8). Indeed the condition of the working class generally was then very discouraging. England was engaged in a great war, which pressed heavily upon the industry, and severely tried the resources, of the country. Heavy taxes were imposed upon all the articles of consumption that would bear them. Incomes of 50l. a year and upwards were taxed 10 per cent. There was a constant demand for men to fill the army, navy, and militia. Never before had England heard such drumming and fifing for recruits. In 1805, the gross forces of the United Kingdom amounted to nearly 700,000 men, and early in 1808 Lord Castlereagh carried a measure for the establishment of a local militia of 200,000 men. These measures produced great and general distress amongst the labouring classes. There were serious riots in Manchester, Newcastle, and elsewhere, through scarcity of work and lowness of wages. Every seventh person in England was a pauper, maintained out of the poor-rates, – there being, in 1807, 1,234,000 paupers to 7,636,000 persons who were not paupers. Those labourers who succeeded in finding employment were regularly mulcted of a large portion of their earnings to maintain the unemployed, and at the same time to carry on the terrible war in which Britain contended