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Derbyshire hills bounds the distance. The Midland Railway skirts the western edge of the park in a deep rock cutting, and the shrill whistle of the locomotive sounds near at hand as the trains speed past. The gardens and pleasure grounds adjoining the house were in a very neglected state when Mr. Stephenson first went to Tapton; and he promised himself, when he had secured rest and leisure from business, that he would put a new face upon both. The first improvement he made, was in cutting a woodland footpath up the hillside, by which he at the same time added a beautiful feature to the park, and secured a shorter road to the Chesterfield station. But it was some years before he found time to carry into effect his contemplated improvements in the adjoining gardens and pleasure grounds. He was a man of so active a temperament, had so long been accustomed to laborious pursuits, and felt himself still so full of work, that he could not at once settle down into the habit of quietly enjoying the fruits of his industry. There was, as we have seen, almost a complete lull in the railway world towards the end of 1837, principally caused by the monetary pressure; and this continued for several years. He had, for some time previously, been turning over in his mind the best mode of employing the facilities which railways afforded for the transport of coals to profitable markets; and after careful consideration, he determined to enter as a master miner into the trade with which he had been familiar from his boyhood. Accordingly, early in 1838, conjointly with other parties, he had entered on a lease of the Clay Cross estate, for the purpose of working the coal which was known to exist there. He had an impression that a ready sale might be found for this coal at the stations of the Midland and London and Birmingham Railways, as far even as London itself. He invited, one day, to his house at Tapton a small party of gentlemen, consisting of Mr. Glyn, Sir Joshua Walmsley,
chap. xxx..] CLAY CROSS AND TAPTON COLLIERIES. 415
Mr. Hudson, and Mr. Sandars, to take their opinion as to the qualities of the Derbyshire coal for household purposes. The coals were heaped upon the fire, and they burned so well, that all the gentlemen concurred in the opinion that a ready sale might be expected for coals of such a quality. Thus encouraged, sinking operations were commenced, a rich bed of coal was found, and the mineral was sent to market. The article, however, would not sell in the districts of the Midland Counties, where the people had been accustomed to use the Staffordshire coal, - which is a much freer burning coal,—though of this the above gentlemen, who had been accustomed only to the use of bituminous coal, such as that of the Clay Cross colliery, were not aware when they so decidedly pronounced their opinion as to the saleable qualities of the latter. Then, the heavy tolls imposed upon coal by the Midland Railway Companies at that early period, so enhanced the price of the article when conveyed to any considerable distance, that its sale in the metropolis, on which Mr. Stephenson had in a great measure relied, also proved a comparative failure. For some years, therefore, the Clay Cross undertaking did not prove successful; and it was not until new lines of railway had been made between the north and the south, and the tolls on coal were considerably reduced, that the owners of the colliery reaped the fruits of their enterprise. Mr. Stephenson was not merely satisfied with the Clay Cross venture; but in 1841, he entered into a contract with the owners of land in the townships of Tapton, Brimington, and Newbold, for the purpose of the whole of the coal thereunder, and commenced mining operations there also on an extensive scale. At the same time, he erected great limeworks close to the Ambergate station of the Midland Railway, from which, when in full operation, he was able to turn out upwards of 200 tons a day. The limestone was brought on a tramway from the village of Crich, about two or three miles distant from the kilns, the coal where with to burn it being supplied from his adjoining Clay Cross colliery. The works were on a scale such as had not before been attempted by any private individual engaged in a similar trade; and their success amply compensated the projector. Mr. Stephenson's comparative retirement from the profession of railway engineer led many persons interested in railways, to moot the subject of presenting him with a testimonial in consideration of the eminent services which he had rendered to the public by contributing so greatly to the establishment of this new power. Railways had now been in full work for ten years, and having struggled through trials and difficulties almost unparalleled, were now established as the chief mode of internal communication throughout Great Britain; they had also been largely adopted by Belgium, France, and the United States. Twenty-five hundred miles of railway, almost all of them double lines, had been laid down in these islands alone, connecting all the principal towns and provinces with the capital; joining in a more close and intimate union the various branches of the body politic, commercial and literary, with that great centre. Many new and important branches of industry had been entirely created by this new agency; and a stimulus had been given to all the existing departments of trade, as well as to the development of the bountiful resources of the soil, by which largely increased employment had been secured to the labouring classes. Some sixty millions of money had already been expended in forming railways; and this large investment was now returning about five millions yearly to the capitalists, for re-investment and further extension of the system. This vast iron revolution had been accomplished in a period of about ten years. So extraordinary a movement, powerfully affecting as it did all our social and commercial relations,
chap. xxx..] THE IRON REVOLUTION EFFECTED. 417
and coming so closely home to the interests of every member of the community, had never before been experienced in our nation's history. George Stephenson, above all others, had been the zealous propagandist of this great change. His ingenuity and perseverance had made the railway system practicable. His zeal and devotion had secured its success. What more natural than that some public mark of honour should be conferred upon him in recognition of his wonderful discovery 2 for such, in point of fact, it was. Had he been a Frenchman or a Belgian, the honours of the State would have been showered upon him. Had he invented a shell or a bullet to the satisfaction of the Board of Ordnance, the British Government might have recognised him. Perhaps, had he pointed out to the country gentlemen some improved mode of patching up the old common roads and preserving turnpike trusts, he might have been honoured and rewarded as Macadam was. But who would now venture to compare the improver of turnpikes with the inventor of railroads, looking at the public benefits conferred by the respective systems? Yet Mr. Stephenson, though he had solved the great social problem of rapid and easy transit from place to place—the subject of so much parliamentary inquiry — not only remained without any parliamentary recognition of his distinguished public services, but almost the whole of his professional career was a prolonged struggle against the obstructiveness of the legislature. Certain it is, that he never contemplated receiving any reward or recognition from that quarter. Amidst all his labours, it was the last thing that would have crossed his mind; and it is well that our greatest men in England can undertake questions of public utility, and carry them to a successful issue in the face of stupendous difficulties, without the stimulus of an expected medal or riband, or any government reward E E
or recognition whatsoever. Mr. Stephenson was, however, on one occasion offered a piece of Government patronage, thus recorded by his son: —“I remember my father once refusing to accept from the Government what they thought a piece of valuable patronage; and it was almost, if not absolutely, the only piece of patronage they ever offered him. It was the appointment of a walking postman between Chesterfield and Chatsworth, who was to walk eight miles there and eight miles back every day with the letter bags, and who was to receive the immense stipend of twelve shillings a week!”* A movement was made by some leading railway men, in February, 1839, under the presidency of Alderman Thompson, M.P., to offer to Mr. Stephenson some public testimonial in recognition of his distinguished services. A committee was formed, and an appeal was made to the public for subscriptions. A list was opened, but filled slowly. Many other engineers, who had been his pupils, and numerous resident engineers, who had superintended the execution of the works planned by him, had received public recognition of their services in many forms. But it was, perhaps, felt, that while these were generally of a local character, it was fitting that the testimonial to Mr. Stephenson, if offered at all, should express, in some measure, the gratitude of the British nation. No active effort was, however, made by the committee calculated to evoke any such result. The scheme then dropped, and the Stephenson Testimonial was not resumed for several years. But although no testimonial was presented to him, Mr. Stephenson was not without honour amongst his fellow-citi
* Reply of Robert Stephenson, Esq., M.P., President of the Institution of Civil Engineers, to Observations in the Second Report of the Postmaster General, May 20th, 1856.