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MARRIAGE, AND HOUSEKEEPING AT WILLINGTON QUAY.
By dint of thrift, sobriety, and industry, George Stephenson managed to save as much money at Black Callerton as enabled him, on leaving it for Willington Ballast Quay, to take a house and furnish it in a very humble style, for the reception of his young bride, Fanny Henderson.
Willington Quay, whither Stephenson now went to act as brakesman at the Ballast Hill, lies on the north bank of the Tyne, about six miles below Newcastle. It consists of a line of houses straggling along the river side; and high behind it towers up the huge mound of ballast emptied out of the ships which resort to the quay for their cargoes of coal for the London market. The ballast is thrown out of the ship’s hold into waggons laid alongside. When filled, a train of these is dragged up the steep incline which leads to the summit of the Ballast Hill, where the waggons are run out and their contents emptied to swell the monstrous accumulation of earth, chalk, and Thames mud already laid there, probably to form a puzzle for future antiquaries and geologists, when the origin of these immense hills along the Tyne has been forgotten. On the summit of the Willington Ballast Hill was a fixed engine, which drew the trains of laden waggons up the incline; and of this engine George Stephenson now acted as brakesman.
storied dwelling, standing a little back from the quay, with a bit of garden ground in front. The Stephenson family occupied the upper room in the west end of the cottage. Close behind rises the Ballast Hill.
When the cottage dwelling had been made snug, and prepared for the young wife's reception, the marriage took place. It was celebrated in Newburn Church, on the 28th of November, 1802.
George Stephenson's signature, as it stands in the books, is that of a person who seems to have just learnt to write. Yet it is the signature of a man, written slowly and deliberately, in strong round hand. With all his care, however, he had not been able to avoid a blotch; the word “ Stephenson ” has been brushed over before the ink was dry.
After the ceremony, George and his newly wedded wife proceeded to the house of old Robert Stephenson and his wife Mabel at Jolly's Close. The old man was now becoming infirm, though he still worked as an engine fireman, and contrived with difficulty " to keep his head above water.” When the visit had been paid, the bridal party prepared to set out for their new home at Willington Quay. They went in a homely old-fashioned style, though one quite usual in those days, before macadamised roads had been adopted, or travelling by railway so much as dreamt of. Two stout farm horses were borrowed from Mr. Burn, of the Red House Farm, Wolsingham, where Anne Henderson, the bride's sister, lived as servant. The two horses were each provided with a saddle and a pillion, and George having mounted one, his wife seated herself on the pillion behind him, holding on by her arms round his waist. Robert Gray and Anne Henderson in like manner mounted the other horse; and in this wise the wedding party rode across the country, passing through the old streets of Newcastle, and then by
Wallsend to their home at Willington Quay, - a long ride of about fifteen miles.
We may here mention that Mr. Burn, the farmer at Wolsingham, shortly after married Anne Henderson; and a good wife she proved. In those times the farmer and his servant did not stand so far apart, in point of social position, as they do now. Household servants were themselves generally the daughters of small farmers, and there was no great condescension in the master taking to wife one who had proved herself a clever and thrifty housekeeper. Paterson, the small farmer of Black Callerton, with whom George Stephenson had lodged while working at the Dolly Pit, in like manner married another sister, Betty; and she too, like her sisters, proved a worthy helpmate.
George Stephenson's daily life at Willington was that of a regular steady workman. By the manner, however, in which he continued to improve his spare hours in the evening, he was silently and surely paving the way for being something more than a mere workman. While other men of his class were idling in public-houses, he set himself down to study the principles of mechanics, and to master the laws by which his engine worked. For a workman, he was even at that time more than ordinarily speculative — often taking up strange theories, and trying to sift out the truth that was in them. While sitting by the side of his young wife in his cottage dwelling, in the winter evenings, he was usually occupied in making mechanical experiments, or in modelling experimental machines. Amongst his various speculations while at Willington, he occupied himself a good deal in endeavouring to discover Perpetual Motion. Although he failed, as so many others had done before him, the very efforts he made tended to whet his inventive faculties, and to call forth his dormant powers. He actually went so far as to construct the model of Motion. It consisted of a wooden wheel, the periphery of which was furnished with glass tubes illed with quicksilver; as the wheel rotated, the quicksilver poured itself down into the lower tubes, and thus a sort of self-acting motion was kept up in the apparatus, which, however, did not prove to be perpetual. Where he had first obtained the idea of this machine—whether from conversation, or reading, or his own thoughts, is not now remembered; but possibly he may have heard of an apparatus of a similar kind which is described in the “ History of Inventions.” As he had then no access to books, and indeed could barely read with ease, it is possible that he may have been told of the invention, and then set about testing its value according to his own methods.
Much of his spare time continued to be occupied by labour more immediately profitable, regarded in a pecuniary point of view. From mending shoes he proceeded to making them, and he also drove a good trade in making shoe-lasts, in which he was admitted to be very expert. William Coe, who continued to live at Willington in 1851, informed the writer that he bought a pair of shoes from George Stephenson for 7s. 6d., and he remembered that they were a capital fit, and wore well. But an accident occurred in his household about this time, which had the effect of directing his industry into a new and still more profitable channel. The cottage chimney took fire one day in his absence; the alarmed neighbours, rushing in, threw buckets-full of water upon the fire; some in their zeal mounted on the ridge of the house ard poured volumes of water down the chimney. The fire was soon put out, but the house was thoroughly soaked. When George came home he found the water running out of the door, everything in disorder, and his new furniture covered with soot. The eightday clock, which hung against the wall — one of the most highly prized articles in the house—was grievously injured by the steam with which the room had been filled. Its wheels
were so clogged by the dust and soot, that it was brought to a complete stand-still. George was always ready to turn his hand to anything, and his ingenuity, never at fault, immediately set to work for the repair of the unfortunate clock. He was advised to send it to the clockmaker, but that would have cost money; and he declared that he would repair it himself — at least he would try. The clock was accordingly taken to pieces and cleaned ; the tools which he had been accumulating by him for the purpose of constructing the Perpetual Motion machine, enabled him to do this; and he succeeded so well that, shortly after, the neighbours sent him their clocks to clean, and he soon became one of the most famous clock-doctors in the neighbourhood.
It was while living at Willington Quay that George Stephenson's only son Robert was born, on the 16th of October, 1803. The child was from his earliest years familiarised with the steady industry of his parents; for there were few if any idle moments spent in that cottage. When his father was not busy in making or mending shoes, cutting out shoe-lasts, or cleaning clocks, he was occupied with some drawing or model, in constructing which he sought to improve himself. The child was from the first, as may well be imagined, a great favourite with his father, whose evening hours were made happier by his presence. George Stephenson's strong “philoprogenitiveness," as phrenologists call it, had in his boyhood expended itself on birds, and dogs, and rabbits, and even on the poor old gin-horses which he had driven at the Callerton Pit; and now he found in his child a more genial object on which to expend the warmth of his affection.
The christening of the boy took place in the schoolhouse at Wallsend, the old parish church being at the time in so dilapidated a condition from the “creeping”* of
* The congregation in a church near Newcastle were one Sunday morning plentifully powdered with chips from the white ceiling of the church, which had