Robert Stephenson and Company
Foundation and early success
The company was set up in 1823 in Forth Street, Newcastle-upon-Tyne in England by George Stephenson, his son Robert, with Edward Pease and Michael Longridge (the owner of the ironworks at Bedlington). It was founded as part of their construction of the Stockton and Darlington Railway. The manager of the works for a while was James Kennedy, who was later, like the Stephensons, President of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers
Its first engine was Locomotion No 1, which opened the line, followed by three more named Hope, Black Diamond and Diligence. The vertical cylinders meant that these locos rocked excessively and at the Hetton colliery railway Stephenson had introduced "steam springs" which had proved unsatisfactory. In 1828 he introduced the "Experiment" with inclined cylinders, which improved stability, and meant that it could be mounted on springs. Originally four wheeled, it was modified for six and another, Victory was built. Around this time, two locomotives were built for America. The first, a four coupled loco named America, was ordered by the Delaware and Hudson Railroad. The second, six-coupled and named Whistler was built for the Boston and Providence Rail Road in 1833, later renamed Massachusetts was lost in a bog in Mansfield, Massachusetts.
In 1829 Stephenson's Rocket won the Rainhill Trials. This locomotive engine had two notable improvements - a multi-tube boiler and a separate firebox. Originally angled, the cylinders were later made horizontal. The Invicta was the twentieth, and was built for the Canterbury and Whitstable Railway. Its cylinders were inclined, but moved to the front (chimney) end. In 1830 came the Planet class with the cylinders inside the frames, followed by the Patentee which added a pair of trailing wheels for greater stability with a larger boiler. This 2-2-2 design became the pattern for most locos, by many makers, for many years.
Long boiler designs
The increased distance travelled by many trains highlighted problems with the fireboxes and chimneys. With the co-operation of the North Midland Railway at their Derby works, he measured the temperature of the exhaust gases, and decided to lengthen the boilers on future engines. Initially these "long-boiler" engines were 2-2-2 designs, but in 1844, Stephenson moved the trailing wheel to the front in 4-2-0 formation, so that the cylinders could be mounted between the supporting wheels. It was one of these, the "Great A" along with another from the North Midland Railway, which was compared with Brunel's "Ixion" in the gauge trials in 1846. In 1846 he added a pair of trailing wheels - the first with eight wheels. Another important innovation in 1842 was the Stephenson link motion.
Robert Stephenson and Company built a number of Crampton type locomotives for the South Eastern Railway and the London, Chatham and Dover Railway. These were all of 4-2-0 wheel arrangement with inside cylinders and indirect drive. The inside cylinders drove a crankshaft located in front of the firebox and the crankshaft was coupled to the driving wheels by outside rods. They were unsuccessful on the LCDR, and the five Echo class locomotives were rebuilt as conventional 4-4-0 locomotives after only four years of service.
Important exports in twentieth century
One of early exports for the company was to Egypt when in 1833 he was asked by governor of Egypt to build Suez-Alexandria railway. It was an early copy of the idea of Suez Canal. It was believed by that governor that Stephenson's railway may be better than idea of Suez Canal. The company really began in it and finished some parts of it. But due to political French objection, he was soon asked to stop working. In 1849 Muhammad Ali died, and in 1851 his successor Abbas I contracted Robert Stephenson to build Egypt's first standard gauge railway. The first section, between Alexandria on the Mediterranean coast and Kafr el-Zayyat on the Rosetta branch of the Nile was opened in 1854. This was the first railway in the Ottoman Empire as well as Africa and the Middle East. In the same year Abbas died and was succeeded by Sa'id Pasha, in whose reign the section between Kafr el-Zayyat and Cairo was completed in 1856 followed by an extension from Cairo to Suez in 1858. This completed the first modern transport link between the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean, as Ferdinand de Lesseps did not complete the Suez Canal until 1869. At Kafr el-Zayyat the line between Cairo and Alexandria originally crossed the Nile with an 80 feet (24 m) car float. However, on 15 May 1858 a special train conveying Sa'id's heir presumptive Ahmad Rifaat Pasha fell off the float into the river and the prince was drowned. Stephenson therefore replaced the car float with a swing bridge nearly 500 metres (1,600 ft) long.
Into the twentieth century
Over the remainder of the century, the company prospered in the face of increasing competition, supplying railways at home and abroad. By 1899 around 3000 locomotives had been built and a new limited liability company was formed, Robert Stephenson and Company Limited and the works was moved to Darlington, the first locomotive leaving the shop in 1902.
Most railways in Britain were building their own rolling stock, so most of the output was for export, from 4-4-0's for the Oudh and Rohilkund Railway to GS (4-6-0) and HS (2-8-0) classes for the Bengal Nagpur Railway. These preceded the slightly larger BESA standard designs for the Indian railways. The works built the first British 2-10-0 for the Argentine Great Western Railway in 1905.
During World War I, the company devoted itself to munitions work. However between 1917 and 1920, a large batch of ROD 2-8-0 and SNCV type 18 0-6-0 tram locomotives were ordered by the War Office for use on the continent. From then on, business was slack, for various reasons. Notable were thirty 2-6-0 mixed traffic locomotives for the GWR in 1921, a batch of thirty 0-6-0 tank engines for the LNER and five 7F 2-8-0s for the Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway. In 1936 and 1937, only forty six were built, including eleven B17 class ("Sandringham") 4-6-0s for the LNER, and seven 2-6-4 passenger tank locomotives for the South Indian Railway Company.
Mergers and closure
In 1937, the company merged with the locomotive interests of Hawthorn Leslie and Company to form Robert Stephenson and Hawthorns Limited. The company's shipbuilding activities continuing separately. Main line locomotives continued to be built at Darlington, while industrial engines were built at Hawthorne Leslie's works at Forth Bank, Newcastle. in 1938 the goodwill of the Kitson and Manning Wardle companies was bought.
During World War II, the plant was fully occupied building 0-4-0 and 0-6-0 saddle tanks for industrial use, although they did manufacture four PC class 4-6-2s for the Iraqi State Railways in 1940 (one of which was lost at sea en route). In 1943, ninety Austerity 0-6-0ST locomotives were built for the War Department.
In 1944, the Vulcan Foundry, which had been formed by Robert Stephenson and Charles Tayleur in 1830, acquired a substantial stock holding, and they became part of the English Electric Company. The bulk of the output was for export or industrial use, including fifty South African Class 19D 4-8-2s, Indian YB, YL and WM classes, and ten M class 4-6-2s for the Tasmanian Government Railways. Domestic mainline locomotives included thirty five Class L1 2-6-4T for the Eastern Region of British Railways and 100 9400 class 0-6-0 pannier tanks for the Western Region.
The last steam locomotives to be built were a conventional 0-6-0T in 1958 and a six-coupled fireless locomotive in 1959. The Forth Street works were closed in 1960 and the Darlington Works, continuing with diesel and electric locos became English Electric Company Darlington Works in 1962.
The office block and one workshop of Stephenson's Forth Street Works in South St Newcastle upon Tyne have been restored by The Robert Stephenson Trust. The Trust lost its lease to these buildings in February 2009 following purchase of the whole Robert Stephenson & Co and Hawthorn Leslie locomotive works sites for redevelopment as the "Stephenson Quarter". The restored block and several other buildings are protected by Listed Building status but future public access is uncertain.
- Locomotion No 1
- Stephenson's Rocket
- Invicta (locomotive)
- John Bull (locomotive)
- List of rolling stock manufacturers
- Bradley, D. L. (1960). The Locomotives of the London Chatham and Dover Railway. The Railway Correspondence and Travel Society.
- Hughes, Hugh (1979). Steam Locomotives in India: Part 3 – Broad Gauge. Harrow, Middlesex: The Continental Railway Circle. ISBN 0-9503469-4-2.
- Lowe, J. W. (1989). British Steam Locomotive Builders. Guild Publishing.
- John Bull, History Wired - Smithsonian Institution
- , Robert Stephenson locomotive works, Darlington
- , Robert Stephenson & Co., South Street, Forth Bank, Newcastle works