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The Tyneside Manufactories I: Stephenson Works

This is an article from the Newcastle Guardian and Tyne Mercury, dated Saturday 2 May 1846. It has been transcribed by our good friend Lawrence Havis, volunteer researcher for the Ouseburn Trust.

You can find out more about their work here -

Stephenson and the locomotive are names almost synonymous, and everywhere convey the impression of greatness and power. Their influence is now felt in nearly every quarter of the globe, and is doing the work of civilization, both here and in other countries, in a manner and with a rapidity almost incredible. Other men, it is true, are profiting by the ingenuity and the skill of the Stephensons – are gaining opulence and power by the employment of that simple yet magnificent piece of mechanism which they first set in motion and made patent to the world; but the name and the fame of these truly great benefactors of the human family, are imperishable, and, even amid the whirlpool of tiny characters that have sprung up. Through their labours, they stand forth, conspicuous and exalted among the eminent and the good of the age.

Stephenson's Works at Forth Banks, Newcastle

Curiosity, and an assurance that a brief account of it might not be unacceptable to our readers, recently induced us to visit Messrs. Stephenson’s leviathan establishment. This vast workshop, it may interest those at a distance to know, is situated in South Street, in the south west district of the town, close to the river. The works are divided into two factories, on either side of the street, and thus called “east” and “west.” The latter, though the newer, is the more extensive of the two, occupying several acres of ground. On entering it, the stranger is at once struck with the novelty, as well as the extent and variety of the operations disclosed. The ear is saluted with the noise of some hundreds of hammers reverberating on boilers and anvils, and the eye is startled by the sight of so many blazing fires and sundry workmen, with the greatest sang froid, Carrying about huge bars and plates of red hot iron! On examining the various departments, however, the visitor soon finds enough in each to engage his closest attention. He is first introduced to a workshop of unusual dimensions, level with the ground, where locomotives are being partially completed, and where upwards of forty hands are busily occupied in fitting up different parts of the machinery. Over this shop is an equally capacious room, accommodating about seventy men and boys, who polish and otherwise prepare the inside gearing and finer parts of the engines. Each stands in front of a “vice” at which the usual “filing” and “chiselling” are performed; but ingeniously constructed machinery, driven by steam power, is placed along the entire centre space of the room, and facilitates the more difficult task of cutting and modelling cranks, shafts and wheels. Proceeding to another part of the works, several locomotives are seen in course of trial, on rails laid for the purpose, and others in course of completion, under a large shed. Adjoining this is the packing, framing and painting shop, where locomotives intended for railways at a distance, are taken to pieces, after having been previously tried, and carefully packed in wooden boxes of unusual size and strength. The painting of the exterior of the carriages is also done in this department, and the framing put together. The boiler yard, or what is facetiously termed “the musical saloon” is the next place of interest. Musical this portion of the works most certainly is, and the music is of the right sort, too – the music of industry and enterprise. Fancy an angular shed in which are fifty or sixty huge fires, glowing before the roar of the blast; about two hundred stalwart men and boys, all hammering, with immense bars and plates of red hot iron, others inside of boilers or fire boxes – fancy such a sight, and you have an imperfect idea of this “musical saloon.” Many ingenious and beautiful specimens of mechanical art are, besides, seen at work in this department, such as a machine by which riveting bolts are moulded and fitted, and another by which the perforations in the copper fire boxes of the engines are executed with much skill and exactness. Leaving this, the visitor is conducted to the shop where the tenders are completed, and where a number of joiners are at work making the boxes used for packing the engines sent to a distance. A fine saw- mill used for cutting the heavy pieces of timber required, is here at work, and, in an upper apartment, wooden patterns for the machinery are prepared by skilful artisans.

The east factory differs little from the west, nearly the same kinds of work being performed in both. It is less in extent, but equally interesting and important to the visitor. Some branches are done here which we did not observe elsewhere. Engravers for example, are constantly employed preparing the plates bearing the engine makers’ name, also the letters for the name of the locomotive. All the brass castings are likewise done in the east factory. Every part of the locomotive, except the metal castings, are prepared and completed in both factories. The drawings and plans of the engines are executed in a separate department of the works, by a number of artists, who, judging by the specimens shown us, seem to reflect no ordinary credit on their worthy employers.

In passing through the various departments, the visitor cannot fail to observe the singularly well- arranged and orderly manner, in which everything in this great establishment is conducted. Nothing like disorder or confusion appears anywhere, and the various branches seem to proceed with extraordinary exactness and regularity. In several of the different shops, little boards are seen with the name of some distinguished contributor to the arts and sciences inscribed, such as Watt, Maudsley, Smeaton, &c. In the east factory, this feature of the establishment assumes more of a loyal character, the names being the Prince of Wales, the Princess Royal, &c.

It is almost unnecessary to inform our readers that the Messrs. Stephenson’s establishment is the largest and most complete, of its kind in the world; and such is the demand for locomotives that they have lately been obliged to open another factory, which is now being furnished, at West Forth Banks. They employ nearly one thousand men and boys, and pay weekly, in wages, about £1000. Apprentices, who are admitted only on payment of a handsome premium, are sent to them from all parts of the world, and from nearly all ranks of society. At present, the demand for locomotives is such they cannot furnish the numbers ordered. Nearly all they have completed for some time past, are now completing, are for foreign lines of railways. During the last year, they have sent out fully fifty-six locomotives, and this year the number is expected to increase to about eighty, besides repairing not a few old engines. Such an establishment may well be pronounced one of the wonders of modern times – a noble example of British enterprise and skill, and a lasting honour to its worthy proprietors, and especially to the north of England.

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