The Stephensons IX.
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CHAPTER XVIII.

CHESTER AND HOLYHEAD RAILWAY—MENAI AND CONWAY BRIDGES.


    WE have now to describe briefly another great undertaking, begun by George Stephenson, and taken up and completed by his son, in the course of which the latter carried out some of his greatest works—we mean the Chester and Holyhead Railway, completing the railway connection with Dublin, as the Newcastle and Berwick line completed the connection with Edinburgh.  It will thus be seen how closely Telford was followed by the Stephensons in perfecting the highways of their respective epochs; the former by means of turnpike roads, and the latter by means of railways.

    George Stephenson surveyed a line from Chester to Holyhead in 1838, and at the same time reported on the line through North Wales to Port Dynallen, as proposed by the Irish Railway Commissioners.  His advice was strongly in favour of adopting the line to Holyhead, as less costly and presenting better gradients.  A public meeting was held at Chester in January, 1839, in support of the latter measure, at which he was present to give explanations.  Mr. Uniacke, the mayor, in opening the proceedings, observed that it clearly appeared that the rival line through Shrewsbury was quite impracticable.  Mr. Stephenson, he added, was present in the room, ready to answer any questions which might be put to him on the subject; and "it would be better that he should be asked questions than required to make a speech; for, though a very good engineer, he was a bad speaker."

    One of the questions then put to Mr. Stephenson related to the mode by which he proposed to haul the passenger-carriages over the Menai Suspension Bridge by horse-power; and he was asked whether he knew the pressure the bridge was capable of sustaining.  His answer was that "he had not yet made any calculations, but he proposed getting data which would enable him to arrive at an accurate calculation of the actual strain upon the bridge during the late gale.  He had, however, no hesitation in saying that it was more than twenty times as much as the strain of a train of carriages and a locomotive engine.  The only reason why he proposed to convey the carriages over by horses was in order that he might, by distributing the weight, not increase the wavy motion.  All the train would be on at once, but distributed.  This he thought better than passing them linked together, by a locomotive engine."  It will thus be observed that the practicability of throwing a rigid railroad bridge across the Straits had not yet been completed.

    The Dublin Chamber of Commerce passed resolutions in favour of Stephenson's line after hearing his explanations of its essential features.  The project, after undergoing much discussion, was at length embodied in an act passed in 1844, and the work was brought to a successful completion by his son, with several important modifications, including the grand original feature of the tubular bridges across the Menai Straits and the estuary of the Conway.  Excepting these great works, the construction of this line presented no unusual features, though the remarkable terrace cut for the accommodation of the railway under the steep slope of Penmaen Mawr is worthy of a passing notice.

    About midway between Conway and Bangor, Penmaen Mawr forms a bold and almost precipitous headland, at the base of which, in rough weather, the ocean dashes with great fury.  There was not space enough between the mountain and the strand for the passage of the railway; hence in some places the rock had to be blasted to form a terrace, and in others sea walls had to be built up to the proper level, on which to form an embankment of sufficient width to enable the road to be laid.  A tunnel of 10½ chains in length was cut through the headland itself; and on its east and west sides the line was formed by a terrace cut out of the cliff, and by embankments protected by sea walls, the terrace being three times interrupted by embankments in its course of about a mile and a quarter.  The road lies so close under the steep mountain face that it was even found necessary at certain places to protect it against possible accidents from falling stones, by means of a covered way.  The terrace on the east side of the headland was, however, in some measure, protected against the roll of the sea by the mass of stone run out from the tunnel, which formed a deep shingle-bank in front of the wall.

 


    The part of the work which lies to the westward of the headland penetrated by the tunnel was exposed to the full force of the sea, and the formation of the road at that point was attended with great difficulty.  While the sea wall was still in progress, its strength was severely tried by a strong north-westerly gale which blew in October, 1846, accompanied with a spring tide of 17 feet.  On the following morning it was found that a large portion of the rubble was irreparably injured, and 200 yards of the wall were then replaced by an open viaduct, with the piers placed edgeways to the sea, the openings between them being spanned by ten cast-iron girders 42 feet long.  This accident farther induced the engineer to alter the contour of the sea wall, so that it should present a diminished resistance to the force of the waves.

    But the sea repeated its assaults, and made farther havoc with the work, entailing heavy expenses and a complete reorganization of the contract.  Increased solidity was then given to the masonry, and the face of the wall underwent farther change.  At some points outworks were constructed, and piles were driven into the beach about 15 feet from the base of the wall for the purpose of protecting its foundations and breaking the force of the waves.  The work was at length finished after about three years' anxious labour; but Mr. Stephenson confessed that if a long tunnel had been made in the first instance through the solid rock of Penmaen Mawr, a saving of from £25,000 to £30,000 would have been effected.  He also said he had arrived at the conclusion that in railway works engineers should endeavour as far as possible to avoid the necessity of contending with the sea; [p.441] but if he were ever again compelled to go within its reach, he would adopt, instead of retaining walls, an open viaduct, placing all the piers edgeways to the force of the sea, and allowing the waves to break upon a natural slope of beach.  He was ready enough to admit the errors he had committed in the original design of this work; but he said he had always gained more information from studying the causes of failures and endeavouring to surmount them, than he had done from easily-won successes.  While many of the latter had been forgotten, the former were indelibly fixed in his memory.

    But by far the greatest difficulty which Robert Stephenson had to encounter in executing this railway was in carrying it across the Straits of Menai and the estuary of the Conway, where, like his predecessor Telford, when forming his high road through North Wales, he was under the necessity of resorting to new and altogether untried methods of bridge construction.  At Menai, the waters of the Irish Sea are perpetually vibrating along the precipitous shores of the Strait, rising and falling from 20 to 25 feet at each successive tide, the width and depth of the channel being such as to render it available for navigation by the largest ships.  The problem was to throw a bridge across this wide chasm—a bridge of unusual span and dimensions—of such strength as to be capable of bearing the heaviest loads at high speeds, and of such a uniform height throughout as not in any way to interfere with the navigation of the Strait.  From an early period Mr. Stephenson had fixed upon the spot where the Britannia Rock occurs, nearly in the middle of the channel, as the most eligible point for crossing, the water width from shore to shore at high water being there about 1100 feet.

 

 

    The engineer's first idea was to construct the bridge of two cast-iron arches of 350 feet span each.  There was no novelty in this idea; for, as early as the year 1801, Mr. Rennie prepared a design of a cast-iron bridge across the Strait at the Swilly Rocks, the great centre arch of which was to be 450 feet span; and at a later period, in 1810, Telford submitted a design of a similar bridge at Inys-y-Moch, with a single cast-iron arch of 500 feet.  But the same objections which led to the rejection of Rennie's and Telford's designs proved fatal to Robert Stephenson's, and his iron-arched railway bridge was rejected by the Admiralty.  The navigation of the Strait was under no circumstances to be interfered with; and even the erection of scaffolding from below, to support the bridge during construction, was not to be permitted.  The idea of a suspension bridge was dismissed as inapplicable, a degree of rigidity and strength greater than could be secured by any bridge erected on the principle of suspension being considered an indispensable condition of the proposed structure

    Mr. Stephenson next considered the expediency of erecting a bridge by means of suspended centring, after the ingenious method proposed by Telford in 1810, [p.443-1] by which the arching was to be carried out by placing equal and corresponding voussoirs on opposite sides of the pier at the same time, tying them together by horizontal tie-bolts.  The arching, thus extended outward from each pier and held in equilibrium, would have been connected at the crown with the extremity of the arch advanced in like manner from the adjoining pier.  It was, however, found that this method of construction was not applicable at the crossing of the Conway, and it was eventually abandoned.  Various other plans were suggested; but the whole question remained unsettled even down to the time when the company went before Parliament in 1844 for power to construct the proposed bridges.  No existing kind of structure seemed to be capable of bearing the severe extension to which rigid bridges of the necessary spans would be subjected, and some new expedient of engineering therefore became necessary.

    Mr. Stephenson was then led to reconsider a design which he had made in 1841 for a road bridge over the River Lea at Ware, with a span of 50 feet, the conditions only admitting of a platform 18 or 20 inches thick.  For this purpose a wrought-iron platform was devised, consisting of a series of simple cells, formed of boiler-plates riveted together with angle-iron.  The bridge was not, however, carried out after this design, but was made of separate wrought-iron girders composed of riveted plates. [p.443-2]  Recurring to his first idea of this bridge, the engineer thought that a stiff platform might be constructed, with sides of strongly-trussed frame-work of wrought iron, braced together at top and bottom with plates of like material riveted together with angle-iron, after a method adopted by Mr. Rendel in stiffening the suspension bridge at Montrose with wooden trellis-work a few years before; and that such platform might be suspended by strong chains on either side to give it increased security.  "It was now," says Mr. Stephenson, "that I came to regard the tubular platform as a beam, and that the chains should be looked upon as auxiliaries."  It appeared to him, nevertheless, that without a system of diagonal struts inside, which of course would have prevented the passage of trains through it, this kind of structure was ill suited for maintaining its form, and would be very liable to become lozenge-shaped.  Besides, the rectangular figure was deemed objectionable, from the large surface which it presented to the wind.

    It then occurred to him that circular or elliptical tubes might better answer the intended purpose; and in March, 1845, he gave instructions to two of his assistants to prepare drawings of such a structure, the tubes being made with a double thickness of plate at top and bottom.  The results of the calculations made as to the strength of such a tube were considered so satisfactory, that Mr. Stephenson says he determined to fall back upon a bridge of this description on the rejection of his design of the two cast-iron arches by the Parliamentary Committee.  Indeed, it became evident that a tubular wrought-iron beam was the only structure which combined the necessary strength and stability for a railway, with the conditions deemed essential for the protection of the navigation:

    "I stood," says Mr. Stephenson,


"on the verge of a responsibility from which, I confess, I had nearly shrunk.  The construction of a tubular beam of such gigantic dimensions, on a platform elevated and supported by chains at such a height, did at first present itself as a difficulty of a very formidable nature.  Reflection, however, satisfied me that the principles upon which the idea was founded were nothing more than an extension of those daily in use in the profession of the engineer.  The method, moreover, of calculating the strength of the structure which I had adopted was of the simplest and most elementary character; and whatever might be the form of the tube, the principle on which the calculations were founded was equally applicable, and could not fail to lead to equally accurate results." [p.444]


    Mr. Stephenson accordingly announced to the directors of the railway that he was prepared to carry out a bridge of this general description, and they adopted his views, though not without considerable misgivings.

    While the engineer's mind was still occupied with the subject, an accident occurred to the Prince of Wales iron steam-ship, at Blackwall, which singularly corroborated his views as to the strength of wrought-iron beams of large dimensions.  When this vessel was being launched, the cleet on the bow gave way in consequence of the bolts breaking, and let the vessel down so that the bilge came in contact with the wharf, and she remained suspended between the water and the wharf for a length of about 110 feet, but without any injury to the plates of the ship, satisfactorily proving the great strength of this form of construction.  Thus Mr. Stephenson became gradually confirmed in his opinion that the most feasible method of bridging the strait at Menai and the river at Conway was by means of a hollow tube of wrought iron.  As the time was approaching for giving evidence before Parliament on the subject, it was necessary for him to settle some definite plan for submission to the committee.

"My late revered father," says he,


"having always taken a deep interest in the various proposals which had been considered for carrying a railway across the Menai Straits, requested me to explain fully to him the views which led me to suggest the use of a tube, and also the nature of the calculations I had made in reference to it.  It was during this personal conference that Mr. William Fairbairn accidentally called upon me, to whom I also explained the principles of the structure I had proposed.  He at once acquiesced in their truth, and expressed confidence in the feasibility of my project, giving me at the same time some facts relative to the remarkable strength of iron steam-ships, and invited me to his works at Millwall to examine the construction of an iron steam-ship which was then in progress." [p.445]


    The date of this consultation was early in April, 1845, and Mr. Fairbairn states that, on that occasion,


"Mr. Stephenson asked whether such a design was practicable, and whether I could accomplish it; and it was ultimately arranged that the subject should be investigated experimentally, to determine not only the value of Mr. Stephenson's original conception (of a circular or egg-shaped wrought-iron tube, supported by chains), but that of any other tubular form of bridge which might present itself in the prosecution of my researches.  The matter was placed unreservedly in my hands; the entire conduct of the investigation was entrusted to me; and, as an experimenter, I was to be left free to exercise my own discretion in the investigation of whatever forms or conditions of the structure might appear to me best calculated to secure a safe passage across the Straits." [p.446-1]


    Mr. Fairbairn then proceeded to construct a number of experimental models, for the purpose of testing the strength of tubes of different forms.  The short period which elapsed, however, before the bill was in committee, did not admit of much progress being made with those experiments; but from the evidence in chief given by Mr. Stephenson on the subject on the 5th of May following, it appears that the idea which prevailed in his mind was that of a bridge with openings of 450 feet (afterward increased to 460 feet), with a roadway formed of a hollow wrought-iron beam about 25 feet in diameter, presenting a rigid platform suspended by chains.  At the same time, he expressed the confident opinion that a tube of wrought iron would possess sufficient strength and rigidity to support a railway train running inside of it without the help of the chains.

    While the bill was still in progress, Mr. Fairbairn proceeded with his experiments.  He first tested tubes of a cylindrical form, in consequence of the favourable opinion entertained by Mr. Stephenson of tubes in that shape, extending them subsequently to those of an elliptical form. [p.446-2]  He found tubes thus shaped more or less defective, and proceeded to test those of a rectangular kind.  After the bill had received the royal assent, on the 30th of June, 1845, the directors of the company, with great liberality, voted a sum for the purpose of enabling the experiments to be prosecuted, and upward of £6000 were thus expended to make the assurance of their engineer doubly sure.

    Mr. Fairbairn's tests were of the most elaborate and eventually conclusive character, bringing to light many new and important facts of great practical value.  The due proportions and thicknesses of the top, bottom, and sides of the tubes were arrived at after a vast number of separate trials, one of the results of the experiments being the adoption of Mr. Fairbairn's invention of rectangular hollow cells in the top of the beam for the purpose of giving it the requisite degree of strength.  About the end of August it was thought desirable to obtain the assistance of a mathematician, who should prepare a formula by which the strength of a full-sized tube might be calculated from the results of the experiments made with tubes of smaller dimensions.  Professor Hodgkinson was accordingly called in, and he proceeded to verify and confirm the experiments which Mr. Fairbairn had made, and afterward reduced them to the required formulæ, though Mr. Fairbairn states that they did not appear in time to be of any practical service in proportioning the parts of the largest tubes. [p.447-1]

    Mr. Stephenson's time was so much engrossed with his extensive engineering business that he was in a great measure precluded from devoting himself to the consideration of the practical details, which he felt were safe in the hands of Mr. Fairbairn—"a gentleman," as he stated to the Committee of the Commons, "whose experience was greater than that of any other man in England."  The results of the experiments were communicated to him from time to time, and were regarded by him as exceedingly satisfactory.  It would appear, however, that while Mr. Fairbairn urged the sufficient rigidity and strength of the tubes without the aid of chains, Mr. Stephenson had not quite made up his mind upon the point.  Mr. Hodgkinson, also, was strongly inclined to retain them. [p.447-2]  Mr. Fairbairn held that it was quite practicable to make the tubes "sufficiently strong to sustain not only their own weight, but, in addition to that load, 2000 tons equally distributed over the surface of the platform—a load ten times greater than they will ever be called upon to support."

    It was thoroughly characteristic of Mr. Stephenson, and of the caution with which he proceeded in every step of this great undertaking—probing every inch of the ground before he set his foot down upon it—that he should, early in 1846, have appointed his able assistant, Mr. Edwin Clark, to scrutinize carefully the results of every experiment, whether made by Mr. Fairbairn or Mr. Hodgkinson, and subject them to a separate and independent analysis before finally deciding upon the form or dimensions of the structure, or upon any mode of procedure connected with it.  That great progress had been made by the two chief experimenters before the end of 1846 appears from the papers on the subject read by Messrs. Fairbairn and Hodgkinson before the British Association at Southampton in September of that year.  In the course of the following month Mr. Stephenson had become satisfied that the use of auxiliary chains was unnecessary, and that the tubular bridge might be made of such strength as to be entirely self-supporting. [p.448]

    While these important discussions were in progress, measures were taken to proceed with the masonry of the bridges simultaneously at Conway and the Menai Strait.  The foundation-stone of the Britannia Bridge was laid by Mr. Frank Forster, the resident engineer, on the 10th of April, 1846; and on the 12th of May following that of the Conway Bridge was laid by Mr. A. M. Ross, resident engineer at that part of the works.  Suitable platforms and workshops were also erected for proceeding with the punching, fitting, and riveting of the tubes; and when these operations were in full progress, the neighbourhood of the Conway and Britannia Bridges presented scenes of extraordinary bustle and industry.  On the 11th of July, 1847, Mr. Clark informed Mr. Stephenson that "the masonry gets on rapidly.  The abutments on the Anglesey side resemble the foundations of a great city rather than of a single structure, and nothing appears to stand still here."  About 1500 men were employed on the Britannia Bridge alone, and they mostly lived upon the ground in wooden cottages erected for the occasion.  The iron plates were brought in ship-loads from Liverpool, Anglesey marble from Penmon, and red sandstone from Runcorn, in Cheshire, as wind and tide, and shipping and convenience, might determine.  There was an unremitting clank of hammers, grinding of machinery, and blasting of rock going on from morning to night.  In fitting the Britannia tubes together not less than 2,000,000 of bolts were riveted, weighing some 900 tons.

    The Britannia Bridge consists of two independent continuous tubular beams, each 1511 feet in length, and each weighing 4680 tons, independent of the cast-iron frames inserted at their bearings on the masonry of the towers.  These immense beams are supported at five places, namely, on the abutments and on three towers, the central of which is known as the Great Britannia Tower, 230 feet high, built on a rock in the middle of the Strait.  The side towers are 18 feet less in height than the central one, and the abutments 35 feet lower than the side towers.  The design of the masonry is such as to accord with the form of the tubes, being somewhat of an Egyptian character, massive and gigantic rather than beautiful, but bearing the unmistakable impress of power.

 


    The bridge has four spans—two of 460 feet over the water, and two of 230 feet over the land.  The weight of the longer spans, at the points where the tubes repose on the masonry, is not less than 1587 tons.  On the centre tower the tubes lie solid; but on the land towers and abutments they lie on roller-beds, so as to allow of expansion and contraction.  The road within each tube is 15 feet wide, and the height varies from 23 feet at the ends to 30 feet at the centre.  To give an idea of the vast size of the tubes by comparison with other structures, it may be mentioned that each length constituting the main spans is twice as long as London Monument is high; and if it could be set on end in St. Paul's Church-yard, it would reach nearly 100 feet above the cross.

    The Conway Bridge is, in most respects, similar to the Britannia, consisting of two tubes of 400 feet span, placed side by side, each weighing 1180 tons.  The principle adopted in the construction of the tubes, and the mode of floating and raising them, was nearly the same as at the Britannia Bridge, though the general arrangement of the plates is in many respects different.

    It was determined to construct the shorter outer tubes of the Britannia Bridge on scaffoldings in the positions in which they were permanently to remain, and to erect the larger tubes upon wooden platforms at high-water-mark on the Caernarvon shore, from whence they were to be floated in pontoons—in like manner as Rennie had floated into their places the centrings of his Waterloo and other bridges—and then raised into their proper places by means of hydraulic power, after a method originally suggested by Mr. Edwin Clark.  The tubes of the Conway Bridge also were to be constructed on shore, and floated to their places on pontoons, as in the case of the main centre tubes of the Britannia Bridge.

 


    The floating of these tubes on pontoons, from the places where they had been constructed to the recesses in the masonry of the towers, up which they were to be hoisted to the places they were permanently to occupy, was an anxious and exciting operation.  The first proceeding of this nature was at Conway, where Mr. Stephenson directed it in person, assisted by Captain Claxton, Mr. Brunel, and other engineering friends.  On the 6th of March, 1848, the pontoons bearing the first great tube of the up-line were floated round quietly and majestically into their place between the towers in about twenty minutes.  Unfortunately, one of the sets of pontoons had become slightly slued by the stream, by which the Conway end of the tube was prevented from being brought home, and five anxious days to all concerned intervened before it could be set in its place.  In the meantime, the presses and raising machinery had been fitted in the towers above, and the lifting process was begun on the 8th of April, when the immense mass was raised 8 feet, at the rate of about 2 inches a minute.  On the 16th the tube had been raised and finally lowered into its permanent bed; the rails were laid within it; and on the 18th Mr. Stephenson passed through with the first locomotive.  The second tube was proceeded with on the removal of the first from the platform, and was completed and floated in seven months.  The rapidity with which this second tube was constructed was in no small degree owing to the Jacquard punching-machine, contrived for the purpose of punching the holes for the rivets by Mr. Roberts, of Manchester.  The tube was finally fixed in its permanent bed on the 2d of January, 1849.

 

Conference of Engineers at the Menai Straits Preparatory to Floating one of the Tubes
  
 of the Britannia Bridge, by John Lucas (1868).


    The floating and fixing of the great Britannia tubes was a still more formidable enterprise, though the experience gained at Conway rendered it easy compared with what it otherwise would have been.  Mr. Stephenson superintended the operation of floating the first in person, giving the arranged signals from the top of the tube on which he was mounted, the active part of the business being performed by a numerous corps of sailors, under the immediate direction of Captain Claxton.  Thousands of spectators lined the shores of the Strait on the evening of the 19th of Time, 1849.  On the land attachments being cut, the pontoons began to float off; but one of the capstans having given way from the too great strain put upon it, the tube was brought home again for the night.  By next morning the defective capstan was restored, and all was in readiness for another trial.  At half past seven in the evening the tube was afloat, and the pontoons swung out into the current like a monster pendulum, held steady by the shore guide-lines, but increasing in speed to almost a fearful extent as they neared their destined place between the piers.

    "The success of this operation," says Mr. Clark,


"depended mainly on properly striking the 'butt' beneath the Anglesey tower, on which, as upon a centre, the tube was to be veered round into its position across the opening.  This position was determined by a 12-inch line, which was to be paid out to a fixed mark from the Llanfair capstan.  The coils of the rope unfortunately overrode each other upon this capstan, so that it could not be paid out.  In resisting the motion of the tube, the capstan was bodily dragged out of the platform by the action of the palls, and the tube was in imminent danger of being carried away by the stream, or the pontoons crushed upon the rocks.  The men at the capstan were all knocked down, and some of them thrown into the water, though they made every exertion to arrest the motion of the capstan-bars.  In this dilemma, Mr. Charles Rolfe, who had charge of the capstan, with great presence of mind called the visitors on shore to his assistance; and handing out the spare coil of the 12-inch line into the field at the back of the capstan, it was carried with great rapidity up the field, and a crowd of people, men, women, and children, holding on to this huge cable, arrested the progress of the tube, which was at length brought safely against the butt and veered round.  The Britannia end was then drawn into the recess of the masonry by a chain passing through the tower to a crab on the far side.  The violence of the tide abated, though the wind increased, and the Anglesey end was drawn into its place beneath the corbeling in the masonry; and as the tide went down, the pontoons deposited their valuable cargo on the welcome shelf at each end.  The successful issue was greeted by cannon from the shore and the hearty cheers of many thousands of spectators, whose sympathy and anxiety were but too clearly indicated by the unbroken silence with which the whole operation had been accompanied." [p.453]


    By midnight all the pontoons had been got clear of the tube; which now hung suspended over the waters of the Strait by its two ends, which rested upon the edges cut in the rock for the purpose at the base of the Britannia and Anglesey towers respectively, up which the tube had now to be lifted by hydraulic power to its permanent place near the summit.  The accuracy with which the gigantic beam had been constructed may be inferred from the fact that, after passing into its place, a clear space remained between the iron plating and the rock outside of it of only about three quarters of an inch!

    Mr. Stephenson's anxiety was, of course, very great up to the time of effecting this perilous operation.  When he had got the first tube floated at Conway and saw all safe, he said to Captain Moorsom, "Now I shall go to bed."  But the Britannia Bridge was a still more difficult enterprise, and cost him many a sleepless night.  Afterward describing his feelings to his friend Mr. Gooch, he said, "It was a most anxious and harassing time with me.  Often at night I would lie tossing about, seeking sleep in vain.  The tubes filled my head.  I went to bed with them and got up with them.  In the gray of the morning, when I looked across the Square, [p.454] it seemed an immense distance across to the houses on the opposite side. It was nearly the same length as the span of my tubular bridge!"  When the first tube had been floated, a friend observed to him, "This great work has made you ten years older."  "I have not slept sound," he replied, "for three weeks."  Sir F. Head, however, relates that, when he revisited the spot on the following morning, he observed, sitting on a platform overlooking the suspended tube, a gentleman, reclining entirely by himself, smoking a cigar, and gazing, as if indolently, at the aerial gallery beneath him.  It was the engineer himself, contemplating his newborn child.  He had strolled down from the neighbouring village, after his first sound and refreshing sleep for weeks, to behold in sunshine and solitude that which, during a weary period of gestation, had been either mysteriously moving in his brain, or, like a vision—sometimes of good omen and sometimes of evil—had, by night as well as by day, been flitting across his mind.

    The next process was the lifting of the tube into its place, which was performed very deliberately and cautiously.  It was raised by powerful hydraulic presses, only a few feet at a time, and carefully under-built, before being raised to a farther height.  When it had been got up by successive stages of this kind to about 24 feet, an extraordinary accident occurred, during Mr. Stephenson's absence in London, which he afterward described to the author in as nearly as possible the following words:


"In a work of such novelty and magnitude, you may readily imagine how anxious I was that every possible contingency should be provided for.  Where one chain or rope was required, I provided two.  I was not satisfied with 'enough:' I must have absolute security, so far as that was possible.  I knew the consequences of failure would be most disastrous to the company, and that the wisest economy was to provide for all contingencies, at whatever cost.  When the first tube at the Britannia had been successfully floated between the piers, ready for being raised, my young engineers were very much elated; and when the hoisting apparatus had been fixed, they wrote to me, saying, 'We are now all ready for raising her: we could do it in a day, or in two at the most.'  But my reply was, No; you must only raise the tube inch by inch, and you must build up under it as you rise.  Every inch must be made good.  Nothing must be left to chance or good luck.  And fortunate it was that I insisted upon this cautious course being pursued; for, one day, while the hydraulic presses were at work, the bottom of one of them burst clean away!  The crosshead and the chains, weighing more than 50 tons, descended with a fearful crash upon the press, and the tube itself fell down upon the packing beneath.  Though the fall of the tube was not more than nine inches, it crunched solid castings, weighing tons, as if they had been nuts.  The tube itself was slightly strained and deflected, though it still remained sufficiently serviceable.  But it was a tremendous test to which it was put, for a weight of upward of 5000 tons falling even a few inches must be admitted to be a very serious matter.  That it stood so well was extraordinary.  Clark immediately wrote me an account of the circumstance, in which he said, 'Thank God you have been so obstinate; for if this accident had occurred without a bed for the end of the tube to fall on, the whole would now have been lying across the bottom of the Straits.'  Five thousand pounds extra expense was caused by this accident, slight though it might seem.  But careful provision was made against future failure; a new and improved cylinder was provided; and the work was very soon advancing satisfactorily toward completion." [p.456-1]


    When the queen first visited the Britannia Bridge, on her return from the North in 1852, Robert Stephenson accompanied her majesty and Prince Albert over the works, explaining the principles on which the bridge had been built, and the difficulties which had attended its erection.  He conducted the royal party to near the margin of the sea, and, after describing to them the incident of the fall of the tube, and the reason of its preservation, he pointed with pardonable pride to a pile of stones which the workmen had there raised to commemorate the event.  While nearly all the other marks of the work during its progress had been obliterated, that cairn had been left standing in commemoration of the caution and foresight of their chief.

    The floating and raising of the remaining tubes need not be described in detail.  The second was floated on the 3d of December, and set in its permanent place on the 7th of January, 1850.  The others [p.456-2] were floated and raised in due course; on the 5th of March Mr. Stephenson put the last rivet in the tube, and passed through the completed bridge, accompanied by about a thousand persons, drawn by three locomotives.  The bridge was found almost entirely rigid, scarcely showing the slightest deflection.  When, in the course of the day, a train of 200 tons of coal was allowed to rest with all its weight, for two hours, in the centre of the eastern land tube, the deflection was only four tenths of an inch, or less than that produced upon the structure by half an hour's sunshine; [p.458] while the whole bridge might with safety, and without injury to itself, be deflected to the extent of 13 inches.  The bridge was opened for public traffic on the 18th of March.  The cost of the whole work was £234,450.

 


    The Britannia Bridge is one of the most remarkable monuments of the enterprise and skill of the present century.  Robert Stephenson was the master spirit of the undertaking.  To him belongs the merit of first seizing the ideal conception of the structure best adapted to meet the necessities of the case, and of selecting the best men to work out his idea, himself watching, controlling, and testing every result by independent check and counter-check.  And, finally, he organized and directed, through his assistants, the vast band of skilled workmen and labourers who were for so many years occupied in carrying his magnificent original conception to a successful practical issue.

    But it was not accomplished without the greatest anxiety and mental pressure.  Mr. Clark has well observed that few persons who merely witness the results of the engineer's labours can form any conception of the real difficulties overcome, and the intense anxiety involved in their elaboration.  "If the stranger," he says, "who contemplates the finished reality, requires so much thought to appreciate its principles and comprehend its detail, what weary hours must he have undergone who first conceived its bold proportions—who, combating, almost alone, every prejudice that assailed him, and with untiring labour discussing every objection, listening to every opinion, and embodying every inquiry, at length matured, step by step, this noble monument?"  On the occasion of raising the last tube into its place, Mr. Stephenson declared, in reply to the felicitations of a large company who had witnessed the proceedings with intense interest, that not all the triumph which attended this great work, and the solution of the difficult problem of carrying a rigid roadway across an arm of the sea at such a height as to allow the largest vessels to pass with all their sails set beneath it, could repay him for the anxieties he had gone through, the friendships he had compromised, and the unworthy motives which had been attributed to him; and that, were another work of the same magnitude offered to him with like consequences, he would not for worlds undertake it!

    The Britannia Bridge was indeed the result of a vast combination of skill and industry.  But for the perfection of our tools, and the ability of our mechanics to use them to the greatest advantage—but for the matured powers of the steam-engine—but for the improvements in the iron manufacture, which enabled blooms to be puddled of sizes before deemed impracticable, and plates and bars of immense size to be rolled and forged—but for these, the Britannia Bridge would have been designed in vain.  Thus it was not the product of the genius of the railway engineer alone, but of the collective mechanical genius of the English nation.

 


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CHAPTER XIX.

CLOSING YEARS OF GEORGE STEPHENSON'S LIFE—ILLNESS AND DEATH—CHARACTER.


    IN describing the completion of the series of great works detailed in the preceding chapter, we have somewhat anticipated the closing years of George Stephenson's life.  He could not fail to take an anxious interest in the success of his son's designs, and he paid many visits to Conway and to Menai during the progress of the bridges.  He was present on the occasion of the floating and raising of the first Conway tube, and there witnessed a proof of the soundness of Robert's judgment as to the efficiency and strength of the structure, of which he had at first expressed some doubt; but before the like test could be applied at the Britannia Bridge, George Stephenson's mortal anxieties were at an end, for he had then ceased from all his labours.

    Toward the close of his life, George Stephenson almost entirely withdrew from the active pursuit of his profession.  He devoted himself chiefly to his extensive collieries and lime-works, taking a local interest only in such projected railways as were calculated to open up new markets for their products.

    At home he lived the life of a country gentleman, enjoying his garden and grounds, and indulging his love of nature, which, through all his busy life, had never left him.  It was not until the year 1845 that he took an active interest in horticultural pursuits.  Then he began to build new melon-houses, pineries, and vineries, of great extent; and he now seemed as eager to excel all other growers of exotic plants in his neighbourhood, as he had been some thirty years before to surpass the villagers of Killingworth in the production of cabbages and cauliflowers.  He had a pine-house built 68 feet in length and a vinery 140 feet.  Workmen were constantly employed in enlarging them, until at length he had no fewer than ten glass forcing-houses.  He did not take so much pleasure in flowers as in fruits.  At one of the county agricultural meetings he said that he intended yet to grow pineapples at Tapton as big as pumpkins.  The only man to whom he would "knock under" was his friend Paxton, the gardener to the Duke of Devonshire; but he was so old in the service, and so skilful, that he could scarcely hope to beat him.  Yet his "Queen" pines did take the first prize at a competition with the duke, though this was not until shortly after his death, when the plants had become fully grown.  Stephenson's grapes also took the first prize at Rotherham, at a competition open to all England.  He was extremely successful in producing melons, having invented a method of suspending them in baskets of wire gauze, which, by relieving the stalk from tension, allowed nutrition to proceed more freely, and better enabled the fruit to grow and ripen.

    He also took much pride in his growth of cucumbers.  He raised them very fine and large, but he could not make them grow straight.  Place them as he would, notwithstanding all his propping and humouring of them by modifying the application of heat and the admission of light, they would still insist on growing crooked in their own way.  At last he had a number of glass cylinders made at Newcastle, and into these the growing cucumbers were inserted, when at last he succeeded in growing them perfectly straight.  Carrying one of the new products into his house one day, and exhibiting it to a party of visitors, he told them of the expedient he had adopted, and added, "I think I have bothered them noo!"

    Farming operations were also carried on by him with success.  He experimented on manure, and fed cattle after methods of his own.  He was very particular as to breed and build in stockbreeding.  "You see, sir," he said to one gentleman, "I like to see the coo's back at a gradient something like this" (drawing an imaginary line with his hand), "and then the ribs or girders will carry more flesh than if they were so—or so."  When he attended the county agricultural meetings, which he frequently did, he was accustomed to take part in the discussions, and he brought the same vigorous practical mind to bear upon questions of tillage, drainage, and farm economy which he had before been accustomed to exercise on mechanical and engineering matters.

    All his early affection for birds and animals revived.  He had favourite dogs, and cows, and horses; and again he began to keep rabbits, and to pride himself on the beauty of his breed.  There was not a bird's nest in the grounds that he did not know of; and from day to day he went round watching the progress which the birds made with their building, carefully guarding them from harm.  His minute knowledge of the habits of British birds was the result of a long, loving, and close observation of nature.

    At Tapton he remembered the failure of his early experiment in hatching birds' eggs by heat, and he now performed it successfully, being able to secure a proper apparatus for maintaining a uniform temperature.  He was also curious about the breeding and fattening of fowls; and when his friend Edward Pease, of Darlington, visited him at Tapton, he explained a method which he had invented of fattening chickens in half the usual time.  The chickens were confined in boxes, which were so made as to exclude the light.  Dividing the day into two or three periods, the birds were shut up at the end of each after a heavy feed, and went to sleep.  The plan proved very successful, and Mr. Stephenson jocularly said that if he were to devote himself to chickens he could soon make a little fortune.

    Mrs. Stephenson tried to keep bees, but found they would not thrive at Tapton.  Many hives perished, and there was no case of success.  The cause of failure was long a mystery to the engineer; but one day his acute powers of observation enabled him to unravel it.  At the foot of the hill on which Tapton House stands, he saw some bees trying to rise up from among the grass, laden with honey and wax.  They were already exhausted, as if with long flying; and then it occurred to him that the height at which the house stood above the bees' feeding-ground rendered it difficult for them to reach their hives when heavy laden, and hence they sank exhausted.  He afterward incidentally mentioned the circumstance to Mr. Jesse, the naturalist, who concurred in his view as to the cause of failure, and was much struck by the keen observation which had led to its solution.

    George Stephenson had none of the habits of the student.  He read very little; for reading is a habit which is generally acquired in youth, and his youth and manhood had been, for the most part, spent in hard work.  Books wearied him and sent him to sleep.  Novels excited his feelings too much, and he avoided them, though he would occasionally read through a philosophical work on a subject in which he felt particularly interested.  He wrote very few letters with his own hand.  Nearly all his letters were dictated, and he avoided even dictation when he could.  His greatest pleasure was in conversation, from which he gathered most of his imparted information.

    It was his practice, when about to set out on a journey by railway, to walk along the train before it started, and look into the carriages to see if he could find "a conversable face."  On one of such occasions, at the Euston Station, he discovered in a carriage a very handsome, manly, and intelligent face, which he afterward found was that of the late Lord Denman.  He was on his way down to his seat at Stony Middelton, in Derbyshire.  Stephenson entered the carriage, and the two were shortly engaged in interesting conversation.  It turned upon chronometry and horology, and the engineer amazed his lordship by the extent of his knowledge on the subject, in which he displayed as much minute information, even down to the latest improvements in watch-making, as if he had been bred a watchmaker and lived by the trade.  Lord Denman was curious to know how a man whose time must have been mainly engrossed by engineering had gathered so much knowledge on a subject quite out of his own line, and he asked the question.  "I learned clockmaking and watchmaking," was the answer, "while a working-man at Killingworth, when I made a little money in my spare hours by cleaning the pitmen's clocks and watches; and since then I have kept up my information on the subject."  This led to farther questions, and then he proceeded to tell Lord Denman the interesting story of his life, which held him entranced during the remainder of the journey.

    Many of his friends readily accepted invitations to Tapton House to enjoy his hospitality, which never failed.  With them he would "fight his battles o'er again," reverting often to his battle for the locomotive; and he was never tired of telling, nor were his auditors of listening to, the lively anecdotes with which he was accustomed to illustrate the struggles of his early career.  While walking in the woods or through the grounds, he would arrest his friends' attention by allusion to some simple object—such as a leaf, a blade of grass, a bit of bark, a nest of birds, or an ant carrying its eggs across the path—and descant in glowing terms on the creative power of the Divine Mechanician, whose contrivances were so exhaustless and so wonderful.  This was a theme upon which he was often accustomed to dwell in reverential admiration when in the society of his more intimate friends.

    One night, when walking under the stars, and gazing up into the field of suns, each the probable centre of a system, forming the Milky Way, a friend observed, "What an insignificant creature is man in sight of so immense a creation as this!"  "Yes!" was his reply: "but how wonderful a creature also is man, to be able to think and reason, and even in some measure to comprehend works so infinite!"

    A microscope which he had brought down to Tapton was a source of immense enjoyment, and he was never tired of contemplating the minute wonders which it revealed.  One evening, when some friends were visiting him, he induced each of them to puncture his skin so as to draw blood, in order that he might examine the globules through the microscope.  One of the gentlemen present was a teetotaller, and Stephenson pronounced his blood to be the most lively of the whole.  He had a theory of his own about the movement of the globules in the blood, which has since become familiar.  It was, that they were respectively charged with electricity, positive at one end and negative at the other, and that they thus attracted and repelled each other, causing a circulation.  No sooner did he observe any thing new than he immediately set about devising a reason for it.  His training in mechanics, his practical familiarity with matter in all its forms, and the strong bent of his mind, led him first of all to seek for a mechanical explanation; and yet he was ready to admit that there was a something in the principle of life—so mysterious and inexplicable—which baffled mechanics, and seemed to dominate over and control them.  He did not care much, either, for abstruse mechanics, but only for the experimental and practical, as is usually the case with those whose knowledge has been self-acquired.
 

    Even at his advanced age the spirit of frolic had not left him.  When proceeding from Chesterfield Station to Tapton House with his friends, he would almost invariably challenge them to a race up the steep path, partly formed of stone steps, along the hill-side.  And he would struggle, as of old, to keep the front place, though by this time his "wind" greatly failed him.  He would occasionally invite an old friend to take a wrestle with him on the lawn, to keep up his skill, and perhaps to try some new "knack" of throwing.  In the evening he would sometimes indulge his visitors by reciting the old pastoral of "Damon and Phyllis," or singing his favourite song of "John Anderson my Joe."

    But his greatest enjoyment on such occasion was "a crowdie."  "Let's have a crowdie night," he would say; and forthwith a kettle of boiling water was ordered in, with a basin of oatmeal.  Taking a large bowl, containing a sufficiency of hot water, and placing it between his knees, he poured in oatmeal with one hand, and stirred the mixture vigorously with the other.  When enough meal had been added, and the stirring was completed, the crowdie was made.  It was then supped with new milk, and Mr. Stephenson generally pronounced it "capital!"  It was the diet to which he had been accustomed when a working-man, and all the dainties with which he had become familiar in recent years had not spoiled his simple tastes.  To enjoy crowdie at his years, besides, indicated that he still possessed that quality on which no doubt much of his practical success in life had depended—a strong and healthy digestion.

    He would also frequently invite to his house the humbler companions of his early life, and take pleasure in talking over old times with them.  He never assumed any of the bearings of the great man on such occasions, but treated his visitors with the same friendliness and respect as if they had been his equals, sending them away pleased with themselves and delighted with him.  At other times, needy men who had known him in their youth would knock at his door, and they were never refused access.  But if he had heard of any misconduct on their part, he would rate them soundly.  One who knew him intimately in private life has seen him exhorting such backsliders, and denouncing their misconduct and imprudence, with the tears streaming down his cheeks.  And he would generally conclude by opening his purse, and giving them the help which they needed "to make a fresh start in the world."

    His life at Tapton during his later years was occasionally diversified by a visit to London.  His engineering business having become limited, he generally went there for the purpose of visiting friends, or "to see what there was fresh going on."  He found a new race of engineers springing up on all sides—men who knew him not; and his London journeys gradually ceased to yield him pleasure.  A friend used to take him to the opera, but by the end of the first act he was generally observed in a profound slumber.  Yet on one occasion he enjoyed a visit to the Haymarket, with a party of friends on his birthday, to see T. P. Cooke in "Black-eyed Susan"—if that can be called enjoyment which kept him in a state of tears during half the performance.  At other times he visited Newcastle, which always gave him great pleasure.  He would, on such occasions, go out to Killingworth and seek up old friends, and if the people whom he knew were too retiring and shrunk into their cottages, he went and sought them there.  Striking the floor with his stick, and holding his noble person upright, he would say, in his own kind way, "Well, and how's all here to-day?"  To the last he had always a warm heart for Newcastle and its neighbourhood.

    Sir Robert Peel, on more than one occasion, invited George Stephenson to his mansion at Drayton, where he was accustomed to assemble round him men of the highest distinction in art, science, and legislation, during the intervals of his Parliamentary life.  The first invitations were respectfully declined; but Sir Robert again pressing him to come down to Tamworth, where he would meet Buckland, Follett, and others well known to both, he at last consented.

    Stephenson's strong powers of observation, together with his native humour and shrewdness, imparted to his conversation at all times much vigour and originality.  Though mainly an engineer, he was also a profound thinker on many scientific questions, and there was scarcely a subject of speculation or a department of recondite science on which he had not employed his faculties in such a way as to have formed large and original views.  Mr. Sopwith, F.R.S., has informed us that the conversation at Drayton, on one occasion, turned on the theory of the formation of coal, in the course of which Stephenson had an animated discussion with Dr. Buckland.  But the result was, that Dr. Buckland, a much greater master of tongue-fence, completely silenced him.  Next morning, before breakfast, when he was walking in the grounds deeply pondering, Sir William Follett came up and asked what he was thinking about.  "Why, Sir William, I am thinking over that argument I had with Buckland last night.  I know I am right, and that, if I had only the command of words which he has, I'd have beaten him."  "Let me know all about it," said Sir William, "and I'll see what I can do for you."  The two sat down in an arbour, where the astute lawyer made himself thoroughly acquainted with the points of the case, entering into it with the zeal of an advocate about to plead the interests of his client.  After he had mastered the subject, Sir William said, "Now I am ready for him."  Sir Robert Peel was made acquainted with the plot, and adroitly introduced the subject of the controversy after dinner.  The result was, that in the argument which followed, the man of science was overcome by the man of law.  "And what do you say, Mr. Stephenson?" asked Sir Robert, laughing.  "Why," said he, "I say this, that of all the powers above and under the earth, there seems to me to be no power so great as the gift of the gab."

    One Sunday, when the party had just returned from church, they were standing together on the terrace near the Hall, and observed in the distance a railway flashing along, tossing behind its long white plume of steam.  "Now, Buckland," said Stephenson, "I have a poser for you.  Can you tell me what is the power that is driving that train?"  "Well," said the other, "I suppose it is one of your big engines."  "But what drives the engine?"  "Oh, very likely a canny Newcastle driver."  "What do you say to the light of the sun?"  "How can that be?" asked the doctor.  "It is nothing else," said the engineer: "it is light bottled up in the earth for tens of thousands of years—light, absorbed by plants and vegetables, being necessary for the condensation of carbon during the process of their growth, if it be not carbon in another form—and now, after being buried in the earth for long ages in fields of coal, that latent light is again brought forth and liberated, made to work as in that locomotive, for great human purposes." [p.468]

    During the same visit Mr. Stephenson one evening repeated his experiment with blood drawn from the finger, submitting it to the microscope in order to show the curious circulation of the globules.  He set the example by pricking his own thumb; and the other guests, by turns, in like manner gave up a small portion of their blood for the purpose of ascertaining the comparative liveliness of their circulation.  When Sir Robert Peel's turn came, Stephenson said he was curious to know "how the blood globules of a great politician would conduct themselves."  Sir Robert held forth his finger for the purpose of being pricked; but once and again he sensitively shrunk back, and at length the experiment, so far as he was concerned, was abandoned.  Sir Robert Peel's sensitiveness to pain was extreme, and yet he was destined, a few years after, to die a death of the most distressing agony. [p.469]

    In 1847, the year before his death, George Stephenson was again invited to join a distinguished party at Drayton Manor, and to assist in the ceremony of formally opening the Trent Valley Railway, which had been originally designed and laid out by himself many years before. The first sod of the railway had been cut by the prime minister in November, 1845, and the formal opening took place on the 26th of June, 1847, the line having thus been constructed in less than two years.

    What a change had come over the spirit of the landed gentry since the time when George Stephenson had first projected a railway through that district!  Then they were up in arms against him, characterizing him as the devastator and spoiler of their estates, whereas now he was hailed as one of the greatest benefactors of the age.  Sir Robert Peel, the chief political personage in England, welcomed him as a guest and friend, and spoke of him as the chief among practical philosophers.  A dozen members of Parliament, seven baronets, with all the landed magnates of the district, assembled to celebrate the opening of the railway.  The clergy were there to bless the enterprise, and to bid all hail to railway progress, as "enabling them to carry on with greater facility those operations in connection with religion which were calculated to be so beneficial to the country."  The army, speaking through the mouth of General A'Court, acknowledged the vast importance of railways, as tending to improve the military defences of the country.  And representatives from eight corporations were there to acknowledge the great benefits which railways had conferred upon the merchants, tradesmen, and working classes of their respective towns and cities.

    In the spring of 1848 George Stephenson was invited to Whittington House, near Chesterfield, the residence of his friend and former pupil, Mr. Swanwick, to meet the distinguished American, Emerson.  On being introduced to each other they did not immediately engage in conversation; but presently Stephenson jumped up, took Emerson by the collar, and, giving him one of his friendly shakes, asked how it was that in England we could always tell an American.  This led to an interesting conversation, in the course of which Emerson said how much he had everywhere been struck by the haleness and comeliness of the English men and women, from which they diverged into a discussion of the influences which air, climate, moisture, soil, and other conditions exercised on the physical and moral development of a people.  The conversation was next directed to the subject of electricity, on which Stephenson launched out enthusiastically, explaining his views by several simple and some striking illustrations.  From thence it gradually turned to the events of his own life, which he related in so graphic a manner as completely to rivet the attention of the American.  Afterward Emerson said "that it was worth crossing the Atlantic were it only to have seen Stephenson —he had such force of character and vigour of intellect."

    The rest of George Stephenson's days were spent quietly at Tapton, among his dogs, his rabbits, and his birds.  When not engaged about the works connected with his collieries, he was occupied in horticulture and farming.  He continued proud of his flowers, his fruits, and his crops, while the old spirit of competition was still strong within him.  Although he had for some time been in delicate health, and his hand shook from nervous debility, he appeared to possess a sound constitution.  Emerson had observed of him that he had the lives of many men in him.  But perhaps the American spoke figuratively, in reference to his vast stores of experience.  It appeared that he had never completely recovered from the attack of pleurisy which seized him during his return from Spain.  As late, however, as the 26th of July, 1848, he felt himself sufficiently well to be able to attend a meeting of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers at Birmingham, and to read to the members his paper "On the Fallacies of the Rotatory Engine."

    It was his last public appearance.  Shortly after his return to Tapton he had an attack of intermittent fever, from which he seemed to be recovering, when a sudden effusion of blood from the lungs carried him off, on the 12th of August, 1848, in the sixty-seventh year of his age.  When all was over, Robert wrote to Edmund Pease, "With deep pain I inform you, as one of his oldest friends, of the death of my dear father this morning at 12 o'clock, after about ten days' illness from severe fever."  Mr. Starbuck, who was also present, wrote: "The favourable symptoms of yesterday morning were toward evening followed by a serious change for the worse.  This continued during the night, and early this morning it became evident that he was sinking.  At a few minutes before 12 to-day he breathed his last.  All that the most devoted and unremitting care of Mrs. Stephenson and the skill of medicine could accomplish has been done, but in vain." [p.471]

    George Stephenson's remains were followed to the grave by a large body of his work-people, by whom he was greatly admired and beloved.  They remembered him as a kind master, who was ever ready actively to promote all measures for their moral, physical, and mental improvement.  The inhabitants of Chesterfield evinced their respect for the deceased by suspending business, closing their shops, and joining in the funeral procession, which was headed by the corporation of the town.  Many of the surrounding gentry also attended.  The body was interred in Trinity Church, Chesterfield, where a simple tablet marks the great engineer's last resting-place.

 


    The statue of George Stephenson, which the Liverpool and Manchester and Grand Junction Companies had commissioned, was on its way to England when his death occurred; and it served for a monument, though his best monument will always be his works.  The statue referred to was placed in St. George's Hall, Liverpool.  A full-length statue of him, by Bailey, was also erected, a few years later, in the noble vestibule of the London and North-western Station, in Euston Square.  A subscription for the purpose was set on foot by the Society of Mechanical Engineers, of which he had been the founder and president.  A few advertisements were inserted in the newspapers, inviting subscriptions; and it is a notable fact that the voluntary offerings included an average of two shillings each from 3150 working-men, who embraced this opportunity of doing honour to their distinguished fellow-workman.

    But the finest and most appropriate statue to the memory of George Stephenson is that which was erected in 1862, after the design of John Lough, at Newcastle-upon-Tyne.  It is in the immediate neighbourhood of the Literary and Philosophical Institute, to which both George and his son Robert were so much indebted in their early years; close to the great Stephenson locomotive foundry established by the shrewdness of the father; and in the vicinity of the High-Level Bridge, one of the grandest products of the genius of the son.  The head of Stephenson, as expressed in this noble work, is massive, characteristic, and faithful; and the attitude of the figure is simple, yet manly and energetic.  It stands on a pedestal, at the respective corners of which are sculptured the recumbent figures of a pitman, a mechanic, an engine-driver, and a plate-layer.  The statue appropriately stands in a very thoroughfare of working-men, thousands of whom see it daily as they pass to and from their work; and we can imagine them, as they look up to Stephenson's manly figure, applying to it the words addressed by Robert Nicoll to Robert Burns, with perhaps still greater appropriateness:


Before the proudest of the earth
    We stand, with an uplifted brow;
Like us, thou wast a toiling man
    And we are noble, now!"


    The portrait prefixed to this volume gives a good indication of George Stephenson's shrewd, kind, honest, manly face.  His fair, clear countenance was ruddy, and seemingly glowed with health.  The forehead was large and high, projecting over the eyes, and there was that massive breadth across the lower part which is usually observed in men of eminent constructive skill.  The mouth was firmly marked, and shrewdness and humour lurked there as well as in the keen gray eye.  His frame was compact, well knit, and rather spare.  His hair became gray at an early age, and toward the close of his life it was of a pure silky whiteness.  He dressed neatly in black, wearing a white neck-cloth; and his face, his person, and his deportment at once arrested attention, and marked the Gentleman.

 


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[CHAPTER XX.]

 



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