16 October 2016

Rocket Man with Cousin Jacks, Robert Stephenson in Colombia 1824-1827

The Robert Stephenson Trust has just published this book. You can find out more at robertstephensontrust.blogspot.com

This book reveals for the first time in nearly 200 years the details of Robert Stephenson’s great Colombian adventure. It sets out the reasons behind his decision to abandon his father George, his friends and the management of the embryonic locomotive factory in Forth Street, Newcastle upon Tyne which bore his name and of which he was the Managing Director, for a speculative venture in South America in which he would be responsible for finding and extracting silver from mines first started during the Spanish occupation. The year was 1824 and he had yet to reach 21 years of age.

Robert did not return to England until 1827, but that event triggered a burst of creative energy and flair for a series of ground-breaking locomotive designs, starting with the ‘Rocket’ in 1829 for the competitive trials for the choice of engine for the Liverpool & Manchester Railway which his father had engineered and constructed in his absence. 
The narrative uses many extracts from Robert’s original letters to his boss Richard Illingworth, who was based in Bogotá, courtesy of the University of Indiana, whose Lilly Library holds the originals. They describe vividly the difficulties he encountered, the anxiety he felt about what was happening in England in his absence, the problems of managing some of the workmen all of whom were from Cornwall, the lack of materials, the regular bouts of illness, and the frustration with the Mining Company in London who questioned his judgements. 

On the journey home he was shipwrecked and very nearly drowned. 
The character of one of England’s greatest mechanical and civil engineers cannot be fully understood without appreciating the impact his three years in Colombia had on him. In his lifetime he played down the trials and tribulations, but this new insight is essential reading for anyone who wishes to understand how great men use adversity to advance their creative brilliance.

The book is illustrated with the water colour paintings of Charles Empson, who accompanied Robert as an interpreter and companion. His own anecdotes have been included as a counter-point to Robert’s more formal correspondence. 
Most of the mineworkers were from Cornwall, and there are many references to them, not always flattering. The book describes their circumstances in the 1820’s and explains what attracted them to sign up for 3 years and embark on a voyage to a far-away country. Anyone who might have had Cornish ancestors in Colombia should read this.

18 September 2016

Pont Historian September 2016

Ponteland Historian

Newsletter of Ponteland Local History Society

15th September 2016


This evening we are pleased to welcome Lloyd Langley & David Weissand. 


It doesn’t seem possible that 10 years ago we were celebrating the 40th Anniversary in Stannington Village Hall with presentations by Lindsay Allison-Jones (The Great North Museum) and Peter Carter (St. Oswald’s Way).

This year the celebration is on Saturday 1st October and will take the form of a subsidised lunch at Kirkharle.  This is to be followed with a presentation by John Anderson to mark the 300th Anniversary of the birth of Capability Brown.  Booking forms are available this evening for those members who have not already received detail by e-mail.  Closing date for applications is Tuesday 20th September.
This celebration is however tinged with a degree of sadness as it precedes the proposed closure of the Association at the 50th AGM on Saturday 5th November at Stannington Village Hall.
The schedule for the day is as follows:-

10.00 am –Arrival & Coffee

10.30 am – ANLHS 50TH AGM


1. Apologies for absence

2. Minutes of 49th AGM -9TH Nov. 2015

3. Matters arising

4. Reports:
                4.1 Chairman

                4.2 Treasurer

                4.3 Secretary

                4.4 Editor

                4.5 Representative of individual Members.
                4.6 Representatives on External Organisations: British Association for Local History, Community Action Northumberland

                4.7 Representatives of Affiliated Societies.

5. Any other business

6. Formal closure of ANLHS.

Distribution of pre-purchased non-monetary assets.

Presentation by the Northumberland & Newcastle Society.

Discussion time on mutual support (if requested in advance).


Tickets will be on sale from the next meeting Thursday 20th October.

Following the retirement of Jill Gregory there is a vacancy on the Committee for Membership Secretary.  It is not an onerous task but it is essential to the smooth running of the Society. We are looking for an enthusiastic volunteer to join the Committee.  If you have access to a computer, are familiar with Microsoft Excel, willing to take on the task and would like to join us then please make contact with any Committee Member.  

There are also vacancies for other Committee Members to bring forward new ideas to sustain our continuing growth as a successful Community asset.  Please come forward!


During the summer we enjoyed 3 very successful “Away Days”. There was a late change to the original programme as we were unable to arrange a proposed visit to the Alnwick Castle Archives.

The first, in May, was an action packed combination of a morning visit to The Lit & Phil, followed by an afternoon tour of the recently refurbished Newcastle Keep & fortified Black Tower Gate House.

 It was an exhausting, interesting and enjoyable visit for the 22 Members who made the most of the break for lunch.

In June Cumbria beckoned and a fine day provided the opportunity for the party of 28 Members to enjoy a morning guided visit by coach to Hutton in the Forest. 

After lunch there the group travelled on to the village of Wreay and a guided tour of St. Mary’s Church, designed by Sarah Losh, who has ancestral connections with Callerton Hall and the Lit. & Phil.

The summer activity was completed with a guided tour of St. Georges Church Jesmond