Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Black Callerton’s Stephenson Link (NZ174698)

© Copyright PhilThirkell and licensed for reuse 

The tiny hamlet of Black Callerton between Newcastle and Darras Hall holds a rather important place in the personal history of perhaps the greatest ever north-easterner, George Stephenson. Not only does it feature in the earliest years of the man’s illustrious career, but it also had quite a say in his family life, too.

There is, I am pleased to say, a commemorative plaque to mark the story, which, if filled out a bit, runs something like this…

The famous engineer and ‘Father of the Railways’ was born in 1781 at Wylam, a few miles to the south-west of Black Callerton. Illiterate until the age of eighteen, the self-taught genius first worked at Newburn colliery, before becoming a brakesman at Black Callerton (which involved controlling the pit’s winding gear) in 1801.

Rumour has it that whilst there he secretly courted a local farmer’s daughter called Betty Hindmarsh, whom he would meet in her orchard – and behind her parents’ back. All attempts to woo her failed, though – the girl’s father having none of it on account of our man’s lowly status. He thereafter made approaches to another local lass, Anne Henderson, before moving onto her sister, Fanny, who quickly became his wife. In 1802, the couple moved to Willington Quay, east of Newcastle.

Fanny died in 1806, leaving George with one surviving child, the famous Robert, born 1803. Whilst George built his career, young Robert was raised by a succession of neighbours and relatives. Eventually, though, George would marry again, and, strangely, the Black Callerton link would return to shape his life – for it was into the arms of his first love, Betty Hindmarsh, that the now hugely successful (and very wealthy) George would fall. They married (at Newburn) in 1820.

The marriage appears to have been a happy one, though they had no children. Betty took great care of her step-son, Robert, before her death in 1845. George still found time to marry for a third time shortly before his own death in 1848, but was buried alongside ‘Black Callerton Betty’ in Chesterfield.

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