A sculpture is to journey back home as part of celebrations to mark the 200th anniversary of the building of the locomotive which helped make George Stephenson’s name.
Thanks to a grant of almost £55,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund, North Tyneside Council, its partners and community groups are now on track to mark the bi-centenary of the young Stephenson’s steam locomotive Blucher, which was built in Killingworth.
A programme of community activities is planned for the anniversary year with one of the highlights being the refurbishment and installation of the steel sculpture of the Blucher on the prominent Southgate roundabout in Killingworth.
The artwork by Charles Sansbury was first erected in Killingworth town centre in 1971 to symbolise the town’s association with George Stephenson who lived there from 1804 and designed Blucher in 1814. The sculpture was displayed on the exterior of a town centre pub named after another historic locomotive - Puffing Billy.
But when the pub was demolished the sculpture was removed and put into storage at the Stephenson Railway Museum in North Tyneside and has not been on public display since.
The confirmed return of Blucher has delighted Sheila Martin, who is secretary of Killingworth Local History Society.
She said: “It just disappeared at least 20 years ago when the pub was knocked down and nobody knew where it had gone.
“Being nosey, I thought I would find out and I eventually discovered where it was. It is a beautiful sculpture but people thought that it had been lost.
“I am really chuffed that it is coming back to Killingworth.”
George Stephenson lived at Dial Cottage in Killingworth with his son, Robert.
Blucher was named after the Prussian general who played a crucial part in winning the Battle of Waterloo when his army arrived to support the Duke of Wellington’s forces.
Welcoming the re-instatement, North Tyneside Mayor Norma Redfearn said: “In North Tyneside we are immensely proud of George Stephenson; the lad from a poor background who worked as a brakesman at Killingworth Pit and went on to become a railway pioneer and industrialist renowned as the Father of Railways’.
“I’m delighted that the Heritage Lottery Fund has approved our bid to celebrate the bicentenary of Blucher and must express my great thanks not only to the HLF but to members of the Killingworth Local History Society who have worked tirelessly over the years to make this project happen.
“The council will be working closely with these and other community groups and schools and to make this a very special year-long celebration of Stephenson’s life and achievements.
“Many exciting events are being planned and they’ll involve the whole community. I’m particularly pleased that the steel sculpture will be removed from storage, cleaned and erected on the Southgate roundabout where it will provide a wonderful gateway feature to Killingworth evoking the legacy of the great man.”
Ivor Crowther, head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in the North East, said: “George Stephenson’s vital role in shaping the railways and his contribution to the industrial revolution is an integral part of North East heritage that everyone should know about and be able to appreciate.
“Through these community events, exhibitions and the reinstatement of the sculpture to celebrate the bi-centenary of the Blucher steam locomotive, this project will ensure his legacy lives on for many years to come.”
Other activities made possible by the HLF funding include:
The installation of a new heritage trail interpretation board telling the story of the Stephenson’s time in Killingworth and the history of the sculpture and its relationship to the development of the Killingworth township.
A programme of educational activities for local schools promoting learning about the Stephenson legacy.
Publication of a book compiled by the Northern Voices Community Project telling the story of steam locomotion in North Tyneside.
Production of a touring exhibition available for display in community venues.
After 10 months’ labour, George Stephenson’s Blucher was completed and tested on the Killingworth Railway on July 25, 1814.
It hauled eight loaded coal wagons weighing 30 tons, at about four miles an hour.
It was the most successful working steam engine that had been constructed up to this period, and encouraged the inventor make further experiments.