FOR North East railway pioneer George Stephenson it has been a life of grime for the last 150 years.
But now decades of dirt and corrosion have been cleaned from his 9ft tall statue near Newcastle Central Station in what is a £30,000 operation.
George has been returned to his original bronze best and work is now continuing on the four reclining figures at the base of the Grade II-star monument.
The work, which is backed by a 40% grant from the Railway Heritage Trust, is being carried out by specialist firm Antique Bronze, which has restored the bronze sculptures in locations like Trafalgar Square and Parliament Square in London.
When work on the Stephenson monument is complete, it will be illuminated at night.
The lighting around the statue of Cardinal Basil Hume, outside St Mary’s Cathedral and opposite the station, will also be improved.
It means that visitors to Newcastle who arrive via the Central Station will be greeted by well-lit statues of two of the city’s great figures which will also complement the recently-illuminated lantern tower of St Nicholas Cathedral.
The Stephenson Monument is the last bronze statue in the city centre to be restored.
Newcastle City Council has previously cleaned the statues of Queen Victoria, next to Sr Nicholas Cathedral, Lord Armstrong outside the Great North Museum and Joseph Cowen in Fenkle Street.
It has also carried out cleaning and restoration work on The Response war memorial outside the Civic Centre and war memorials in Eldon Square and the Haymarket.
“The work will see George Stephenson back to his lustrous dark brown bronze best,” said council urban design and conservation manager Ian Ayris.
It is believed that it is the first time the monument has been cleaned since its unveiling in 1862.
Iain McLean, director of Antique Bronze, said: “ The green corrosion on the figures was pretty awful after so many years of weathering and when the work is finished people will definitely see the difference.
“When statues are cleaned and restored in this way, people who might be tempted to abuse them with graffiti and traffic cones tend to back off.”
The first stage of treatment was a steam clean, and then the high powered use of a mixture of compressed air, water and fine marble dust.
This is followed by a patination process which involves the application of chemicals which react with the copper in the bronze to produce a dark brown finish and then a clear wax is applied.
THE four figures at the base of the monument represent the areas in which George and his son Robert Stephenson worked.
They are a blacksmith with a small anvil, a plate layer with a fish-bellied rail, a miner with Stephenson’s safety lamp and an engineer with a locomotive.
One of the figures is said to have been modelled on Robert Stephenson.
Plans were drawn up for the monument in 1858, 10 years after the death of George Stephenson and a year after the publication of The Life of George Stephenson, Railway Engineer by Samuel Smiles.
The sculptor chosen for the job was John Graham Lough, who also produced the statue to Admiral Lord Collingwood at Tynemouth.
The Stephenson Monument was unveiled on October 2, 1862.
A crowd of 100,000 turned up for the event, which included a march by 10,000 workers carrying flags and banners.
That night the Theatre Royal staged a series of gas-lit scenes of Stephenson’s early life.