Blueprint from the past

A historically-priceless document from the dawn of public steam-operated railways was rediscovered by Network Rail in April this year after more than half a century.

It was nothing less than George Stephenson’s notebook from 1822, detailing his redesign of George Overton’s original 1821 route for what was to become the Stockton and Darlington Railway, and the suggested amendments to it. The notebook was also a blueprint for railways that followed.

Records assistant John Page found the 12in by 12in notebook in the deeds room in Network Rail’s archive in York. It had not been seen since the Fifties. Bound in its original form and written in ink with pencil annotations, G Stephenson signed it at Killingworth Colliery on January 18, 1822.

A blueprint that changed the world: George Stephenson’s 1822 redesign of George Overton’s original Stockton and Darlington route, which would have relied far more on horse traction and cost much more to build. NR

It contained major changes to the Overton design. His plan had sharp inclines, steep curves and tunnels, whereas Stephenson favoured gradual inclines and eased curves.

Stephenson also proposed the use of spoil excavated from the cuttings to build the embankments, avoiding the need for a tunnel that Overton had recommended. This, in itself, would have cut short the Darlington branch by three miles.

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