By Poppy Askham
A sculpture of George Stephenson was unveiled at Stephenson College to mark the 240th anniversary of the railway engineer’s birth. The college, which is celebrating 20 years since its establishment, is named after the local railway pioneer who was regarded as the ‘Father of Railways’ and was a key figure in the Industrial Revolution.
Pro-Vice Chancellor Jeremy Cook unveiled the sculpture at an event attended by over 50 people in Stephenson College bar where the sculpture will remain on display.
The elmwood statue was carved by local artist Colin Wilbourn in 1990 as part of a commission for the Gateshead Flower Festival. It had been on display in Durham’s Botanic Gardens but was removed when the wood began to sustain weather damage. The piece was recently rediscovered and restored by college staff members after many years in storage.
George Stephenson is best known for his pioneering railway engineering work, including the design of the ‘rocket’ locomotive and contributions to Liverpool and Manchester Railway, the world’s first locomotive intercity line. He also created the Stephenson Gauge which is the basis for the standard gauge used to this day.
The celebrations involved speeches from Colin Wilbourn, the College’s principal Rob Lynes and Sean Newton, a representative for the Hetton Colliery Railway 200 project, as well as the ceremonial cutting of a birthday cake by incoming JCR president Charles Lawrence. College staff, students, alumni, and members of the local community were in attendance at the event, including representatives from two college-affiliated charities: Cheesy Waffles and A Way Out.
In addition to the ceremony, students also enjoyed refreshments at a burger van that visited the college as part of the celebrations. Depending on coronavirus restrictions, the College hopes to further mark the dual anniversaries at “Stevo Day” later in the month.
Stephenson College Principal, Rob Lynes told Palatinate: “One of the things that George Stephenson wrote in a letter to a friend is ‘one day I shall astonish the world’ and I think we want that inspiration for our students when they leave Durham”.
The occasion was one of the first community events hosted by the college since the beginning of the pandemic. “It’s been over 15 months since we’ve been able to invite guests to an event”, Lynes explained, “to have people here in real-life is a real privilege”.
Reflecting on the college’s 20th anniversary, Lynes also commented “we’re one of the few 21st-century colleges and as a result, we’d like to think we’re a forward-thinking, progressive college”. “We look forward to many, many more years”, he concluded.
Image: Alex Prudham