Records of Robert Stephenson & Company, Locomotive Manufacturers, Newcastle Upon Tyne (later Darlington, Durham)

Scope and Content

The Robert Stephenson & Co archive consists mainly of records concerning locomotive production - orders, descriptions and engineering drawings. There are also some financial records, letter, papers and photographic prints. Briefly, the records consist of [catalogue reference, series/sub-series and covering dates]:

  • ROB 1: Minute Book, 1823-1853
  • ROB 2/1: Order Books, 1832-1868
  • ROB 2/2: Engines Finished, 1824-1904
  • ROB 2/3: Engines Delivered, 1837-1874
  • ROB 2/4: Description Books, 1828-1875
  • ROB 2/5: Particulars of Engines, 1828-1840
  • ROB 2/6: Engine Record Book, 1829-1903
  • ROB 2/7: Weights and Dimensions, 1854-1901
  • ROB 3: Drawing records, 1829-1963
  • ROB 3/1: Drawing Registers, 1902-1963
  • ROB 3/2: Engineering Drawings, 1829-1855
  • ROB 4/1: Expenditure, 1823-1831
  • ROB 4/2: Sales, 1866-1901
  • ROB 5: Papers, 19th & 20th century
  • ROB 6: Photographic Prints, 20th century prints of earlier items

Administrative / Biographical History

George Stephenson with his son Robert, and partners Edward Pease and Michael Longridge established the first locomotive works in the world, the Forth Banks Works, in 1823. The original factory occupied 8 acres adjacent to Forth Street, Newcastle-on-Tyne, much of its machinery being designed and built by George Stephenson. Between 1814 and 1825, George and Robert Stephenson were the only builders of locomotives in the country, the first - Locomotion No 1 – was for the Stockton and Darlington Railway, though it was Rocket’s triumph at the Rainhilll Trials in 1829 which established the works pre-eminence. Between 1824 and 1827, the Forth Street works were not limited to the manufacture of locomotives and there is evidence of wagons, wheels, and engines of all kinds being ordered. Locomotives were also exported to France and America following a visit to the works by engineers from both countries in 1828 and early 1829.

The first passenger locomotive – INVICTA (0-2-2) was built in 1830 for the Canterbury and Whitstable Railway. The Planet class (2-2-0s) with inside cylinders under the smokebox and outside frames was adopted as standard on the Liverpool & Manchester Railway, further developed in 1833 with a pair of trailing wheels fitted behind the firebox making it a 2-2-2 (the Patentee). The Patentee class was generally accepted as “the best of its day” (Warren, 1923). Orders for these two types were so numerous that many had to be passed on to other locomotive builders such as Tayleur & Co (later Vulcan Foundry). With the opening of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway, Charles Tayleur entered into a partnership with Robert Stephenson in 1832, although there is some indication that this lasted no more than a year or two. Associated with this partnership may be the discontinuation of the old series of works’ numbers in 1831 (up to c 40) and the commencement of a fresh series is evidenced in the order books (i.e. Samson old 34, new 14; Jupiter old 35, new 15; Goliath old 36, new 16). Another important development in this period was the appearance of the ‘long boiler’ type that resulted not only in a greater heating surface but a better ratio of tube length to tube diameter without increasing the wheelbase. In 1839 two 2-2-2s were supplied for Brunel’s 7ft gauge of the Great Western Railway. In 1846 when the works had 224 engines on order, railway mania was at its height.

By 1855 over 1000 locomotives had been built, the firm’s order books graphically reflecting both national and worldwide interest in their acquisition. A visitor to Newcastle in 1838 records “the marvellous manufactory of Mr Stephenson alone occupies four hundred workmen for the supply of steam engines to all parts of the world” (Lowe 1975). It is right to say that “where there were railways, very few had no locomotives from this builder” (Lowe 1975). George Robert, Robert Stephenson’s cousin, who had taken on responsibility for the firm’s orders on the latter’s death in October 1859, energetically pursued overseas’ companies through frequent absences abroad, adding the Australian continent, the Far East, Africa and South America to those countries already supplied.

A private company was formed in 1886, voluntarily wound up in 1899, and a new public limited company formed as Robert Stephenson & Co Ltd. The Forth Street works could expand no more and new works were built at Darlington on 54 acres of land. Although modern in their equipment, the works were laid out for small batch orders with locomotives being carefully built and quality coming before quantity. One of the important decisions of the new company was to remove locomotive building to Darlington, leading to the separation of the marine and boiler works. In 1902, the first of a long series of 2-8-0 heavy goods locomotives were built for India, soon followed by an exceptionally large 2-10-0 locomotive for Argentina. This began a remarkable series of engines, which became the prototype for large and successful classes of heavier locomotives.

At the beginning of the First World War some manufacture of munitions was undertaken but it soon became apparent, as military operations progressed, that locomotives for transportation were increasingly demanded. The firm fell victim in the early 1920s to many industrial disputes amongst suppliers leading to the cancellation of orders.

On 1 January 1937, Robert Stephenson & Co Ltd combined with R & W Hawthorn Leslie & Co Ltd, becoming Robert Stephenson & Hawthorn Ltd. The policy was to concentrate on the building of main line locomotives at Darlington and industrial locomotives at the Forth Banks works of the former Hawthorn Leslie Company. Standard 0-4-0ST and 0-6-0ST continued to be built in large numbers from 1938 for collieries, steel works, chemical plants and many other industries: war time requirements were such that the works were fully extended and very few orders were obtained from abroad.

In 1944 the Vulcan Foundry acquired a substantial holding in the company and later the two firms became members of the English Electric Co Ltd with works at Newton-le-Willows, Darlington, Newcastle, Bradford and Preston forming the main units of the railway traction division. The Forth Banks works, established in 1823, were closed in 1960 and all diesel and electrical locomotive building concentrated at Darlington. The joint company built approximately 1000 steam locomotives. As from 1 January 1962 the works became the English Electric Co Ltd, Stephenson Works, Darlington: retention of the work’s name perpetuating the long association of locomotive building with George and Robert Stephenson. However, the last diesel locomotive left the Darlington Works in 1964.


The original order of the archive has been difficult to ascertain (except for the papers and photographic prints). The archive has therefore been arranged into five series, reflecting either the activities to which the records relate of the nature of the record:

  • Organisation
  • Manufacture
  • Engineering records
  • Finance
  • Papers (series of subject files compiled by Robert Stephenson & Hawthorn Ltd)
  • Photographic prints (series of subject files compiled by Robert Stephenson & Hawthorn Ltd)

Conditions Governing Access

Access is given in accordance with the NRM access policy. Material from this archive is available to researchers through the Search Engine reading room. Where items from this archive have been microfilmed, access is gained through the microfilm surrogate.

Opening times:

Search Engine is open to the public Wednesday to Saturday 10.00-5.30. You don't need an appointment to use the library collection but you will need to book at least a week ahead if you wish to look at archival material.

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Contact details:

Address: Search Engine, National Railway Museum, Leeman Road, York, YO26 4XJ. Email:

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Acquisition Information

  • 1970-473: Acquired from English Electric-AEI Traction Ltd in October 1968 by the Science Museum, South Kensington, London. The archive was transferred to the National Railway Museum, York, in 1996.
  • 1995-7768: Donated to the National Railway Museum by an individual private donor, 1987.
  • 1996-7065: Purchased by the National Railway Museum from Lacy Scott (Auctioneers), 1991.
  • 1996-7066: Purchased by the National Railway Museum from Lacy Scott (Auctioneers), 1991.

Other Finding Aids

Lists of this archive material, prepared by the Science Museum at the time of acquisition, are held on the NRM object file (1970-473).

Alternative Form Available

Microfilm copies are held at the Science Museum Library.

Physical Characteristics and/or Technical Requirements

Series ROB 1 & 3 are hard backed volumes, which are in a fair condition. Some volumes have been conserved and these are in a good condition. Series ROB 2 are drawings, which are in a fair condition. ROB 4 & 5 are a series of files, which are also in a fair condition.

Archivist's Note

The catalogue was compiled by Victoria Stretch, Archivist, November 2003. The inventory of material and administrative history was prepared by Priscilla Roxburgh, NRM Volunteer, November 2003.

Description created by Jane Ronson (Archives Hub team) using the Archives Hub EAD Editor, June 2015.

Conditions Governing Use

Copies may be supplied of items in the archive, provided that the copying process used does not damage the item or is not detrimental to its preservation. Copies will be supplied in accordance with the NRM’s terms and conditions for the supply and reproduction of copies, and the provisions of any relevant copyright legislation.

Appraisal Information

No appraisal of this archive has been undertaken.


No accruals are expected.

Related Material

Related units of description held at the National Railway Museum, listed by Inventory number:

  • 1892-187: Two coloured engineering drawings of Stephenson's "Rocket" locomotive. Conjectural drawings of "Rocket" in assumed original condition, possibly prepared by the Science Museum Drawing Office c.1892. Scale 1.5 inches to 1 foot. Side and end elevations, longitudinal and cross-sections.
  • 1898-78: Sheet of drawings of early locomotives by Robert Stephenson & Co, from particulars supplied by Clement E Stretton and others.
  • 1955-351: Great Western Railway, coloured and shaded side elevation of Stephenson's "North Star" locomotive, 1837, scale 1:8
  • 1957-145: Coloured and shaded side elevation of Robert Stephenson's long boiler "A" type locomotive, 1846-7
  • 1996-7233:Records of GEC Alsthom and associated companies, including Robert Stephenson & Co and Robert Stephenson & Hawthorn Ltd, c1846-1994.
  • 1914-868: Drawing of Stephenson's combined locomotive and state carriage for the Viceroy of Egypt, 1859.
  • 1957-145: Coloured and shaded side elevation of Robert Stephenson's long boiler "A" type locomotive, 1846-7.
  • 1999-7079: Engineering drawing by J Farey, Russell Square, London, & signed by Robert Stephenson, "Improvements in the arrangement & combination of the parts of loco engine", [Patent specification for the long boiler type of locomotive], 1841.
  • 1999-8055: Printed drawing, represented by E F Storbuck, London. Side elevation locomotive no 12 "North Star", built by Robert Stephenson & Co Newcastle upon Tyne.
  • 2000-7371: Great Western Railway: Letters and invoices re consignments of locomotives, received from Robert Stephenson & Co, 1840-1841.
  • 2003-7856: Midland Railway: Invoices received from Robert Stephenson & Co, 1866.

Related units of description elsewhere, listed by Repository:

National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside,Maritime Archives and Library, Albert Dock, Liverpool, L3 4AQ , England. Tel: 0151 478 4424. Website:

Robert Stephenson & Co: drawings (1825-1956) Reference: B/VF

Durham County Record Office,County Hall, Durham, DH1 5UL, England. Tel: 0191 383 3253/3474. Website:

Robert Stephenson & Co: correspondence, accounts, etc (1824-1861) Reference: D/PS

Tyne and Wear Archives Service,Blanford House, Blanford Square, Newcastle Upon Tyne, NE1 4JA, England. Tel: 0191 277 2248. Website:

Robert Stephenson & Co: specification (1 vol) for steel screw steamer (1907) Reference: Acc 1810/7

Location of Originals

Not applicable.


  • Bailey, Michael R & Glithero, John P, The Engineering and History of Rocket – A Survey Report, Michael R Bailey, 2000.
  • Roper, Robert Stephenson, The Other Stephensons – The Story of the Family of George & Robert Stephenson, R S Roper, 1990.
  • Warren, J G H, A Centenary of Locomotive Building by Robert Stephenson & Co, 1823-1923, Andrew Reid & Co Ltd, 1923.
  • Lee, M J, ‘Forth Banks Works 1923-1959’, SLS Journal 36 (415) February 1960, pp32-36.