GEORGE Stephenson, the son of a colliery fireman, was born at Wylam, eight miles west of Newcastle on June 9, 1781.

The Stephenson family home was within yards of the Wylam Waggonway, and George quickly developed an interest in machines. When he was 14 he joined his father at Dewley Colliery and in 1802 he became a colliery engineman, marrying Frances Henderson later that year.

In October 1803, the couple's only son Robert was born, but Frances suffered poor health and died of consumption in 1806.

When he was 27, George Stephenson became an engineman at Killingworth Colliery, north of Newcastle. In 1813, as William Hedley and Timothy Hackworth began to develop a locomotive at Wylam Colliery, Stephenson convinced his colliery manager, Nicholas Wood, to allow him to produce a steam-powered machine.

By 1814 he had produced a loco that could pull 30 tons up a hill at 4mph. The loco was called the Blutcher and, like other machines of the period, had two vertical cylinders let into the boiler from the pistons from which rods drove the gears.

Over the following five years he built 16 engines. These impressed colliery owners and in 1819 he was given the task of building an eightmile railroad at Sunderland.

On April 19, 1821, an Act of Parliament was passed that authorised a company led by Darlington businessman Edward Pease to build a horse railway to link the south Durham collieries, Darlington and the River Tees at Stockton. Stephenson arrived that same day in at Pease’s house in Darlington – now a kebab shop in Northgate – and suggested to Pease that he should build a locomotive railway. He told him: "A horse on an iron road would draw ten tons for one ton on a common road."

Pease was convinced when he visited Killingworth and saw the Blutcher in operation and appointed Stephenson chief engineer of the Stockton & Darlington Railway.

In 1823 Edward Pease joined Michael Longdridge, George Stephenson and his son Robert Stephenson to form a company to make the locomotives. Robert Stephenson & Company, at Forth Street, Newcastle, became the world's first locomotive builder and the first railway locomotive, Locomotion, was finished in September 1825.

Work on the Stockton & Darlington Railway track began in 1822. George Stephenson used malleable iron rails carried on cast iron chairs laid on wooden blocks.

The Stockton & Darlington line was opened on September 27, 1825. Large crowds saw George at the controls of Locomotion as it pulled 36 wagons filled with sacks of coal and flour.

In 1826 Stephenson was appointed engineer and provider of locomotives for the Bolton & Leigh railway. He also was the chief engineer of the proposed Liverpool & Manchester Railway.

He and his son Robert later produced the Rocket, the locomotive that won the Liverpool & Manchester’s Rainhill Trials in 1829 to discover the best engine – and to take the £500 first prize.

In 1838, Stephenson bought Tapton House, a mansion in Chesterfield, and continued to work on improving the quality of locomotives used on the rail lines he built. He also owned a farm where he experimented with stock breeding, new types of manure and animal food. He also developed a method of fattening chickens by shutting them in dark boxes after a heavy feed.

He died at Tapton House in 1848, and is known as the "Father of the Railways", although he once said: "The locomotive has not been the invention of any one man, but of a race of mechanical engineers."