"THE story begins in Nuremburg in 1833," says the Autumn 1962 edition of The Rocket Post, the in-house magazine of Robert Stephenson & Hawthorns, or "Stivvies" as the company was popularly known in Darlington.

"It was decided to build a railway between that town and Furth," continues the article. "A locomotive was ordered from Robert Stephenson & Co, a condition of the sale being that an experienced man should go with the locomotive for its early running.

"William Wilson was the man sent."

The Northern Echo: The Rocket Post of autumn 1962

Stivvies' 1962 in-house magazine which tells the sotry of Adler and the German railways

The states of Germany had had railways and locomotives before the four-mile long Nuremburg to Furth line, known as the Ludwigsbahn, was begun in 1833, but, just like in England where the Stockton & Darlington Railway had been the pioneer that brought together all the existing technology, none of them had employed all of the latest steam-power. Indeed, there wasn't a locomotive builder in Germany capable of providing for the Ludwigsbahn and so George Stephenson and his son, Robert, were approached to build one in the factory in Newcastle – the factory that Darlington’s Pease family had helped set up specifically set up to build Locomotion No 1 for the S&DR in 1825.

So Adler, Germany's first proper steam locomotive (below), was built on the banks of the Tyne.

The Northern Echo: The Adler

But what size should the Stephensons build it?

The distance between the rails in North-East colliery wagonways was traditionally 4ft 8ins. No one really knows why. It is said that cart tracks found near Hadrian's Wall are of this dimension, and the guess is that this is about the right size to enable a carthorse to pull a wagon.

The Northern Echo: Robert Stephenson, seated, with his father, George - both men used the same method to take their railway lines over notorious bogs

Robert Stephenson, seated, and his father, George

When George Stephenson became an engineer at Killingworth colliery in Northumberland, he inherited a wagonway that had been laid in 1762 with its rails 4ft 8ins apart. That was the size he grew up on, and that was the size he employed when building the S&DR in the early 1820s.

When the S&DR became operational, he soon realised that for optimum operation on corners, the rails needed to be slightly further apart than the wheelbase of the wagons, so when he built the Liverpool & Manchester Railway in the late 1820s, he added an extra half-an-inch. Therefore, the L&MR’s gauge was 4ft 8½ inch – that's 1,435mm for metric minds – became the standard gauge in Britain, and so the Stephensons built Adler – the name means "eagle" – to that size.

Unfortunately, in Nuremburg, the Germans had laid their track five-eighths of an inch too narrow so they had to start all over again, this time laying the track to the Stephenson width. And so what had begun with the S&DR became the norm in Germany.

"Adler sailed from Newcastle to Rotterdam on August 27, 1835, proceeding by barge to Cologne, after which it was transported to Nuremburg by horse and wagon, eventually arriving at its destination on October 26," says the Stivvies magazine. "Mr Wilson now had the task of preparing Adler for the opening day."

William Wilson was born in Walbottle, on the western edge of Newcastle, in 1809. He began working as a mechanic for the Stephensons in 1829, so he was only 25-years-old when he was sent, like a missionary, to introduce the new steam railway age to the Germans.

The Adler arrived in 20 boxes and William had to piece together the parts ready for opening on December 7, 1835. Known as “the tall Englishman”, or the “regierenden Geist der Maschine” (“the ruling spirit of the machine”), William drove the Adler on its inaugural journey when it pulled nine wagons containing 192 passengers on the four miles in nine minutes.

The Northern Echo: The opening of the Nuremburg and Furth Railway

The opening of the Nuremburg and Furth Railway

“So William began his role as the first engine driver in Germany,” says the Stivvies magazine. “The first locomotive, with William, top hat and all, guiding its destinies on the footplate was a sensation. In its first year, Adler made 2,364 runs and hauled 449,399 passengers. For this, William received 2,250 marks, a wage which compared more than favourably with the manager of the line whose salary was only 1,350 marks.”

Coal, though, was very expensive in Germany, so initially Adler only ran twice a day with horses operating the service at other times. William even tried burning cheaper wood in Adler’s boiler but discovered that its sparks singed passengers’ clothing.

Initially, William’s contract was for eight months but, given the size of his salary, he decided to stay on. He set up the first steam workshop in the country and trained the first generation of German steam engineers, and he carried on driving.

As the footplate was uncovered and he was exposed in all weathers, his health suffered and he had to stop work in 1859. In the 25th anniversary celebrations of Ludwigsbahn, he was hailed as a hero, and when he died in 1862, his funeral was extremely well attended.

“Now in the Hall of Honour in Nuremburg Railway Museum, the portrait of William Wilson is hung for everyone to see,” says the magazine. “Fame did indeed come to William Wilson.”

The Northern Echo: Adler and ICE 3 in the DB Museum, the world's oldest railway museum having been founded in 1882, in Nuremburg

Adler and ICE 3 in the DB Museum, the world's oldest railway museum having been founded in 1882, in Nuremburg. Picture: DB Museum

MEMORIES 524 in May told how William Graham of Darlington became “Norges förste Lokomotivförer”. He was sent out by Robert Stephenson to drive the first engine on Norway’s first line into Oslo which opened on September 1, 1854. Like William Wilson, William Graham was so enamoured of the country he found himself in that he stayed there until he died.


THE autumn 1962 edition of The Rocket Post has been kindly lent to us by John Waddleton of Darlington who was working at Stivvies when it came out. As well as chit-chat about rolling stock and bowling teams, the editor has thoughtfully included some fashion tips for the ladies.

Having studied the Paris autumn collections, the editor, Horace Greaves, gives his helpful advice about what wives of railwaymen should be wearing in the new season:

Shoulders. The new line for shoulders is squarer. This is achieved by subtle padding or darting.

Skirts are narrower but hemline width is achieved by low placed flares or pleats. Any fullness in skirts has moved to the front. The length remains the same – about one inch below the knee.

Necklines are swathed in matching scarves, frequently schoolboy length.

Colours of the future are the copper beech shades, dark greens and petrol blues. Also many brown-black combinations.

He clearly knew what he was writing about.

The Northern Echo: Stephensons works at Springfield which were demolished after closure in 1964. Once they were Darlington's biggest private employer

Stephensons works at Springfield which were demolished after closure in 1964. Once they were Darlington's biggest private employer

STIVVIES was formed in 1823 by Robert Stephenson and his father, George, with finances coming from Edward Pease of Darlington, and his cousin, Thomas Richardson, a London Quaker banker. It was based in Newcastle until 1902 when it moved to larger premises beside the East Coast Main Line in Darlington. These Springfield Works became one of Darlington’s largest employers, with more than 4,000 men working there, building engines for this country and the rest of the world.

However, it closed in 1964, with the last engine – D6898 – being waved off by the few remaining employees on April 28 (below).

The Northern Echo: Closure of Robert Stephenson and Hawthorne / Stivvies closure in 1964, Darlington. Worker gather to see the final diesel locomotive as it leaves the Darlington works

“My dad, Lawrence Farey, is fourth from the right on the picture,” says Elizabeth Farey. “He was the last fitter at Stephenson’s, as he was proud to tell anybody. On the final day of operation only my dad and his boss were left.”

Lawrence had emigrated to Australia in 1953 as a “£10 pom” – he paid £10 processing fees and received free passage as the Australians were trying to attract workers with the slogan “Bring out a Briton”.

However, as he’d met Joan shortly before he left, he returned after a year – the minimum stay – to marry her. He started work at Stivvies in 1954 and stayed there until the end when he went to Eaton Axles in Newton Aycliffe.

Joan worked at the Priestgate co-op in the hosiery, haberdashery and handbags section, and also became a councillor. In 1983, she was mayoress of Darlington when Cllr Jim Skinner was mayor.

Everything comes full circle because in October Memories 550 told how D6898 – the engine Lawrence waved off – had been presented back to Darlington by Network Rail and now it is on display beside the North Road railway museum (below).

The Northern Echo: Handover of a Class 37 train at the A1 Locomotive Trust/Head of Steam museum in Darlington. Picture: CHRIS BOOTH