A Year in Scotland - George Stephenson


Extract from: The Life of George Stephenson and of his son Robert Stephenson, by Samuel Smiles, 1881.

Shortly after this event, while his grief was still fresh, he received an invitation from some gentlemen concerned in large spinning-works near Montrose, in Scotland, to proceed thither and superintend the working of oneof Boulton and Watt's engines.  He accepted the offer, and made arrangements to leave Killingworth for a time.

Having left his boy in charge of a respectable woman who acted as his housekeeper, he set out on the journey to Scotland on foot, with his kit upon his back.  While working at Montrose, he gave a striking proof of that practical ability in contrivance for which he was afterward so distinguished.  It appears that the water required for the purposes of his engine, as well as for the use of the works, was pumped from a considerable depth, being supplied from the adjacent extensive sand strata.  The pumps frequently got choked by the sand drawn in at the bottom of the well through the snore-holes, or apertures through which the water to be raised is admitted.  The barrels soon became worn, and the bucket and clack leathers destroyed, so that it became necessary to devise a remedy; and with this object, the engine-man proceeded to adopt the following simple but original expedient.  He had a wooden box or boot made, twelve feet high, which he placed in the sump or well, and into this he inserted the lower end of the pump.  The result was, that the water flowed clear from the outer part of the well over into the boot, and was drawn up without any admixture of sand, and the difficulty was thus conquered.

During his stay in Scotland, Stephenson, being paid good wages, contrived to save a sum of £28, which he took back with him to Killingworth, after an absence of about a year.  Longing to get back to his kindred, and his heart yearning for the boy whom he had left behind, our engine-man bade adieu to his Montrose employers, and trudged back to Killingworth on foot as he had gone.  He related to his friend Coe, on his return, that when on the borders of Northumberland, late one evening, footsore and wearied with his long day's journey, he knocked at a small farmer's cottage door, and requested shelter for the night.  It was refused; and then he entreated that, being sore tired and unable to proceed any farther, they would permit him to lie down in the outhouse, for that a little clean straw would serve him.  The farmer's wife appeared at the door, looked at the traveller, then retiring with her husband, the two confabulated a little apart, and finally they invited Stephenson into the cottage.  Always full of conversation and anecdote, he soon made himself at home in the farmer's family, and spent with them some pleasant hours.  He was hospitably entertained for the night, and when he left the cottage in the morning, he pressed them to make some charge for his lodging, but they refused to accept any recompense.  They only asked him to remember them kindly, and if he ever came that way, to be sure and call again.  Many years after, when Stephenson had become a thriving man, he did not forget the humble pair who had thus succoured and entertained him on his way; he sought their cottage again when age had silvered their hair; and when he left the agèd couple on that occasion, they may have been reminded of the old saying that we may sometimes "entertain angels unawares."

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