George Stephenson was not only Father of the Railways, this amazing man of the North East was by association responsible for us knowing what the time is across the land, and far beyond, and thereby what time the train is due to arrive in Durham station.

George Stephenson was a great civil engineer with a genius for mechanical engineering, the Rocket is a prime example. Thanks to George the first city to city rail link was formed between Liverpool and Manchester using steam loco’s in 1830. That was just the start.

Progressively railway lines connected every corner of the country with services between the commercial centres of the United Kingdom. Railways across the world were later established largely by British engineers and to this day many of them are still working hard connecting businesses and travellers.

Durham has been served by no less than three railway stations over time: Gilesgate, Shincliffe, and Durham Elvet reflecting the seriousness associated with internal transport at the time. Hauling coal was a good deal easier and quicker allowing it to be moved more directly to the user or port of exit. The existing station still connects Durham City and County to the rest of the country allowing excellent intercity connections to be made.

A major spin off from the industrialisation of the railways was time. Prior to the establishment of Standard Time, there were variations across the country. Until the 18th century in each town and city the time was established by the use of a sun dial, therefore each town and city had its own time allowing for significant differences between London and the rest of the country. Such disorder was an impossibility for ordering a timetable that would in turn enable synchronisation of services.

The Great Western Railway created ‘Standard Time’ in 1840 by ensuring that all of its personnel operated to London time, station clocks were all set to the same ‘standard time.’ Most other railways followed their example, and in 1847 the Railway Clearing House – the industry standardisation body at the time – recommended that Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) be adopted across the network, and thereby across the country. Soon after, the General Post Office followed suit. Standard Time had arrived. Leaving aside the odd phenomenon of British Summer Time/Daylight Saving Time introduced to help farmers during WW2 and still in use today 70 years on, GMT is used as the key to all time zones across the world. When you look at the time on your i Pad, smartphone or personal computer, you can thank George Stephenson and the railways that we have a standard time.

However, should you be standing on the platform of Durham Station reading this there is no guarantee that time will not stand still for you if your train is running late – according to GMT.

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  1. Whilst George Stephenson was undoubtedly a mechanical engineering genius and assisted with the design of Rocket it was his son Robert who was responsible for the innovative design of the locomotive. In a 33 month period Robert took the design of the locomotive from the slow ponderous machines of his father’s generation to the design principles we still use.


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