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The Bully and the Brakesman : A young George Stephenson takes responsibility for the team spirit at Black Callerton mine.
The Bully and the Brakesman

Based on ‘Lives of the Engineers’, by Samuel Smiles (1812-1904).

In 1801, the job of brakesman at Black Callerton pit was given to a young George Stephenson. It was a very responsible job, as it involved lowering and raising miners in the deep and dangerous mineshaft, but Stephenson felt he had a wider duty to the whole mine.

ON one occasion, Stephenson’s handling of the winding mechanism displeased miner Ned Nelson, who on reaching the top berated him offensively.

This Nelson was a notorious bully, used to getting his own way, so he was taken aback when instead of cowering, Stephenson defended himself honestly.

The argument ended with Nelson demanding a pitched-battle in the Dolly Pit field some days hence, and taking immediate sick-leave to prepare himself.

Stephenson, meanwhile, got on with his daily round, constantly interrupted by awe-struck miners asking him if he really meant to fight Nelson and pledging their support (so long as Nelson was not in earshot).

Unlike his adversary, Stephenson was not a veteran brawler; it was in fact his first and last fight. His only desire was to deal with the pit’s resident bully for the pit’s sake.

He stripped like a professional boxer, and put his opponent down with such cool efficiency that he won Nelson’s respect and friendship ever after.

Based on ‘Lives of the Engineers’, by Samuel Smiles (1812-1904).

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Picture: © Sarah Charlesworth, Geograph. Licence: CC-BY-SA 2.0. View original
Sadly, the once-vibrant coal industry in northeast England has vanished now, but Beamish Museum in County Durham maintains a loving recreation of a typical mine in the region, as it might have been in the 1900s, almost a century after the events in this story took place.
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