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A Leader by Example : George Stephenson won the admiration of French navvies by showing them how a Geordie works a shovel.
A Leader by Example

From ‘The Lives of the Engineers’ by Samuel Smiles (1812-1904).

George Stephenson was arguably history’s most influential engineer, yet he never really gave up being a Northumberland miner. He always retained his Geordie ordinariness, and was never happier than when he was among his fellow working men.

WHEN examining the works of the Orleans and Tours Railway, Mr Stephenson, seeing a large number of excavators filling and wheeling sand in a cutting, at a great waste of time and labour, went up to the men and said he would show them how to fill their barrows in half the time.

He showed them the proper position in which to stand so as to exercise the greatest amount of power with the least expenditure of strength; and he filled the barrow with comparative ease again and again in their presence, to the great delight of the workmen.

When passing through his own workshops, he would point out to his men how to save labour, and to get through their work skilfully and with ease. His energy imparted itself to others, quickening and influencing them as strong characters always do — flowing down into theirs, and bringing out their best powers.

* The Orléans and Tours route was part of the Paris to Bordeaux line, one of a number of French lines built by British firms. The section between Orléans and Tours opened in 1846.

From ‘The Lives of the Engineers’ by Samuel Smiles (1812-1904).

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Samuel Smiles (22) Discovery and Invention (64) Victorian Era (61) George Stephenson (12) Railways (22) French History (8) Character and Conduct (28) History (393)

Picture: © Velvet, via Wikimedia Commons. Licence: CC BY-SA 3.0. View original
The Gare d’Orléans on the Paris-Bordeaux Railway. It stands on the site of the first station, opened on May 5th, 1843, and its wavy roofline is suitably reminiscent of the much simpler triple-V-shape of the original. Nineteenth-century France was much less industrialised than Britain, so most of the railways were built by the State and with taxpayer money, not by private companies using money raised from investors. That, along with the ongoing instability caused by Napoleon which was still reverberating as late as the Revolution of 1848, helps to explain the slower growth of the network in France, and the need to draw on British expertise.

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