Short Thoughts by Geoff


I want to tell you the story of one of our circuit Local Preachers who was born at Wylam on 22nd December 1786, five years before the death of John Wesley in 1791, and who worked with George Stephenson. Here is a picture of him.

Timothy Hackworth went to school in Wylam until the age of 14, which was quite a long time then, and when he left he was apprenticed as a blacksmith under his father, who was foreman blacksmith at Wylam Colliery. Timothy’s father died when his son was only 16 in 1802 but he must have taught him well, because when Timothy finished his apprenticeship he was promoted to foreman blacksmith in charge of a number of men. At that time the colliery owner, Christopher Blackett, was experimenting, as early as 1804, with steam locomotives based on Richard Trevithick’s designs.


Although the Stephenson's had by now moved away from Wylam, Timothy remained and proceeded to develop his skills to a very high standard such that only the best was good enough. It is, I think, more than possible that his attention to detail and his desire to do his very best was influenced by his allegiance to the established Church of England to which, at that time, he was earnestly committed.

During his time at Wylam Hackworth entered into two lifelong commitments: Firstly to the Wesleyan Church as opposed to the established church and secondly, marriage to Jane Golightly. He began to attend the local Wesleyan Chapel in 1810 and was converted on 31st March 1811 at the age of 25. There is a sense of his strong convictions coming out here. Two years later, he married Jane at Ovingham Parish Church as marriages in non-conformist chapels were not permitted by law. Jane was also a converted Wesleyan Methodist – a move which was opposed by her parents and in consequence she was obliged to leave home.

The couple’s allegiance to Methodism was put to the test when Timothy, aged 31 in 1817, was obliged to leave his post at Wylam Colliery for refusing to work on Sundays. That must have been a very brave thing to do at that time, but, again, you get the sense that both he and Jane felt that if you honoured God’s laws he would reward you in his own way. The upshot of this was that the Hackworth's had to leave Wylam and move to Walbottle Colliery where Timothy was employed for the next 8 years and where he seems to have used the time to study mechanics and designing steam engines. He also continued his busy round of Methodist duties including that of a local preacher. That makes him one of our earliest Circuit Local Preachers from 1817 to 1825! The Wesleyan Chapel at Walbottle was not built until 1837 so the meetings were probably held in homes – maybe that of the Hackworth’s.

Timothy was much valued by his employers at Walbottle Colliery and may well have remained there in obscurity had it not been for an incident beyond his control which was to change his life. In 1821 George Stephenson had a meeting with the Quaker Edward Pease to build a railway from Stockton to Darlington and in 1823 the construction of the engines and locomotives for the Railway was underway at the Forth Bank works in Newcastle. It was then I dare to suggest that the hand of God was active on behalf of his loyal servant Timothy Hackworth.

It transpired that George Stephenson was called away for some months to survey the Liverpool to Manchester line and  Robert, his son, was called away too to South America on what turned out to be an entirely abortive trip which kept him out of the country till 1827. Someone was therefore needed to fill the gap and supervise the construction of the locomotives and George selected Hackworth for the task. George was so pleased with Hackworth’s performance that on his return in 1824 he offered him a ten percent share in the company but Hackworth declined and returned to Walbottle Colliery. Maybe he did that out of loyalty to the owners of Walbottle or to fulfil his preaching appointments locally, but his time in the Forth Engine Works had stimulated his interest and ambition to be more than a colliery blacksmith foreman and he handed in his notice in 1825 maybe intending to start his own engine works. With Hackworth now free Stephenson again intervenes and invites Hackworth to New Shildon to be Superintendent of the engineering H.Q. of the S & D railway.

(Next week the story continues – Shildon, Timothy and the £5 note)

To visit our Circuit Website please click here