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British Industrial History

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Thomas Summerson

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Thomas Summerson (1810-1898) of Thomas Summerson and Sons

1855 Patent. 'John Harris, of Woodside, near Darlington, civil engineer, and Thomas Summerson, of West Auckland, near Darlington aforesaid, ironfounder, for an improvement in the manufacture of iron railway wheels'[1]

1885 Thomas R. Summerson, Summerson's Water Guage [2]

1898 Obituary [3]

We regret to have to announce the death, at the advanced age of eighty-eight, of Mr. Thomas Summerson, of Darlington. Mr. Summerson had the unique distinction of being connected continuously with railway work from before the date of the opening of the Stockton and Darlington line till very shortly before his death, which took place on Tuesday, the 6th inst., at his residence, Haughton-le-Skerne, which had been his home for some forty years.

Mr. Summerson was born in April, 1810, at South Shields. He was from his earliest years endowed with a remarkable memory, and quite well remembered the holiday which he got from school in celebration of the victory of Waterloo, though he was only five years old when it occurred. As a boy he was very delicate, but in manhood he acquired such strength and endurance that it was no uncommon thing for him to walk fifty miles and upwards in one day, and he was noted on the Stockton and Darlington Railway for his activity and skill in leaping on and off trains when running at speed.

At the age of fourteen he was employed in hand drilling the stone blocks which were to be used for supporting the rails of the Stockton and Darlington Railway. For this he was paid 8d. per day, and was expected to drill twenty-four blocks for the 8d. The time fixed for the opening of the railway was the 27th September, 1825. Mr. Summerson was present at the opening, being at that time directly employed by the railway company.

During the construction of the Stanhope and Tyne Railway he was employed on it as a labourer, and was present at the opening in 1834.

The survey for the "Great North of England Railway," as it was first called, from Darlington to York, was made in 1836, and Mr. Summerson was employed on it under Mr. Storey, the engineer to the Stockton and Darlington Railway. When this gentleman was succeeded in this post by Mr. John Harris, the latter gave Mr. Summerson the post of permanent way inspector. This was in 1839. Mr. Harris contracted with the company to uphold and maintain the permanent way for ten years, and has also other important work in hand, especially in the construction of the Middlesbrough and Guisbrough Railway, and in these he was assisted by Mr. Summerson with great success, so much so that the latter was awarded a bonus of £1000, all of which, however, be subsequently lost in an unsuccessful speculation in patent brick manufacture.

In 1853 Mr. Harris took a lease of Hope Town Foundry, and Mr. Summerson was appointed manager, being in the course of time taken into partnership. A large trade was done in cast iron chairs and wheels. Mr. Summerson, in conjunction with Mr. Harris, introduced and patented a railway chair with a wood cushion under the rail, and also a special form of chilled cast iron wheel for chaldron wagons.

Mr. Summerson, while in this position, also invented a new crossing, and patented a hot-air cupola for economising fuel.

In 1869 he acquired the Albert Hill Foundry, and commenced business on his own account. This business, under the title of Thomas Summerson and Sons, is still in existence, and has a wide reputation for switches and crossings the principal articles manufactured.

Mr. Summerson is credited with first having introduced wooden sleepers in place of stone blocks for railway work.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. Durham County Advertiser - Friday 27 July 1855
  2. The Engineer 1885/04/03 p 268.
  3. The Engineer 1898/12/16