The town of Killingworth was only established in the 1960’s as demand grew for the construction of ‘new towns’ to cope with overcrowding in many of the UK’s cities, however the area itself has a history dating back centuries and it has produced some well known citizens that are still considered to be local heroes today.
Killingworth’s secondary school is the George Stephenson High School, which was named after one of the greatest inventors of his time, the engineering pioneer who was born in the nearby village of Wylam in 1781, who began work as an engine-wright at the West Moor colliery in 1798 at the age of seventeen. Prior to this, Stephenson had worked as fireman for Wylam Colliery pumping engine but had been earning a very low wage and there was no money for schooling however he recognised the value of education and paid to study at night with his salary from West Moor. Up until the age of 18 he had been completely illiterate as coming from a poor family his parents did not read or write either so his engineering achievements are perhaps even more remarkable given the less than promising start he had in life. At the age of 22 he was promoted to Superintendent Engineer however by 1813 he was responsible for all ‘Grand Allies’ collieries – West Moor was part of Grand Alliance Company (formed to protect the mining interests of powerful owners around Durham – and it was here that he built the ever first locomotive, the Blücher in 1814.
This locomotive could haul 30 tons of coal up a hill at 4 mph and was also used to tow coal wagons along the wagon way from Killingworth to the Wallsend coal staithes and would became the blueprint for building better, future models. Just over a decade later the Liverpool and Manchester Railway Company held trials for locomotives here and observers found that average speeds of 7mph and a top speed of 9.5 mph were now possible. Along with his expertise as a locomotive engineer, he also invented his own version of the traditional miner’s safety lamp that became widely used all over the north-east and Newcastle in particular and thus was known as the ‘Geordie Lamp.’ His place of birth in Wylam is a popular tourist attraction and this original 18th century stone cottage (now operated by the National trust), has exhibits dedicated to his life and achievements.
Another of the area’s most famous citizens is the Victorian heroine Grace Darling who was born in the nearby town of Bamburgh, close to the coast and just a few miles from where the town of Killingworth stands today. Grace and her father – who was a lighthouse keeper– risked their own lives one stormy night in 1838 to save 13 people from drowning when their ship was wrecked off the Farne Islands close to the Northumberland mainland. The Grace Darling Museum in Bamburgh consists of historical memorabilia and it was set up to pay homage to her heroism and to commemorate her life. It is operated by the RNLI and open to the public daily.