Mr Stephenson’s Regret by David Williams
I should immediately declare my vested interest in the historical content of this novel. As a Trustee of the Robert Stephenson Trust and a member of the Panel for Historical Engineering Works I am committed to the continued recognition of the great engineers of the past.
In welcoming the publication of this book I was prepared to give some latitude in the accuracy of its historic content if a little disappointed to see the Author’s note that made reference to Samuel Smile’s biography of the Stephenson’s which is somewhat discredited by modern historians. However my initial reaction was swiftly countered by David Williams’ further reference to the Hunter Davis biography even if I also would have liked to see references to the recent publications, The Eminent Engineer, (Bailey), Prodigy (Haworth), and Railway Engineer (Addyman/Haworth).
The narrative follows two intertwined timeline threads, one commencing with the funeral of George Stephenson and ending with the opening of the High Level Bridge across the River Tyne. The other thread commences with the childhood memories of Robert Stephenson and ends with the opening of the Liverpool Manchester Railway.
Weaving these threads together the author tells a story of the sometimes complex relationship between father and son, their family and wider associates. Robert’s Colombian adventure is vividly portrayed as is his confrontation with George Hudson, the Railway King. But there is much, much more to this book which follows the interaction between many nineteenth century personalities.
As for the historical accuracy? Well it’s certainly within my degree of latitude, indeed it is meticulously researched, adding colour and depth to many events portrayed in the history books.
David Williams’ novel could open the genius of the Stephensons to a new audience and foster a wider appreciation of the great achievements of the nineteenth century.
As for what Mr Stephenson’s regret is I’m afraid you will have to read the book and make your own mind up what it is. I found the novel most enjoyable.