RAILWAYS – DIXON FAMILY and CHAT MOSS. Manuscripts and printed ephemera collected by the civil engineer and Egyptologist Waynman Dixon (1844-1930), principally relating his uncle John Dixon the younger (1796-1865), chief assistant to George Stephenson and Resident Engineer during construction of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway
Lot 155
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Lot Details
Manuscripts and printed ephemera collected by the civil engineer and egyptologist Waynman Dixon (1844-1930), principally relating his uncle John Dixon the younger (1796-1865), chief assistant to George Stephenson and Resident Engineer during construction of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, as well as to the latter's father John Dixon the elder (1762-1816), colliery owner, and grandfather George Dixon (1731-1784), pioneer of gas lighting, chemist, mathematician, engraver, china-painter, engineer, geologist, coalmine operator and elder brother of Jeremiah Dixon, surveyor of the Mason-Dixon Line, the collection comprising: (i) autograph notebook kept by John Dixon Senior, recording colliery contracts taken out in partnership with his father George from Lord Darlington for mining and transport of coals from the Cockfield Colliery, beginning with "A Copy of a Proposal to Lord Darlington for the Colliery Septr 10th 1785 by my Father G: D" and concluding with "A Copy of an Agreement for Cockfield Fell Colliery, and supplying Raby Castle with Coals. 1786"; upper cover inscribed "Copies &s of Proposals and Agreements about Collieries &c" and inner "John Dixon's Book (1786)", with a "Survey of Spring Gardens 16 of 4mo 1822" added in pencil, the main part 17 pages, original calf, 8vo, 1785; (ii) autograph account by John Dixon Junior, written for Samuel Smiles describing his work on the L&MR crossing of Chat Moss, signed at the end in pencil "John Dixon Sep 30 1857", with an autograph letter to him by Smiles tipped in, dated 21 October 1857 ("...I only received your capital account of the Chat Moss operations, and read it with great interest. It is a graphic description of what was done, and will be of great service to me...") and prefaced by a note by Waynman ("...This account of the making of the Railway across Chat Moss 1830 was evidently written by him for Samuel Smiles, & is reproduced almost in extenso in his 'Lives of George & Robert Stephenson' page 210. Written Sep 30th 1857..."), 50 numbered leaves, additional leaves from a different stock of paper sewn in, half marble calf, small 4to; (iii) a page extracted from an autograph notebook kept by John Dixon listing notable dates in his life, starting: "Began to Level with Stephenson for the Railway 15 of 10mo [October] 1821"; (iv) a draft and fair copy of evidence given before a parliamentary enquiries by John Dixon Junior, the first c. 1831, the second headed "Memorandums, Observations & Evidence for the Stephenson's Chester and Birkenhead Railway by John Dixon": (v) a letter to John Dixon Junior on his retirement from the same Railway Company, 1842; (vi) four sheets of railway tickets printed on coloured sheets (each sheet with a ticket cut out at the top left-hand corner), the tickets being for the Slow Train, Yarm Branch to Darlington, third class; the same line but inside and first class; first class Aycliffe Road to Stockton; and outside, first class for Shildon to St Helen's; (vii) lithograph of George Stephenson and John Dixon's proposed plan for the Mersey extension of the Chester & Birkenhead Railway [between 1840 and 1844]; (viii) a set of reprints taken from the original plates of etchings made by John Dixon in 1774, many showing mining scenes in Durham; (ix) drafts, typescripts and correspondence for Waynman's Intimate Story of the Origin of Railways (1925), and further correspondence and research notes by him on George Dixon's pioneering work on gas lighting; and other material, etc.


  • JOHN DIXON'S AUTOGRAPH ACCOUNT OF HIS WORK AS SURVEYOR ON STEPHENSON'S CELEBRATED CHAT MOSS CROSSING, probably the most celebrated engineering feat of the pioneering years of the railways. This account was written by Dixon for Samuel Smiles, who incorporated it nearly verbatim into his highly influential biography of the Stephensons in Lives of the Engineers. Dixon, with Joseph Locke and William Allcard, was one the three resident engineers working under Stephenson on the line, with Chat Moss falling within the section assigned to Dixon. A short extract suffices to illustrate how closely Smiles's account is based on ours. For instance, where Dixon writes: "Mr Lock went with me to shew me the line and instal me in Office – The Walking was very bad and when about ½ way across I was walking along a Plank that had been lain over a soft place and owing to the wet dirty state of the Plank I slipped off and sunk up to my Knees in the Bog and the more I struggled the deeper I went and felt that the Moss was acting the part of a Boot Jack and that I should be Bootless and in poor condition to pursue the journey. However my awkward predicament being observed the Workmen came to my assistance. – I was so discouraged that I wished to go back and leave the Moss work to be carried forward or not by some other individual, However on Mr Lockes assuring me that we had already past the worst part I summoned courage to follow him when we accomplished the journey to Patricroft without further Mishap although Wet up to the Knees and plastered with Mud"; Smiles gives us: 'Proceeding across the Moss on his first day's inspection, the new resident, when about half way over, slipped off the plank on which he walked, and sank to his knees in the bog. Struggling only sent him the deeper, and he might have disappeared altogether but for the workmen, who hastened to his assistance upon planks, and rescued him from his perilous position. Much disheartened, he desired to return, and even for the moment thought of giving up the job; but Mr. Locke assured him that the worst part was now past; so the new resident plucked up heart again, and both floundered on until they reached the farther edge of the Moss, wet and plastered over with bog sludge' (Lives of the Engineers, Part 2, Chapter XI).

    The memorandum book kept by his father, John Dixon Senior, of colliery contracts with Lord Darlington, also has a bearing on the history of the railways. For, in order to transport coals from the inland colliery at Cockfield Fell to the sea, Dixon and his father, George, in alliance with other colliery operators, hoped to dig a canal: although in this instance Dixon was not successful, it was to be same motive that led Stephenson – by some accounts accompanied by Dixon (although more probably Nicholas Wood, manager at the Killingworth Colliery) – to secure Joseph Pearce's backing for the Stockton & Darlington Railway. Waynman Dixon, who has collected and annotated this archive, is now best known for his work investigating the Great Pyramid at Giza, where he discovered two shafts in the Queen's Chamber, and for carrying out the considerable engineering feat of transporting Cleopatra's Needle from Alexandria to London in 1877.
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  1. Simon Roberts
    Specialist - Books, Maps, Manuscripts and Historical Photographs
    Montpelier Street
    London, United Kingdom SW7 1HH
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