John was born at Walbottle and moved aged five to Shildon when his father became Railway Superintendent (resident engineer) of the Stockton & Darlington Railway. As such, he had a front row seat on opening day 27th September 1825. Later John said: ‘I saw it opened, was brought up upon it, knew every horse and driver, every director, most of the shareholders, and every noteworthy incident that occurred thereon for the first twenty years’. So there is every likelihood that he met the many visitors from overseas who came to find out from his father, Timothy Hackworth, about what was happening in Shildon and on the S&DR as a whole – to then go home to persuade others to copy what was happening there.
John became an apprentice to his father – what better opportunity could a young man want? And his father clearly had a high opinion of him as John was given the job of taking what turned out to be the first successful railway engine to the Russian Empire and rebuilding it – all before he had actually finished his apprenticeship. John was a clever boy but not academic – but he certainly had an aptitude for mechanics and engineering. He became the works manager at the Soho works and an inventor in his own right.
I find it astonishing, not just that a boy of 16 was given such a huge responsibility , but also that he carried it off so successfully and came home triumphant.
Here is a more detailed article by Trevor Teasdel, originally published The Globe December 2020.