Cucumbers, Coal and the Curriculum: The Oddities of Local Heritage

Illustration by Anna Seibæk Torp-Pedersen

For the better part of my primary education our school trips would, invariably, be to the George Stephenson Memorial Hall. It was ideal. Just a half hour away, we’d spend the morning doing crafts before marching into the only room of the museum. Activities of note included ogling the great man’s baby bonnet and wondering at his less known invention, the cucumber-straightener*. Year after year we’d traipse back to Chesterfield to celebrate George Stephenson’s achievements and engage with our area’s local heritage… all five cabinets worth.

In anticipation of our visit, we’d spend classes pouring over pictures of his engines. Teachers would regale us with stories of ‘The Rocket’, which disappointingly was not the first steam locomotive, but was famously the first to work reliably. And, as prolonged as my acquaintance with his work is… that’s pretty much all I can recall. In fact, I seemed to know even less about the man than I thought. It turns out the term ‘local’ had been somewhat generously applied, and Stephenson was born and raised in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, some hundred-and-fifty mile