Edward Pease, the son of a wool merchant, was born in Darlington on 31st May, 1767. At the age of fourteen he left school and went to work with his father. Pease attended markets and rode round the country buying the fleeces from the farmers and selling the finished woven pieces to London merchants.
When Pease reached the age of fifty he retired from the family business and began to concentrate on his idea of starting a public railway. On his travels buying and selling wool, Pease came to the conclusion that there was a great need for a railroad with waggons drawn by horses to carry coal from the collieries of West Durham to the port of Stockton. In 1821 Pease and a group of businessmen from the area formed the Stockton & Darlington Railway company.
On 19th April 1821 an Act of Parliament was passed that authorized the company to build a horse railway that would link the collieries in West Durham, Darlington and the River Tees at Stockton. Nicholas Wood, the manager of Killingworth Colliery, and his enginewright, George Stephenson, met Pease and suggested that he should consider building a locomotive railway. Stephenson told Pease that "a horse on an iron road would draw ten tons for one ton on a common road". Stephenson added that the Blutcher locomotive that he had built at Killingworth was "worth fifty horses".
That summer Pease took up Stephenson's invitation to visit Killingworth Colliery. When Pease saw the Blutcher at work he realised George Stephenson was right and offered him the post as the chief engineer of the Stockton & Darlington company. It was now now necessary for Pease to apply for a further Act of Parliament. This time a clause was added that stated that Parliament gave permission for the company "to make and erect locomotive or moveable engines".
In 1823 Edward Pease joined with Michael Longdridge, George Stephenson and his son Robert Stephenson, to form a company to make the locomotives. The Robert Stephenson & Company, at Forth Street, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, became the world's first locomotive builder. Stephenson recruited Timothy Hackworth, one of the engineers who had helped William Hedley to produce Puffing Billy, to work for the company. The first railway locomotive, Locomotion, was finished in September 1825.
The Stockton & Darlington Railroad was opened on 27th September, 1825. Edward Pease missed the opening day celebrations as his son Isaac had died the previous night. Large crowds saw George Stephenson at the controls of the Locomotion as it pulled a series of wagons filled with sacks of coal and flour. The train also included a purpose built railway passenger coach called the Experiment. All told, over 500 people travelled in the train that reached speeds of 15 mph (24 kph). This meant that for the first time in history, a steam locomotive had hauled passengers on a public railway.
When Pease retired he was replaced by his son Joseph Pease. He expanded the business and by 1830 had bought up enough local collieries to become the largest colliery owner in the whole of the South Durham coalfield. In 1832 Pease became Britain's first Quaker MP when he was elected to represent South Durham.
Edward Pease was a thoughtful and sagacious man, ready in resources, possessed of indomitable energy and perseverance; he was eminently qualified to undertake what appeared to many the desperate enterprise of obtaining an Act of Parliament to construct a railway.
I am glad to learn that the Parliament Bill has been passed for the Darlington Railway. I am much obliged by the favourable sentiments you express towards me, and shall be happy if I can be of service in carrying into execution your plans.
Edward Pease promoted the first railway in the kingdom and under difficulties almost inconceivable at the present day. In consequence of such means of locomotion, sources of wealth have been developed, the entire kingdom advanced, and the convenience of the public wonderfully increased. Mr. Pease has directly and indirectly been the means of developing to an extraordinary extent the mineral wealth of the district in particular, and thereby stimulating every branch of trade and commerce in the country at large.
Left home in company with John Dixon to attend the internment of George Stephenson at Chesterfield. I fear he died an unbeliever. When I reflect on my first acquaintance with him and the resulting consequences my mind seems lost in doubt as to the beneficial results - that humanity has been benefited in the diminished use of horses and by the lessened cruelty to them, that much ease, safety, speed, and lessened expense in travelling is obtained, but as to the results and effects of all that railways had led my dear family into, being in any sense beneficial is uncertain.