Philip Sewell, Engineer and Man of God
Philip attended Hackney Grammar school where he showed a remarkable aptitude for languages, joining the French class at the age of nine. This was to stand him in good stead in years to come. After his schooling and a year in the bank he wished to take Holy Orders after going to Cambridge; but the doctor advised him that his health would not stand up to the years of study so he became a civil engineer in order to have a more outdoor life. Young Philip was to learn his engineering under Charles Vignoles, a charming man and one of the greatest engineers of his time. Vignoles held an appointment as professor of engineering in London and concluded his career as President of the Institute of Civil Engineers; the name of his son appears in the Red House visitors' book.
Charles Vignoles took young Philip Sewell to France where they rode over hundreds of miles of country in search of suitable routes for railways; these routes were between Paris and the various Channel ports. Later they surveyed the country south of Avignon. Philip's early interest in the French language now served him well. His group were surveying in the Camargue near the mouth of the river Rhone when he overheard the boatmen planning to rob the British party out on the marshes and if needs be to murder them. Philip told his chief and the party made other arrangements! In 1848 came the revolution which swept Louis Philippe from the throne of France. This brought a pause in railway construction in France so Philip Sewell returned to England, after a total of seven years in Spain, France and Germany.
Now Philip got involved in railway construction over the Pennines from Yorkshire to Carlisle; the mountainous country meant numerous viaducts, two long tunnels and some formidable cuttings. Thousands of men were required for the work in this hilly country with great rocks and extensive bogs. The men were normally billeted with the country folk but much of this particular line was through unpopulated country; the men therefore had to build "villages" of turf huts in which to live; some had their families with them.
Philip Sewell was a man of high principles and great courage; his abiding concern was to better the lot of working people. In his railway building on the continent he had become known for his successful management of both British and foreign labour. This is why he was pressed to take on the task in the difficult fells of Yorkshire and Westmoreland instead of building a railway in East Anglia where his chief had another contract. It was during this Yorkshire work that Philip married Sarah, a daughter of Samuel Woods of Tottenham. They had their first home high up in the pleasant little town of Skipton; that was in 1850. Philip would have preferred to be in Norfolk where he was heir to his uncle's estate; also the Red House experiment was just starting and he had a deep interest in this. However Uncle Wright had no thoughts of retiring so Philip took his wife and young children back to Spain where he was to undertake the most formidable engineering task of his career. The contract was to build a railway from Bilbao over the Cantabrian Pyrenees to the River Ebro and thence up the river to Logrono. The plan involved diverting this big river into a new channel which had to be dug for it; then a high cliff was dynamited so that it fell into the old bed. The Times newspaper carried a report of this work. Here is an extract "Mr Philip Sewell had come from England at the earnest request of Mr Vignoles to carry out this work. Its successful conclusion is due to his patient and skilful management of men as well as of material in these formidable operations. Mr Sewell is proud that it was accomplished without Sunday Labour."
In 1864 Philip Sewell retired from engineering at the early age of 42; this was because Sarah had been ill for the past two years. They came to live at Clare House , New Catton, with their seven children. This house with its extensive gardens and fields became part of the Blyth School and Sewell Park. Philip accepted an appointment in Gurney's bank and later became a Director. He took a wide interest in everything affecting the people around him; he had a talent for speaking in a bright and interesting way and seemed to have special powers with children who all loved him. This is the man who, from this time on, was such a great influence on the Red House community.