TRAVEL NORTH - 16: In the Beginning there was the Stockton & Darlington Railway (S&DR)
Housed at North Road Station to the north-west of Darlington is an exhibition titled ''Head of Steam', a worthwhile destination for railway enthusiasts
It was through Darlington on September 27th, 1825 that the first train trundled on the infant Stockton & Darlington Railway, headed by George Stephenson on 'Locomotion No1*'. Starting at Shildon the train did not halt at North Road.
The first station here was built in 1827, a three-storey building with a low platform accessed from the eastern side of the Durham turnpike. It was later extended in 1833 to take up the growth of passenger traffic. This structure was given over to warehousing after 1842 when the new North Road Station was built on its present site. It was extended a number of times during the later 19th Century and took the form you see now. In peak times there were eighty employees at North Road,. The station served several lines - to Shildon, Bishop Auckland, Barnard Castle and Stainmore - and later gave access to Scotland via the main line when Bank Top Station was opened about a mile and a half to the south-east. Originally the line ran from North Road across to Fighting Cocks on the east side of the Great North of England Railway (GNER), the spur built off this branch to Bank Top Station in the centre of town. Folk east and west of the GNER a chance to visit Newcastle-on-Tyne or York for the first time without a long journey along substandard, undulating cart wheel-rutted roads by stage or mail coach.
Locomotives passed here on their way to North Road Works, and from the 1840s rail travel had become popular across the class divide. North Road Station in the north of Darlington had its own police superintendent to keep order in the 1860's. First Class passengers had their own entrance to avoid making contact with the lower orders. There were also better class catering and toilet facilities for them. A special waiting room was opened for Ladies.
Staffing was strictly regimented, with up to seven grades of employees. Trainees began as 'artificers and miscellaneous', leading up to 'managerial'. Physical standards, - height, physique - were important and 'those with red hair need not apply'. With regards to staffing, there is a ghost. On a cold night in the 1850s a night watchman named James Durham took it on himself to go down to the porters' cellar to warm himself. Just as he sat down he was shocked by the sight of a man and angry black dog coming at him from the coalhouse next door. The man aimed a blow at Mr Durham and the dog made to bite him. He hit back but his fist went right through the fellow. The 'assailant' returned to the coalhouse with his dog. Mr Durham saw no-one in the coalhouse when he looked, and there was no other way out. It turned out that early in 1845 Thomas Winter, a booking clerk at North Road shot himself and his corpse was laid in the porters' cellar. Mr Winter had also owned a big black dog. There have been no sightings recorded since. You can see into the cellar by the wooden footbridge and read more about him in a booklet by Irene MacLeod and Olive Howe.
After WWII both railway and coal mining went into a decline, and in the 1960s Dr Richard Beeching brought out his two-volume 'The Re-shaping of Britain's Railways', to stall the financial decline of Britain's railway network. A great number of services were affected thtoughout mainland Britain including much of North Road's traffic. The only service to survive the cut-backs was to Bishop Auckland. North Road was downgraded to 'unstaffed halt' status. The buildings were vandalised and an essentiai element of the history of Britain's, no the world's railways rapidly deteriorated.
In 1969 a campaign was set in motion by a local businessman Herbert Wolfe. The Norhern Echo, the north's main newspaper, began the transformation of the south side of North Road Station into a museum, whilst the remaining platform was retained for services to Bishop Auckland. Opening day was 27th September, 1975 on the 150th anniversary of the opening of the S&DR.
The museum is at the heart of an area rich in railway history. A few yards away is the original Merchandising Station (Goods Depot) of the S&DR that dates back to 1833. There is a Merchandising Manager's office from 1839, a Lime Depot (1840), S&DR Carriage Works (across the small field, dating back to 1853, with the site of Kitching's foundry where many of the company's locomotive fleet were built). Eastward is the Skerne bridge (1825) and beyond that - near the College of Haughton Road - is probably the earliest engine shed dating from around 1841 and built for the Great North of England Railway (later York, Newcastle & Berwick Railway, later again part of the North Eastern Railway). North of the museum is the site of North Road Works where Morrison's supermarket now stands. Around the corner from the front of the station (south side) leading to the Durham road (A167) is Macnay Street, named after the secretary of the S&DR Thomas Macnay. The S&DR was taken over by the NER in 1863, its shareholders receiving favourable terms.
Darlington was an important local market town and trading centre from mediaeval days. St Cuthbert's Church in the town centre dates from the 12th Century. A textile industry flourished along the Skerne banks, and later brick-making appeared. The town centre was 'compact', not extending beyond the Skerne or far up the Durham Turnpike (now A167). John Dobbin's painting of the first train on September 27th, 1825, painted from memory years later, shows the scene from the present junction of John Street and High Northgate and the rural outlook is plain to see. The railway transformed Darlington's geography and its industries for the next 140 years or so.
Before looking around the station look briefly into the Edward Pease Room. Here you will see pictures and artefacts linked with the founding of the railway and the Quaker Pease family. The sofa is probably where George Stephenson and Edward Pease sat in 1821, discussing the merits of a steam powered railway as opposed to the canal originally planned for the link with Stockton Wharf.
Of all the exhibits, take note of the line of locomotives beginning with the four-coupled 'Locomotion No.1', originally named 'Active', next in line is 0-6-0 'Derwent', the earliest surviving locomotive purpose-built for the S&DR; follow on to Henry Tennant's 2-4-0 express locomotive No.1463 built for the North Eastern Railway (NER). The NER did not believe in naming engines as many companies did, including the S&DR. Last in line is Vincent Raven's NER Class T3 0-8-0 in its mixed goods livery. Built before Grouping from 1919 these magnificent machines were put on heavy goods and mineral traffic. No.901 is in her NER livery, one of the National Collection's fleet and until recently maintained by the North Eastern Locomotive Preservation Group (NELPG). She was taken into the LNER fleet in 1923 as Class Q7, and survived until 1962 under the same classification in British Railways' service, the last of her class (and outlasted by the earlier Raven NER Class T2 0-8-0, LNER/BR Q6, last of class withdrawn in 1967 at the end of steam in the North East - Steam in the North West lasted until 1968).
On the north wall is a long 4mm scale model of the line in its early years (around 1829) built by Darlington MRC, not excactly historically correct in the architecture of some of thr buildings but instructive in its geography. The site of the early North Road Station is clear between the Durham road and the Skerne (a tributary of the Tees), and Stockton's coal handling facilities and station are well modelled with a scale model of a Whitby 'Cat' at the dockside under the coal loading derrick.
Take your time around the premises and exhibits. You can walk along by the cafe and out onto the museum's platform to see the railway vehicles awaiting restoration outside the Merchandising Warehouse (currently preservation workshop), but you are avised not to leave the platform.
Refreshments are available from Reception when the cafe is closed, and museum staff are friendly and helpful. Don't hesitate to ask questions, and there are books, postcards, models or souvenirs you can buy.
Fancy some more railwayana? Take the train to Shildon or drive along the A167, over the A1(M) at Junction 59, onto the B6444 around the south side of Newton Aycliffe and turn right on the A6072 for Shildon. follow the brown 'loco' signs for the Hackworth Museum car park. A footpath links this collection of buildings to the bigger 'Locomotion' exhibition hall, or take a Brakevan ride that passes the earliest locomotive coaling facilities in the world. 'Locomotion'; is the 'overspill' for the national collection in York with special reference in most cases to the North East. There are numerous activities for children here, and a model railway again, operated at fixed times by the Shildon MRC. A snowplough formerly stored at Percy Main (along the North East Coast north of Newcastle-upon-Tyne) has been restored to its NER condition, and there are several items of rolling stock that are of local interest. Close to the main entrance is a narrow gauge locomotive built in Britain for an African railway. On the left as you enter also is the shop, selling models, toys and souvenirs. On the far right along the wall from the toilet facilities is a friendly cafe that provides hot and cold food and refreshments. Take a little time to do the questionnaire. you might win a prize.
* 'Locomotion' was not the locomotive's original name. When first built at the Forth Street Works in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, she was named 'Active'. There may have been disagreement over the naming, but the end result was 'Locomotion' took the weight of the inaugural train un-assisted from Shildon to the original terminus at Stockton-on-Tees' riverside. It would become a goods depot when the Leeds Northern Railway built its Stockton station some way away from the river.
George Stephenson's name is linked with many railway routes around Britain, son Robert spread his wings. Yet their greatest mark is the first public railway, the Stockton & Darlington, with George's railway building expertise and Robert's locomotives being built at Forth Street in nearby Newcastle-upon-Tyne. With time Robert would eclipse his father with contracts and commissions across Europe and the New World - and would rescue friend Richard Trevithick in South America
Lives of the Engineers, George and Robert Stephenson
S&DR 200 - looking to 2025
In 2015 reading through my copy of 'NELPG NEWS', periodical of the North Eastern Locomotive Preservation Group based at Darlington and Grosmont, I spotted a gem of information in respect of the S&DR's 200th Anniversary in September, 2025.
"This year marks the 190th anniversary of the opening of the Stockton & Darlington Railway, and a group is working to co-ordinate a series of events to mark the anniversary. Looking further ahead to the 200th anniversary in 2025, the three local authorities (Darlington, Durham and Stockton) and the National Railway Museum came together on 5th March, 2015 to formally launch their collaboration in preparing for this major event. It was also reported that the Friends of [the] Stockton & Darlington Railway are planning a two day conference on the 16th-17th June . There will be guided walks and speakers discussing World Heritage Status, heritage-led re-generation and the history of the S&DR. Discussions with the Pease family continue about the future of Pease House [business centre of the Peases in the 19th Century]. If this proposed project is to go ahead, thoughts are that a Trust will need to be set up to raise the necessary funds..."
The representative bodies are waiting to hear about the next meeting of the Railway Heritage Committee. Consultation on the draft vision has been delayed due to national and local elections early in May, 2015.
Darlington and Shildon - connected by railway history
Originally the S&DR built a branch from Bowesfield across the Tees near Stockton, downriver to a new site to ship their coal from around Shildon. The site was Newport with its own terminus station, which later became part of the new town of Middlesbrough. A new branch with a new station was built past Newport along the Tees Bay to Redcar. The lines around the south bank of the Tees were extended south-eastward to Guisborough and further east to Edward Pease's dormitory town of Saltburn. Middlesbrough became a railway hub with a grand new station designed by North Eastern Railway architect Thomas Prosser in 1877. Steel works were built in a ribbon development along the Tees, and it became Europe's.fastest-growing town...