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Debate - The Anniversary of Stockton to Darlington Railway

Phil gave a speech in Parliament about the history of the Stockton to Darlington railway. 

Here is what he said

"The Stockton and Darlington Railway opened for business 190 years ago on September 27th 1825.

But it’s 190 years to this very day that George Stephenson assembled Locomotion No. 1 at Heighington Crossing in my constituency on the corner of what is now the Hitachi Rail Europe’s new train building factory in Newton Aycliffe, at the start of the Stockton and Darlington railway. There is a pub there now called, strangely enough, Locomotion No. 1. The pub consists of the world’s first ticket office and waiting room.


I want to describe what happened that day and I am grateful to Chris Lloyd, the Deputy Editor of the Northern Echo who is a local history expert, for this description of that day and the official opening of the line 9 days later.

ON September 16, 1825, a curious crowd gathered on the edge of today's Merchant Park, in Newton Aycliffe, and watched as the future was unloaded before their eyes.

Robert Stephenson and Company had made the world's first passenger steam engine – Locomotion No 1 – at their works in Forth Street, Newcastle. They had loaded it in pieces onto three low wagons, and horses belonging to a Mr Pickersgill and had dragged it along the 30 or so muddy miles to Aycliffe Village.

In the centre of Aycliffe Village, Mr Pickersgill’s horses turned west and pulled their heavy loads along the lane towards Heighington. Where the lane crossed the new trackbed of the Stockton and Darlington Railway the wagons stopped. Eager small boys and strong young men unloaded the five tons of bits, and George Stephenson assembled them into a strange-looking contraption that, although even he didn’t know it at the time, was the first generation of passenger engines. Together, somehow, they hauled or hoisted Locomotion No 1 onto the rails for the first time, and thought about getting it going. Its boiler was filled with water. Wood and coals were placed ready for ignition to boil the water into steam. But no one had a light – it was not until April 1827 that Stockton's John Walker announced to the world that he had invented the friction match.

Frustrated by the unnecessary delay, George Stephenson sent a messenger to walk the mile or so into Aycliffe to collect a lighted lantern. As the messenger left, navvy Robert Metcalf, of Church Street, Darlington, stepped forward. He always carried a "burning glass" – a piece of glass like a magnifier – through which he focused the sun's rays so he could light his pipe of tobacco. He offered the glass to Stephenson and by the time the messenger returned with the lantern, No 1's boiler was alight and smoke was rising from its chimney.

And so began trial runs with the world's first passenger engine pulling the world’s first railway passengers in the world's first passenger coach – the Experiment, a shed attached to some wheels. The trial runs were successful enough for the Stockton and Darlington Railway to open 9 days later on September 27. On that inaugural run from Shildon to Darlington and then Stockton, Locomotion No 1 pulled the first train – full of coal, bands and people – along the track which today is on the boundary of the new Hitachi factory.

The 600 or so passengers on board – the directors sitting in the luxury of the Experiment while the world’s first railway enthusiasts clung to the sides of the coal trucks – could not believe their eyes as hedges and trees flashed by at unbelievable speeds. 

And now the Hitachi Rail Europe factory, which had its official opening on September 3rd, bringing 730 jobs, thousands in the supply chain and train building literally full circle.

The new trains will enter the rail network by joining the exact route used by George Stephenson’s Locomotion No. 1 190 years ago, and where it was test driven to the outstanding speed of 15 MPH. The new intercity trains will be a lot faster and more comfortable, but we must salute the energy, drive and ambition of the early rail pioneers. On September 16th 1825, Locomotion No. 1 didn’t just pull one railway train, it pulled the world into the mass transport era of the railway age.

Such is the pride of the people of the North-East in the importance of the Stockton and Darlington Railway that at 50, 100 and 150 years after 1825, the opportunity to celebrate this gift to the world has been celebrated with processions, fairs, gatherings of locomotives and exhibitions. From major celebratory events to specially cast medals these anniversaries have been marked with great spectacle.

In 2025 the Stockton and Darlington Railway will be 200 years old and work has already commenced to ensure that local communities and visitors from around the world can visit and appreciate the surviving monuments, buildings and track bed of the line. This has already attracted the action of Durham, Darlington and Stockton councils, engaged local people through a new charitable body The Friends of the Stockton & Darlington Railway, and had initial support from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Historic England.

The Stockton & Darlington Railway was important to the economic success of North East England and community pride in 1825 and with the right support and action this world class heritage site can be again. Work has already begun with huge community support to recognise and rescue the remains of the 1825 line and give it the international recognition it deserves. Over the next 10 years and culminating in the bicentenary of 2025, there are aspirations to create a long distance walking route along the original line. This will link up a number of excellent museums and provide heritage lead economic regeneration for the area. 2025 is also the same year that the Tees Valley hopes to be awarded the Capital of Culture accolade. A case is also to be made to ensure the surviving elements of the S&DR have appropriate statutory protection through designation either as a scheduled monument or as listed buildings. A case is also to be researched and made to seek inscription of the 1825 line as a World Heritage Site, through UNESCO.

I would hope the minister can recognise the great legacy of engineering and entrepreneurial British enterprise exemplified by the Stockton and Darlington Railway and will offer government support in aspirations to seek appropriate status and conservation for the line. I also hope she will join me in offering support to those community and public bodies seeking to protect its remains and use it both as something to inspire heritage lead economic regeneration for the area, and to the young of the region to seek careers in engineering and manufacture.  

On June 17th, I spoke at a Conference held at The Locomotion Railway Museum in Shildon. The Conference was organised by Durham County Council, Darlington Borough Council, Stockton Borough Council, the National Railway Museum and was lottery funded.

The conference looked at how best to preserve the 26 mile route of the Stockton and Darlington railway.

It is their ambition to submit a bid for World Heritage status for the line, because of its significance as part of the country’s industrial heritage. The last time a bid was submitted to the DCMS was back in 2010.

A number of railway and wagonway sites from the dawn of the railway era were collected into the bid by a committee chaired by Sir Neil Cossons, former Director of the Science Museum and then Chairman of English Heritage.

The sites included:

-          Causey Arch and the Tanfield Railway

-          Wylam wagonway and Stephenson birthplace

-          Stephenson locomotive works in Newcastle

-          The Bowes Railway

-          The Liverpool Road Station site

-          And the Stockton & Darlington Railway between Etherley and Darlington

The application, entitled ‘Birth of the Railway Age: Genesis of Modern Transport’, was submitted to the DCMS in competition with 37 other nominations.

Although it was rejected in 2011, I understand DCMS and the heritage agencies were requested to undertake a study to consider whether it would be possible to address the concerns that had been identified. However, no such study has been undertaken. Can the Minister say whether such a study can be undertaken because of the clear importance of maintaining the early examples of the country’s rail infrastructure?

I know that UNESCO and the DCMS lay a lot of weight behind community engagement. So will the Minister join me in thanking the community, the groups in South Durham and Teesside area who have engaged in maintaining as best they can the Stockton and Darlington railway route including the friends of the Stockton and Darlington Railway and local authorities.

What more can the Minister do, and what advice can she give, to ensure a successful bid for World Heritage Status for the Stockton and Darlington railway either as a single bid or as part of a joint bid with other railway lines and wagonways?

As the Minister knows the heritage industry is an asset to the UK economy. Recent analysis shows that cultural heritage-based tourism account for £5 billion in GDP and some 134,000 jobs. When indirect effects are included, the figures rise to at least £14 billion and 393,000 jobs. I want some of that for Durham and the Tees Valley.

I want to end by asking the Minister to come and see for herself the potential of the route and infrastructure of the Stockton and Darlington railway in heritage terms. It’s only right we protect this first of the railways as best we can. So please, Minister, visit us at any time. 

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