FIFTY years ago, when Darlington celebrated the 100th anniversary of its incorporation, they really pushed the boat out.

There were fireworks and a great banquet, a large parade wended through the streets featuring almost every business in the town, and every child was given a commemorative booklet.

Even the Queen came to town.

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For the 50th anniversary, in 1917 in the midst of the war, there were days of events and exhibitions, and plenty of solemn municipal meetings in which men in robes and chains passed important municipal motions.

For the 150th anniversary, there’s plenty of enthusiasm and me giving a talk on Saturday.

I hope, technology-willing, to begin with grainy, shaky, colour footage of the 1967 parade, which fire brigade historian Brett Clayton has kindly rediscovered. It shows knitwear models from Paton & Baldwins waving at the crowds from their moving float, firemen with strap-on beards sitting on a very smoky manual engine, a Vaux brewery horsedrawn dray, a Round Table vehicle collecting – “chuck your change for charity” – for its Fibre Optic Fund, and there’s even a glimpse of the luxurious mayoral limo coming down Victoria Road.

The limo was a Chrysler Coronado, one of only nine ever made and the only other one in Europe was owned by President Tito of Yugoslavia.

The cause of the celebration was the anniversary of the birth of modern Darlington. On September 13, 1867, Queen Victoria gave Royal Assent to Darlington’s Charter of Incorporation which turned the town into a borough, giving it the right to democratically elect its own councillors, aldermen, mayor and magistrates.

The charter had symbolic meaning, too. It allowed Darlington to step out of the shadow of County Durham and assert its own identity. It acknowledged that Darlington, at the centre of the railway network, was now far more than a provincial backwater. It put Darlington on a par with its neighbours – Stockton had been declared a borough by Bishop Hugh Puiset in the late 12th Century and even Middlesbrough had been granted borough status in 1853.

Just to confuse, there are two types of borough. One comes from the Old English word “burg” or “burh” which meant “houses within a fortified enclosure”. You find this in many place names, like Edinburgh, Bamburgh, Brough and, indeed, Middlesbrough (this is why Middlesbrough is not spelled Middlesborough – it was a burg, in the middle of nowhere, long before it became a borough).

King Alfred the Great in the 9th Century, when he wasn’t burning his cakes, ruled through a “burghal system” in which he gave the burgs, or towns, self-governing powers as long as they defended his people against invading Vikings.

From this developed the concept of the municipal borough – towns with powers to look after their own affairs. A person who lived in a borough was known as a burgess – from the French “bourgeois” for “inhabitant” – and the people of Darlington 150 years ago seemed to have loved being addressed as “burgesses” because it was an acknowledgement that they, and their town, had come of age.

The word “burgess” has fallen out of use, but 150 years of Darlington being on the municipal map is something worth celebrating – even if the Queen doesn’t put in appearance this year.