LOCOMOTION No 1, the world’s first passenger steam engine, should be given pride of place in the centre of Darlington to encourage tourism in the town, a councillor has argued.
Councillor Tony Richmond made his call for the historic steam engine to be moved to Darlington’s High Row during a debate about whether enough is being done to exploit the town’s role as the birthplace of passenger railways.
Members of Darlington Borough Council’s scrutiny committee agreed that the town’s engineering past was vital to securing its economic future through tourism and new manufacturing enterprise, although some warned against the dangers of dwelling on the past.
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Locomotion No 1 was built by George Stephenson and pulled the first passenger train service to operate on the Stockton and Darlington Railway in 1825, heralding the Industrial Revolution.
The engine was on display at Darlington’s Bank Top railway station between 1892 and 1975, when it was moved to the Head of Steam Railway Museum, in North Road, on long term loan from the National Railway Museum.
Coun Richmond, a Conservative, argued that Locomotion should be displayed prominently in Darlington to remind people of the town’s heritage and to signpost people to the railway museum.
It was pointed out that the National Railway Museum is unlikely to allow the 200-year-old historic engine to stand exposed to the elements, but it was suggested that a replica could be used instead.
Coun Richmond said: “Darlington has a unique selling point in terms of its heritage. I’m of an age where I can remember seeing Locomotion in Bank Top station.
“People could see it and touch it and then it was moved to the railway museum, where it’s out of the way. One of the ways of attracting tourism to Darlington is to have it somewhere like the High Row.
“It could be used to encourage people up to the museum and remind people that the funding for that passenger railway came from a bank on High Row.
“The Stockton and Darlington Railway was built with private investment – it was an act of faith.
“That was pretty much the start of the Industrial Revolution, it was that act of faith in Darlington, and we should promote that.”
Coun Fred Lawton, a Liberal Democrat, gave his support to the idea and called for Darlington’s railway heritage to be given a more prominent position in a new document outlining the town’s aspirations for the future.
He added: “The cultural aspect of the Stockton and Darlington Railway is something we should jealously guard.
“From an economic perspective, we’ve seen at Shildon that the railways are a huge attraction. Our past is still a huge future for us in terms of the opportunities it provides.”