Regular readers will know that we are on the track of Stockton and Darlington Railway plaques. These unique ceramic tiles were placed on residential properties owned by the railway in the late 1850s. No one really knows why the S&DR marked its property in this way, but at one time there were about 120 plaques spreading from Frosterley in the west to Redcar in the east. How many survive today?

BECAUSE the railway was completely logical, each of its lines was allocated a letter, with A on the east coast and L in the westernmost Durham dales. Every property along the line was given a number, thus creating a unique plaque. For example, J11 is Frosterley station house on the Weardale line.

Because Memories is not so logical, so far we’ve looked at the J-plaques, from Howdenle- Wear up to Frosterley, where four out of the 11 survive in situ.

Then we looked at the Aline, from Middlesbrough to Redcar, and learnt that none of the seven survive.

Today, we travel from Middlesbrough to Guisborough, along the B-line, which was opened to mineral traffic on November 11, 1853.

This line shows how, 160 years ago, there was much money to be made in railway speculation, and how Darlington dominated the Tees Valley.

Iron ore had been found in the Cleveland Hills in 1850.

The Peases – particularly Joseph, whose statue stands in High Row, Darlington, and his son, Sir Joseph – acquired the rights to mine the hills around Guisborough.

They established their blast furnaces in the infant town of Middlesbrough and – despite other railway directors des cribing the plan as “ chimerical” – sent their railway sprawling across the flatlands towards the hills to collect the raw material.

The towns people of Guisborough were aghast when they heard that the Peases’ new Middlesbrough and Guisborough Railway was going to terminate to the east of their town, near the Peases’ mine at Hutton Codhill – but then, the Peases were only interested in ore, not passengers.

But the Guisborough protest caused the line to be extended into the town.

The engineer in charge of building the line was John Harris, a Quaker who arrived in Darlington in 1835 practically penniless and with a failed business behind him.


The level crossing at Nunthorpe station in June 1963. The crossing keeper’s cottage with the clock on it has been demolished – we guess it had plaque B4 on it

The Peases put him to work and within 15 years, he had made enough money to purchase a mansion – Woodside, which was in Blackwell, and which boasted an 80ft-long conservatory.

Elected as a Liberal to the first Darlington council, he also purchased a market garden off Yarm Road and turned it into the Freeholders Estate.

All the houses were big enough to qualify the owner for a vote in the elections and, with reduced terms for purchasers, Mr Harris named the streets after Liberal heroes – Cobden, Bright, Milton and, of course, Pease – so that the houseowners couldn’t possibly forget who to vote for.

Working with Harris was John Dixon, a Cockfield Quaker whose great-uncle was the Jeremiah Dixon whose 250th birthday is being celebrated this year. John Dixon surveyed the routes for railways across the country, and reputedly invented the steam whistle.

He made enough money to live in the Belle Vue mansion, which still stands in Coniscliffe Road.


Looking into Guisborough station, with Gisborough Priory in the background, on February 24, 1954 – the day before the station’s 100th anniversary

And doing all the designing donkey work on the Guisborough line was William Cudworth.

He, too, came from a lowly Quaker background, but through his engineering skill built a comfortable life in Upper Thorpe – a mansion off Woodland Road that is now beneath the Darlington Memorial Hospital (you can still make out its gateposts).

Together, the three men spread the line from the banks of the Tees nine-and-a-half miles into Guisborough. They built stations at Marton (originally called Ormesby), Nunthorpe, Pinchinthorpe (originally spelled Pinchingthorpe) and Guisborough (originally spelled Guisbrough). They all opened to passengers on February 25, 1854, and had a profound effect on the Teesside suburban sprawl. The village of Nunthorpe grew up around its station, and there were so many commuters that on May 3, 1976, a level crossing to the north of Nunthorpe – Gypsy Lane – was turned into a halt for them to alight.


Woodside, off Blackwell Lane, is one of Darlington’s great lost mansions. It was the home of John Harris

The Peases weren’t interested in commuters, though, only ore. To the east of Guisborough, a wagonway climbed from the railway up the hills to collect the ore from the Peases’ mine – a million tons was dug out of it in the first decade of operation, and the Peases built a hamlet, Hutton Village, beside it for their miners to live in.

HOWEVER, after a decade, the mine was exhausted. The miners went to work elsewhere in the hills, and other wagonways climbed up to collect the fruits of their labours. In 1864, the line was extended to Great Ayton and Battersby, where it joined the Esk Valley railway to Whitby.

This left Hutton in the foothills in comparative peace, so Sir Joseph Whitwell Pease engaged Alfred Waterhouse – the greatest Gothic architect of his generation – to build a mansion there (regular readers will recognise Waterhouse as the Quaker behind Darlington’s Covered Market complex, Rockliffe Hall at Hurworth and the Natural History Museum, in London).

Set in 3,000 acres, Hutton Hall had 38 bedrooms and dressing rooms, and stables for 24 horses. It had hot-houses, in which grew bananas, peaches, nectarines and grapes, and a large boating lake. Total cost of construction: £88,000 (about £9.3m today).

Such was the extravagance of Hutton Hall that it contributed to Sir Joseph’s financial collapse at the start of the 20th Century. It even had its own station, with its own station house which had its own S&DR plaque: B11.


Hutton Gate station in March 1963. It was Sir Joseph Whitwell Pease’s private station. After his financial collapse, it was bought for public use in 1904. It is now a private house, and may once have had plaque B11 on it

Last week, Echo Memories was the speaker at the 1,532nd meeting of the Guisborough Retired Men’s Forum, and took the opportunity of a whistlestop tour of the line in search of plaques.

We found one – B3, on Nunthorpe station house. We may have missed others.

WE don’t know where all the plaques were placed 160 years ago, but we do know that after the last train left Guisborough at 6.10pm on February 29, 1964, the station was demolished and B12 was lost. We guess that when the A1043 by-pass steamed around Nunthorpe, the Morton Carr crossing keepers’ cottages were lost, and that road widening schemes have also accounted for the gatekeepers’ cottages at Gypsy Lane and Nunthorpe.

If you can provide any information on the plaques or the line, we’d be delighted to hear from you.

WHILE we are about it, let’s do the C series of plaques. There was just one of them, C1, and it was on Middlesbrough station house. Presumably, the ever-logical railway bosses thought that because Middlesbrough was the starting point for two lines – the A-line to Redcar and the B-line to Guisborough – it should have an identity all of its own.

About 15 years after the S&DR stuck plaque C1 on the station house, it was demolished so a larger station could be built. Middlesbrough’s new station opened in December 1877 and was a splendidly grand affair – until it was hit by a German air raid on August Bank Holiday Monday, 1942.


Gypsy Lane level crossing in Nunthorpe in October 1975. The next year, a halt was added. In the 1970s, a gatekeeper’s cottage still existed bearing the plaque B2