A new guide to the Bishop Line charts much of the route of the former Stockton and Darlington Railway that opened in 1825

A NEW booklet to promote probably the most historic railway line in the world has just been produced. The Bishop Line runs along much of the trackbed of the Stockton and Darlington Railway (S&DR) which opened on September 27, 1825.

The guide has been prepared by the North Eastern Railway Association (Nera) and produced by the Bishop Line Community Rail Partnership.

Technically, the term Bishop Line only applies to the track from Darlington’s Bank Top station out to Bishop Auckland. However, geographically, Saltburn is at the eastern end of the line, and, historically, the guide begins its journey at Middlesbrough, so that it can follow all that remains of the original S&DR.

Amazingly, the guide is free. You should be able to find it in local libraries, including Yarm, Stockton, Thornaby, Eaglescliffe and Norton.

Or you can send an A5 stamped selfaddressed envelope to Michael Ellison, 4 Meadow Vale Close, Yarm TS15 9WG.

So, let’s climb aboard the Bishop Line and look a little of the history we can see from the carriage window…


In 1801, Middlesbrough was a farming hamlet of only four houses with a population of 25. On December 27, 1830, the S&DR extended its line from Stockton, over the Tees to Port Darlington, which grew into the modern town of Middlesbrough.

The present Middlesbrough station dates from 1877, but its splendid roof was lost to German bombs on August 3, 1942.

The Northern Echo:

As we leave Middlesbrough, two famous bridges come into view: the Transporter, of 1911, and the Newport, which opened on February 28, 1934 – 80 years ago. The Newport Bridge was last lifted to let a ship underneath on November 18, 1990.


It was called South Stockton until November 1, 1892 – and plans in 1988, 1994 and 2000 to revert back to that name were stopped by local protests. As we leave Thornaby, we cross the River Tees. The world’s first railway suspension bridge crossed here in 1830, but it was not a success, rising up in the middle when a train tried to cross it.

It was replaced in 1844 by a threespan cast-iron bridge designed by Robert Stephenson.

However, on May 24, 1847, another of Stephenson’s cast iron railway bridges gave way, drowning five people.

It was over the River Dee, near Chester, and had only been open for six months. Cast iron was known for its strength, but also its inflexibility.

The Northern Echo:
The cover of the new guide

The Dee bridge – three 98ft spans, so much longer than the Tees bridge – vibrated badly from its first day, causing its ironwork to need emergency repairs.

THE accident came immediately after Stephenson had laid 18 tons of crushed stone along the length of the bridge. This was to prevent the timber beams to which the rails were attached from catching fire, as had happened on other bridges.

The additional weight was the final straw for the already compromised bridge, and it gave way, seriously injuring 18 passengers, as well as killing three of them and the guard and the fireman.

Immediately, large timber struts were added to the Tees Bridge to give it extra support. These remained until 1906 when steel replaced all of Stephenson’s ironwork.

The Northern Echo:
The collapse of Stephenson’s Dee bridge in 1847 – he wasn’t found to be negligent or responsible, although a modern court wouldn’t look on the deaths of five people so casually

St John’s Crossing After crossing the Tees, we can just make out St John’s Crossing which, in 1825, became the world’s first railway Booking Office. It closed as a passenger station in 1848, and now is rather marooned.


The station was built to serve the village of Egglescliffe, which gets its name from “eccles”, the Latin word for “church”. However, the railway called its station Eaglescliffe – no one knows whether this was a deliberate decision to create a more alluring name or simply a signpainter’s cockup.

Allens West

It first appeared in railway timetables on October 4, 1943, as Urlay Nook Halt, built for the mainly female employees at the nearby Metal and Produce Recovery Centre (regular readers will remember that last year we discussed whether or not there were Spitfire engines buried at there). It was re-named on May 22, 1944, but remained a private station until October 4, 1971.

North Road

Having crossed the East Coast Main Line, passed through Bank Top station, and travelled over Ignatius Bonomi’s famous 1825 Skerne Bridge – the bridge that featured on the back of the £5 note for most of the 1990s – we enter North Road.

The Northern Echo:
Rebuilding Robert Stephenson’s Tees bridge in 1906. The additional timber supports added in the late 1840s after the collapse of the Dee bridge

From 1842 when it opened, the station was known as Darlington (North Road) but in October 1868 it became one of a select few station names without a town in it – even London King’s Cross and Bristol Temple Meads contain locators.

As well as being a working station, North Road contains the Head of Steam museum. Locomotion No 1, the world’s first passenger engine, is its prized exhibit – but, with council cuts biting, for how much longer?

The Northern Echo:
Inside the North Road Locomotive Works during the First World War

From North Road, we can see Morrison’s supermarket which is on the site of the North Road Locomotive Works. It opened in 1863, employed 4,000 men during its heyday in the 1950s, and closed on April 2, 1966.


It was on the level crossing next to the station that Locomotion No 1 was placed on the tracks for the first time on September 10, 1825, and, in a neat piece of symmetry, the station is going to be the closest to the Hitachi factory which will soon return train building to the region.

The Northern Echo:
The Mason’s Arms level crossing in 1963, with Shildon Wagon Works in the background

The station’s busiest time was during the Second World War when it handled 30,000 workers a day – the “Aycliffe Angels” – on their way to Ordnance Factory No 59.

Newton Aycliffe

Opened on January 9, 1978.


Locomotion No 1 began its inaugural journey on the S&DR’s opening day on the level crossing outside the Mason’s Arms pub. Nowadays, the pub is no longer beside the track which was diverted in 1842 to Bishop Auckland.

The Northern Echo:
Bishop Auckland station about 1905

Shildon station stands on the later route, in the middle of the modern Locomotion museum, but is surrounded by artefacts from the very earliest days of the railway. The museum itself stands on what was once the largest railway sidings in the country.

Bishop Auckland

From Shildon, we plunge through the darkness of the Prince of Wales Tunnel, which is nearly a mile long and is reputed to be the longest tunnel under a settlement in the world.

The Northern Echo:
A Class A8 waits to depart with the 1.40pm to Saltburn from Darlington Bank Top on September 2, 1957

We re-emerge into the light and rattle into Bishop Auckland station, which was rebuilt in 1889 with an unusual triangular layout to accommodate trains from Weardale, Durham and Darlington. Nowadays, only one platform remains – but the Bishop line would love you to visit.