THE Stockton and Darlington Railway has this week been hailed in Parliament by a Government minister as a line that “revolutionised” the history of transport in Britain.

Junior minister Tracey Crouch also praised the “fantastic” work of local volunteer groups which are trying preserving the trackbed.

In a special debate called to mark the 190th anniversary of the line, the minister was pressed to help the S&DR receive World Heritage status, and was asked whether admission to Darlington’s railway museum could become free, like the museums in York and Shildon.

The Northern Echo:
The guests of honour at the 1925 centenary celebrations in Darlington were the Duke and Duchess of York, who later became King George VI and the Queen Mother. They are seen at Faverdale with locomotion designer Sir Nigel Gresley, third from left.

The debate was called by Sedgefield MP Phil Wilson. Looking forward to the 200th anniversary in 2025. He said: “The Stockton and Darlington Railway was important to the economic success of the North-East and to community pride in 1825, and with the right support and action, this world-class heritage site can be as important again.

"Work has already begun, with huge community support, to rescue the remains of the line and give it the international recognition it deserves.

"Over the next ten years, 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-led economic regeneration for the area. In that same year, the Tees Valley hopes to be awarded the capital of culture accolade.”

Tracey Crouch, from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, said she was “excited” to be answering the debate because of her interest in railways and heritage. She said: “The engine (Locomotion No 1), which is on display at the local Head of Steam museum, looks amazing. In the episode of Great British Railway Journeys, Michael Portillo looked incredibly excited to see it.

“This line was the first locomotive rail line, not just in England but in the world. George Stephenson was convinced steam was the future, and he was right. Steam was initially designed for freight, but then passengers, undeterred that it took two hours to do 12 miles, became integral to its future. Put simply, this line, with Locomotion No 1, revolutionised the railway industry.”

The Northern Echo:
Youngsters clamber over Locomotion No 1 at Bank Top station, Darlington, in January 1933

The adjournment debate was held on Wednesday, when it was exactly 190 years to the day that Locomotion No 1 was assembled on the line at Heighington level crossing, having been transported in parts from the Stephenson factory in Newcastle. Mr Wilson read to the Commons an Echo Memories article telling how, on September 16, 1825, Mr Stephenson sent a messenger to Aycliffe Village to get a flaming lantern to light the engine’s boiler. But labourer Robert Metcalf, from Church Row, Darlington, offered Mr Stephenson the magnifying glass he used to focus the sun’s rays so that they lit his tobacco pipe. Mr Stephenson had a go, and by the time the messenger returned with the lantern, Locomotion No 1 was already in steam.

Ms Crouch is a qualified Football Association referee, and as Darlington MP Jenny Chapman and Stockton North MP Alex Cunningham jokingly argued about who should claim the S&DR as their own, and while Bishop Auckland MP Helen Goodman pressed the claims of Shildon, the minister said: “I did think for a nanosecond that I was going to have to employ my referee qualifications to intervene on who did what first and when.”

Mr Cunningham said: “Regardless of all these differences, we need all our organisations to come together so that in ten years’ time we can have the sort of celebrations our communities deserve.”

Ms Chapman urged that the entrance charge at Head of Steam should be dropped, and Ms Goodman said: “We want to develop a long-distance walking and cycling route, as well as new exhibitions in Shildon on the history of the line.”

Ms Crouch outlined the obstacles that a proposal for World Heritage status has to overcome, and said it would be 2019 at the earliest before it would be known if the S&DR had made it onto the list of British possible that were going forward to UNESCO.

She praised the work done by the recently-formed Friends of the S&DR and other volunteer groups, and said: “It is great that so many local people are engaged with this fantastic site and realise that it may well have importance far beyond their local community.“

And she concluded: “From the advent of the Stockton and Darlington Railway to high-speed rail, for nearly 200 years the railways have been an integral part of our nation. I congratulate all those involved with the 190th anniversary of the Stockton and Darlington Railway and wish them every success with their efforts to celebrate, preserve and promote this important aspect of our national story. I also look forward to supporting the hon. Member for Sedgefield and his colleagues in ten years’ time in a debate for the 200th anniversary.”