TODAY marks the 200th anniversary of the official start of something that revolutionised the world and changed our neck of the woods forever.

But first, the story so far: in the summer of 1818, businessmen in Stockton had grown tired of the decades of talk which had surrounded plans to connect their town with the south Durham coalfield by means of a revolutionary transport system, and so they had sprung into action.

Led by sailcloth manufacturer Christopher Tennant, they wanted to dig a canal which would connect them direct to Windlestone, and they threw themselves into raising an estimated £205,283 while Mr Tennant dashed to London to ask Parliament for permission.

But men of Darlington and Yarm were dismayed. They feared that a slow canal with 50 locks was the wrong sort of technology, and they worried that their towns would be bypassed by the Stockton plan.

So, as Memories 390 reported, they were spurred into action. On September 4, 1818, they held a committee meeting in Darlington Town Hall in which they agreed to ask George Overton, a Welsh colliery engineer who was related to one of the Yarm contingent by marriage, to investigate the district.

By happy coincidence, Mr Overton just happened to be visiting Yarm and so he began his survey immediately.

It took him just 17 days to traipse the area with his assistant, David Davies, and he completed his report on September 20. He said a canal was possible, but he recommended that a 35 mile “rail or tramroad” be built from Etherley colliery via north Darlington to Stockton, with branches to Piercebridge, Croft and Darlington.

As laying track was far cheaper than digging canals, this project would only cost £124,000.

The Darlington committee met on September 21 to consider the report.

They decided that they would present the report to a wider meeting in the town hall in November, and in the meantime they needed to get their ducks in a row.

Firstly, they decided to ask two eminent Scottish engineers – John Rennie, who had advocated a canal between Stockton and the coalfield six years earlier, and Robert Stevenson, who had designed many lighthouses and whose grandson would be novelist Robert Louis Stevenson – for their second opinions of Overton’s plan.

Secondly, they knew that if they were to match Stockton and have their plans discussed in Parliament in the next year they would have lodge them with the Clerk of the Peace at Durham by the deadline of September 30 so the public could inspect them.

And thirdly, they needed a name for their project. As they were now pretty much committed to a horsedrawn tram-like concept, someone suggested calling it the “Stockton & Darlington Railway”, with Stockton put first as a PR gesture by the men of Darlington and Yarm.

And so it was that the world’s first proper railway got its first public airing 200 years ago today.

THE Stockton & Darlington Railway opened on September 27, 1825, and so this year is its 193rd anniversary, which is being celebrated on Sunday, September 30 with a party day at Darlington’s Head of Steam museum. There will be stalls, mini train rides, face painting, balloon modelling, a flea circus, plus street theatre and music, and free admission to the museum so you will be able to get up close and personal to Locomotion No 1. Is there a more historically important locomotive anywhere in the world?