TODAY marks the 200th anniversary of the railway pioneers meeting around some tables and chairs in a Yarm pub and deciding to do nothing.

But it was a very important nothing.

It was such an important nothing that the meeting is commemorated by a plaque on the side of the pub.

The Northern Echo: The plaque on the George & DragonThe plaque on the George & Dragon

So crucial a nothing was it that on its 100 anniversary in 1920, the meeting was re-enacted around the very same tables and chairs, and it was so absolutely vital a nothing that on Wednesday, its 200th anniversary will again be commemorated by a re-enactment.

The Northern Echo: The George & Dragon where the re-enactment takes placeThe George & Dragon where the re-enactment takes place

All are welcome.

Because although the meeting decided to do nothing, it ensured that the Stockton & Darlington Railway remained on track.

And, if nothing else, the meeting shows how important and far-sighted the people of Yarm were in the creation of the Stockton & Darlington Railway, the world’s first modern railway, and the town, quite understandably, wants to celebrate its role.

The men of Yarm were involved in the project to link south Durham coalfield with a seaport from 1810. Perhaps because of the town’s fractious relationship with Stockton – it had been the major port on the Tees until the 18th Century when it was overtaken by Stockton – Yarm was firmly in the Darlington camp, which was considering a railway, and against Stockton’s canal-related ideas.

The Northern Echo: Benjamin Flounders, a wealthy Quaker and early investor in the S&DRBenjamin Flounders, a wealthy Quaker and early investor in the S&DR

Benjamin Flounders was one of the Yarm leaders and railway investors. His family had run linen mills at Crathorne for two generations. He was a Quaker, and so knew the Darlington Quaker linen millowner, Edward Pease, who was driving the project.

The Northern Echo: Thomas Meynell's home of The Friarage was built about 1770 on the site of a Dominican friary. In 1959 it became the headquarters of Head Wrightson and it is now at the centre of Yarm SchoolThomas Meynell's home of The Friarage was built about 1770 on the site of a Dominican friary. In 1959 it became the headquarters of Head Wrightson and it is now at the centre of Yarm School

Another was Thomas Meynell, the lord of the manor of Yarm who lived in The Friarage, the splendid home which is now at the heart of Yarm School.

The Northern Echo: Thomas Meynell, of Yarm, who became the first chairman of the S&DR in 1821Thomas Meynell, of Yarm, who became the first chairman of the S&DR in 1821

In 1818, with a great deal of vision, he dismissed Stockton's canal as "a wild scheme" and said: "I am most decidedly favourable of the proposal of a railroad".

Perhaps Meynell’s most important contribution, though, was having Jeremiah Cairns as his land steward in Yarm. Cairns’ sister was married to George Overton, an engineer from south Wales who had experience in laying horsedrawn colliery railways and tramlines down there. In 1818, the men of Yarm encouraged Overton to do one of the first surveys for the route between the south Durham coalfield and the port at Stockton.

Overton brought forward a railway plan which was championed by a fourth Yarm man, Richard Miles. He, and his brother Thomas, were Flounder’s partner in a timber business. Edward Pease later praised Miles as being “among the first in the kingdom” to see the potential of public railways.

The Northern Echo: The George & Dragon in 1925The George & Dragon in 1925

These men of Yarm were major drivers on the pioneering S&DR committee as in 1819 they went to Parliament to gain approval for their project. The fox-hunting Earl of Darlington, of Raby Castle, managed to inflict an early defeat, and 160 men of the Yarm neighbourhood signed a petition in support of the railwaymen – a copy of the petition from Yarm Town Hall will be at Wednesday’s event.

After the defeat, the committee members modified their plans, re-presented them to Parliament and, as 1819 turned into 1820, were confident that their Bill would pass.

But on January 29, 1820, King George III died at the age of 81. All incomplete legislature died with him. The railway Bill was lost.

A fortnight later, on February 12, the railway pioneers gathered in the Commercial Room upstairs in the George & Dragon on Yarm High Street.

The Northern Echo: The menu for the 1920 re-enactment – there will be refreshments on Wednesday, but nothing this grandThe menu for the 1920 re-enactment – there will be refreshments on Wednesday, but nothing this grand

The tables and chairs that they used were still present in 1920 for the 100th anniversary re-enactment of the meeting, although it is said that in in 1926, they were sold to a local person – perhaps they are still in a house in Yarm?

The Northern Echo: The invitation to the 1920 re-enactment of the historic meetingThe invitation to the 1920 re-enactment of the historic meeting

The meeting was chaired by Meynell. Flounders and Miles were present, along with Leonard Raisbeck of Stockton and Edward Pease and Francis Mewburn of Darlington.

They agreed not to rush their Bill back before Parliament, but to bide their time, to strengthen their case and get Overton to refine his survey.

Then they got up from the tables and chairs and went home.

The Northern Echo: Yarm Town Hall in 1951. It has a plaque on it commemorating the five men of Yarm who were heavily involved in the early years of the S&DRYarm Town Hall in 1951. It has a plaque on it commemorating the five men of Yarm who were heavily involved in the early years of the S&DR

It doesn’t sound like much, but at least in the face of another setback they hadn’t given up on the railway completely. Indeed, by doing nothing immediately, they bought themselves time so that towards the end of 1820 they were able to present a watertight Bill to Parliament.

This Bill became law on April 19, 1821, and enabled construction of the railway to begin.

So it was an important nothing that was decided upon in the George & Dragon 200 years ago on Wednesday. Everyone is welcome to the event, organised by Peter Monck of Yarm Town Council and starting at 7pm, which will include a period re-enactment by Time Bandits and a short talk by Chris Lloyd, who compiles these notes.

THIS meeting was not the end of Yarm’s involvement in the S&DR. Thomas Meynell became the company’s first chairman in 1821, and on May 13, 1822, he ceremonially laid the first rail at St John’s Crossing, Stockton.

Mr Meynell was a taciturn fellow and made no speech. However, an enterprising boy is said to have toured the pubs of Stockton selling souvenir copies of his speech for a penny.

By the time the purchaser found the piece of paper he had just bought was blank, the boy had scarpered – but it was an accurate representation of what Mr Meynell had said.

When the railway opened on September 27, 1825, the Yarm contingent was well represented, and the Yarm band – described and “Mr Meynell’s band” – got into a coal truck when the inaugural train reached Darlington so that they could oompah their way to Stockton.

When Locomotion No 1 reached the quayside, the band led the jubilation by playing God Save the King.

A 1.2mile branchline off the S&DR taking coal into Yarm opened on October 11, 1825, terminating at a coal depot at the Hole of Paradise, an area on the Durham bank of the Tees overlooking Yarm bridge.

Once the horsedrawn train had arrived, everyone went into the new pub at the Hole of Paradise. It called the New Inn, later the Railway Inn and is now the Cleveland Bay, and it can claim to be the world’s first railway pub.

In the pub, the leading Yarm townspeople welcomed the arrival of the railway. According to the Durham Chronicle’s report of the occasion, the main toast that evening was to “the Gentlemen of Yarm…with whom the idea of this great undertaking originated and to whose perseverance, in the early stage of the work, the public are so much indebted for its completion”.

From October 16, the horsedrawn Experiment coach made four return passenger journeys from Darlington to Stockton, calling at Yarm, so far a while this was one of the most connected towns in the world.

However, the Yarm love affair with the S&DR came to an end in 1828 when the Darlington contingent realised that Stockton was the wrong place for a deep sea port and proposed extending the railway over the Tees and onto desolate salt plains where it wanted to build Port Darlington. Yarm felt that this would take the economic benefit of the railway away from the established Teesside communities and create a rival.

Meynell and Raisbeck both resigned from the S&DR committee in protest, but the railway pushed on and Port Darlington turned into the teeming metropolis of Middlesbrough.

DARLINGTON council has launched a petition in its bid to prevent Locomotion No 1 being taken to Shildon’s Locomotion museum. The online petition is at and paper copies are available to sign at the Head of Steam, Dolphin Centre, Crown Street library and the Town Hall.

Memories’ attention has just been drawn to a fascinating, and lengthy, report from 1857 on the ceremony with which Locomotion No 1 was put on display at North Road station. More on this next week.