TOM STAFFORD has also been usefully using his exercise time by going out on his bike.

"I often cycle under this railway bridge at Moorhouse Lane, Eaglescliffe, opposite Preston Hall, but always forget to take my camera," he says.

"However, I remembered last week."

The bridge has a splendid crossbeam which reads: "T. RICHARDSON & SONS HARTLEPOOL IRON WORKS 1851".

The Northern Echo:

This opens the door to two splendid stories.

Firstly, the line is said to have been built 200 metres west of the original route of the Stockton & Darlington Railway because the owners of Preston Hall, the Fowler family, were angered by the carnage the steamy engines were causing among their cattle.

In revenge, the railway directors refused to name the station on the rerouted line Preston-on-Tees, as would have been geographically correct, and instead chose Egglescliffe. However, when the signwriter turned up, paintcan in hand, he misread his instructions, and painted “Eaglescliffe”.

How much, if any, of this story is true is open to debate.

Eaglescliffe station opened on January 25, 1853, with trains going over the bridge constructed in 1851 by Thomas Richardson & Sons – which leads to the second story.

The first Thomas Richardson opened a foundry at Hartlepool in the 1830s, building locomotives and ships. He died in 1850, and the business was taken on by his sons, led by Thomas.

In 1851, they not only built the railway bridge at Preston/Egglescliffe/Eaglescliffe, but they also built their first marine engine, and it was marine engines that really made their name.

In 1868, Thomas stood to become the Liberal MP for The Hartlepools, but lost by three votes. He was victorious in the February 1874 election, but in April 1875, the company collapsed, £100,000 in debt, and Thomas felt honour-bound to resign from the House.

However, the people of Hartlepool forgave him, and re-elected him in 1880, and he held the seat until his death in 1889.

The engine-building company, which merged with a Middlesbrough company in 1900 to become Richardson, Westgarth, became a Hartlepool institution. The oldest business in the borough, “Richies” employed 3,500 people in its heyday before the First World War.

During the 20th Century, it was taken over several times, until the name Richardson disappeared in 1970. In 1981, engineering at the site of the Hartlepool Iron Works ceased – but the bridge fabricated there still survives.