THE 195th anniversary of the Stockton & Darlington Railway tomorrow is being commemorated by a world premiere to which everyone is invited.

At 10am, a beautiful 30-minute film about the Brusselton Incline, both its history and its more modern preservation, goes live online, and during its first showing, viewers can take part in a webchat with the film-makers.

It has been put together by the Shildon Heritage Alliance and the Brusselton Incline Group, was written by Councillor Dave Reynolds and features some stunning aerial photography by Mark Ingleby.

“It starts at 10am because that would have been around the time on the day that all the action would have been happening at Brusselton 195 years ago,” says Dave. “Rather than simply being lectured about the Incline, folk watching are invited to consider three puzzling questions key to figuring out the way the Incline must have worked.”

Brusselton is a hill which stands between Shildon and the coalfield. In 1825, they couldn’t go under it so they had to go over it, and George Stephenson devised a stationary engine to go at the top of the hill to haul the coal-laden wagons up one-and-half miles from the west side and then lower them half-a-mile down the east side where they were met by Locomotion No 1 which pulled them from Shildon to Darlington to Stockton.

Brusselton featured perhaps the world’s first railway signalling system, but it was very rudimentary technology which quickly became outdated. In 1842, when the Shildon Tunnel went under the hill, the incline became obsolete, and ceased to be operational from the 1880s.

Amazingly, though, a lot from those earliest railway days has survived, and the Brusselton Incline Group of volunteers, formed in 2014, has done a brilliant job in clearing vegetation, restoring the original stone sleepers and stabilising a bridge.

All of which can be seen on the film, which is on YouTube from 10am tomorrow here - if you visit now, you can even set an alert for when the world premiere begins.

But, before you go, here are some facts about this splendid, historic part of the world:

At about 10am on September 27, 1825, a rope was attached to the first train, which consisted of 12 wagons of coal and one wagon of flour. The rope was attached to the engine at the top of the incline which pulled the wagons up.

Anyone who has ever wound up a hose knows that it quickly kinks, twists, stretches and breaks – the same happened with the Brusselton rope. Only the ingenuity of engineer Timothy Hackworth resolved each problem so that by 1831, six trains of coal an hour were travelling over the incline, making the railway profitable.

A major problem was that when the rope snapped, the wagons ran back down the incline, smashing everything in their way. A gang of youths was employed near the foot of the incline and armed with tree trunks. Should a runaway train come dashing down, it was their job to derail it by lobbing trunks onto the line before it did any damage. Then Hackworth invented the “cow” – a mechanical device that tipped the wagons off the line as soon as the rope snapped, and the young lads of Shildon had to find their fun elsewhere.

Hackworth made the incline so reliable, that in 1833, a passenger service began over it, and on one record-breaking day in 1839, 67 runs were made carrying 2,120 tons of coal up and down it.

Today, Brusselton is noted for its parallel lines of stone sleepers, which were quarried nearby and laid in 1823. Each block of stone was about 21 inches by 15 inches by 10 inches and weighed about 75lbs – this was the weight one man could be expected to carry; any heavier, and the railway company would have had to pay two men to manoeuvre them into place.

Iron brackets, or “chairs”, held the rails in place. The chairs were attached to the sleepers by two nails. Boys in Brusselton quarry were paid 8d a day for drilling the holes in 24 sleepers. In the early 1830s, heavier sleepers were installed and the chairs were attached by four nails. Two hole sleepers, as seen at Brusselton, are therefore the Holy Grail of the railway world.

The engineman at the top of the incline needed to know when the wagons a mile-and-a-half away were ready to be pulled up, and so the world’s first railway signal system was invented. A tall pole was erected at the bottom with a disc on top of it. When the disc was spinning, it meant the wagons were ready. To see the disc, the engineman had a telescope permanently fixed near his chair. However, this signalling system was no good in fog, so long wires attached to bells or rappers were installed, so the engineman knew when to turn his engine on.

A surprisingly large community grew up at Brusselton on either side of the tracks: North Terrace had 42 houses in North Terrace, and South Terrace had eight houses plus the engineman’s large house and a Methodist chapel. North Terrace was demolished in 1971, but the engineman’s house and the enginehouse survive with the reservoir behind.

The film finishes by saying: “Nothing quite matches the appreciation of the breathtaking scale, ambition and engineering wonder you gain by visiting Brusselton itself. Why not stop by and take a look next time you are passing?” In the wild winds of exposed south Durham, you will surely by Covid secure.