A HERITAGE festival is bringing the rich history of a North East market town to life while celebrating the anniversary of the world’s first passenger railway.

Bishop Auckland Heritage Action Zone and the Stockton and Darlington Railway have joined forces for the third time to deliver an extensive programme of events and activities.

This year’s theme is ‘Our Heritage' and people will be encouraged to explore what heritage is and how the region’s past, including its railway history, has shaped individuals, communities and cultural traditions.

The festival runs until Monday, September 27 and includes Heritage Open Days events taking place in the area.

There will be opportunities for residents and visitors to research their family trees, learn about the latest archaeological discoveries and enjoy free events, including recorded and live online talks, walks and exhibitions.

The festival will culminate in a series of events celebrating the anniversary of the opening of the Stockton and Darlington Railway.

These festivities will give a small taste of what to expect in 2025 when large scale celebrations will take place across the region to mark the 200th anniversary of the railway.

This is also the year that County Durham hopes to be UK City of Culture 2025, and the anniversary activities, along with the region’s wider railway heritage, will be integral to the bid.

Councillor Elizabeth Scott, Durham County Council’s Cabinet member for economy and partnerships, said: “This year’s festival programme really does offer something for everyone, with a wide range of fascinating free and low-cost events.

"This includes many that celebrate the contribution the Stockton and Darlington Railway made not only to County Durham and Tees Valley but the world.

“It’s wonderful this event coincides with the Durham 2025 campaign and the county’s bid to be UK City of Culture 2025, as it shows what an interesting and diverse place the North East is.

"It also reflects our commitment to preserving and showcasing the heritage of the area and the can-do attitude of our communities.”

Highlights of the festival include:

• Locomotion in Shildon will host Lates - The Golden Age on Saturday, September 18 from 6pm to 8.30pm. This special event will provide an insight into vehicles within the museum’s collection with connections to the 1920s and 1930s.

• Learn more about Bishop Auckland’s past through memorabilia at the new People’s Museum in the town’s old Hippodrome Theatre. The venue is now a working bingo hall in Railway Street. Opening times are 10am to 10pm on September 16, 17 and 18, and 4pm to 10pm on September 19. Over 18s only. Over 18s only. No booking required.

• Tom Walker, of the Friends of the Stockton and Darlington Railway’s Etherley and Witton Park Colliery Group, will give a talk and demonstrate the model steam engine built by Thomas Greener of Etherley in 1836. The event takes place on Friday September 24 at 1pm. To register, contact jraw2883@aol.com

• County Archaeologist Dr David Mason will give an online talk via Zoom about Binchester and Roman County Durham on Saturday September 25 at 2.30pm. He will also answer questions about his new book. To register, contact bishopaucklandhaz@durham.gov.uk

• A celebration of the anniversary of the Stockton and Darlington Railway will take place in Stockton High Street on Saturday September 25 from 10am to 3pm. A large marquee will house 30 traders and exhibitors who will provide a fascinating insight into the history of the railway and how this heritage is being kept alive.

• The anniversary celebrations continue on Sunday September 26 at the Head of Steam Museum in Darlington, where a family fun day will take place from 10am to 4pm. Highlights will include mini train rides, model railway displays, arts and crafts and music by the Ran Tanners. There will also be a chance to travel back in time with The Victorian Time Travellers.

A partnership between Historic England and Durham County Council, Bishop Auckland HAZ is a five-year project that runs until March 2023.

It aims to revitalise the historic market town and regenerate it as a vibrant place for local people, businesses and visitors.

Stockton and Darlington Railway HAZ is also a partnership between Historic England, Durham County Council, Darlington Borough Council, Stockton Borough Council, the Tees Valley Combined Authority and other organisations.

It was established to help rejuvenate and restore the 26-mile stretch of railway and to develop it into a major heritage attraction.

Chris Collett, of Historic England, said: “Partnership is at the heart of the HAZ programmes and this festival brings together two of them and many local heritage organisations.

"There is a wide range of fantastic events, which will help to bring to life the area’s rich heritage for people of all ages.”

To view the full programme, visit www.durham.gov.uk/haz.

Places on walks will be limited and will be governed by the coronavirus restrictions in place on the day.

To find out more about County Durham’s bid and to leave messages of support, visit www.durham2025.co.uk and follow @Durham2025 on Facebook, @Durham_2025 on Twitter and @Durham2025_ on Instagram.

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