THE 196th anniversary of the Stockton & Darlington Railway was celebrated over the weekend by a street festival attended by nearly 2,000 people and the return of an elderly stone after nearly five decades.

The festival was held in Stockton by the Friends of the Stockton & Darlington Railway, which organises a birthday event every year – pandemics willing – along the line of the railway which ran from the coalfield at Witton Park through Shildon and Darlington to the port at Stockton.

The Northern Echo: Friends of the Stockton & Darlington Railway's marquee in Stockton High Street on Saturday

The boundary stone turned up unannounced when a visitor from Hertfordshire arrived with it in their car.

“More than 40 years ago, a gentleman was walking on the Brusselton Incline and saw it lying there among the undergrowth in a hedge, and he took it back to Hertfordshire,” said Niall Hammond, chairman of the Friends. “Another gentleman saw it in his garage some years later, and paid him a few pounds for it and brought it back.”

The Northern Echo: The boundary stone from Brusselton, near Shildon, which has been returned

The S&DR boundary stone from Brusselton, which has returned from Hertfordshire

The boundary stones have S&DR carved on them in an ornamental script.

When the railway pioneers received their Act of Parliament in 1823 giving them permission to build the railway, they had to place the stones along its proposed route to inform people where it was going to go.

“They were about a quarter-of-a-mile a part,” said Niall, “and we think there are only two still in situ. They were like icebergs, with much of the stone buried beneath the ground.”

The returned stone is probably the top third of a stone that was snapped off at ground level. It is in a fragile condition, and has been taken into the care of the Friends. There is a little collection of displaced stones outside Darlington’s Head of Steam museum.

It wasn’t just stones which graced the marquee in Stockton High Street but hundreds of visitors as well.

“We need to thank Stockton council for supporting us, and the Stockton Interest Group of the Friends for all their hard work – this was the third time they’d arranged it as the previous two were cancelled by the pandemic,” said Niall. “We are heartened and delighted by the interest in the railway which grows every year as we head towards the bicentenary.”

October marks the 200th anniversary of George Stephenson making his first survey of the line, and to commemorate it the Friends are organising a three-day walk along the length, doing about nine miles a day. They start on October 13, from Phoenix Row to Aycliffe station, on October 14, they go from the station to Darlington’s Skerne Bridge, and on October 15 from the bridge to the Tees. Everyone is welcome to do as much as they are able. Email for details.