EXACTLY 200 years ago today, George Stephenson attended the annual meeting of the shareholders of the Stockton & Darlington Railway, which was held on Darlington’s High Row, and he accepted the post of engineer.

This day is a major milepost on the journey towards the railway’s bicentenary in 2025, especially as George (below) left the meeting with the instructions to get on and build the line.

The Northern Echo:

He had begun his formal relationship with the S&DR late the previous year when he had undertaken a survey of the proposed line.

He delivered his report to the railway on January 18, 1822, and the shareholders quickly regarded it as “a masterpiece of work”. Not only had he managed to shorten the route from the coalfield to the port at Stockton by three miles compared to their old plans, but he had eased the sharp corners, reduced the gradients and brought it closer to the north end of Darlington – a key demand of Edward Pease who didn’t want his town to be shunted into a siding before the railway age had even begun.

And George had worked out his level so that the spoil from a cutting, rather than just being dumped, could be taken a little way along the line and used to make a nearby embankment.

All of this was extremely cost effective, and George’s estimate for construction of the 26-mile from Witton Park to Stockton was £60,987 13s 3d compared to the railway’s previous estimate of £77,341 18s 8d.

The shareholders were impressed, and at their meeting 200 years ago on this very day, January 22, they appointed him as their engineer and agreed to pay him £660-a- year out of which he had to meet all of his own expenses, including the costs of his assistants. George told the shareholders that he couldn’t work full time for them, and it was agreed he should do at least one week a month.

The Northern Echo: Echo memories - A deserted High Row, Darlington, showing the cobbled slope before the modernisation of 1900-1901

High Row in the 1890s before the three lane design was created in the early 20th Century. The railway offices were in the tall, three storey building on the left

This was one of the first meetings that the railway promoters had held in their new offices in High Row. Previously, they had met in the King’s Head Hotel, but from early summer 1821, Joseph Pease rented two rooms on the upper floor of 9, High Row, the ground floor of which was occupied by cabinet-maker James Marshall. It is believed that this building stood until the 1960s when it was replaced by an unlovely brown-brick construction, part of which is currently occupied by Mountain Warehouse.

These rented rooms probably remained the S&DR’s office until 1829 when the railway moved to a grand, purpose-built office in Northgate, just about where Boots the chemist is today.

So on this day in 1822, George Stephenson came clattering down the stairs beside the cabinet-maker’s shop having been told by the railwaymen not to hang around. They knew his new plan was so different from the old one that they would have to return to Parliament to get permission to build it, but there were stretches where work could begin.

When the winter of 1822 had turned to spring, George started the construction of the railway which got the world on track…

The Northern Echo: The retailers on the left of High Row in early 1966 were Smith's cleaners, John Grisdale, Timothy White, JE Hodgson's chemist, Singer sewing machines, Barratt's shoes, Watson's tobacconist, March the tailor and, on the corner with Post

High Row in early 1966, with the first S&DR offices on the left - they were pulled down soon after this picture was taken. The other retailers were Smith's cleaners, John Grisdale, Timothy White, JE Hodgson's chemist, Singer sewing machines, Barratt's shoes, Watson's tobacconist, March the tailor and, on the corner with Post House Wynd, Collingwood's jewellery shop