A NEW art trail has been unveiled in the North-East town affectionately known as the ‘cradle of the railways’.

The Gem Trail, which comprises nine art installations, celebrates the often-overlooked stories of local North-East women and their significant contributions to the region’s rich history. It leads from Locomotion railway museum to the centre of Shildon, in order to encourage museum visitors to also visit the nearby town.

Artists Jo Howell and Emma Biggins worked with more than 150 local people to create the nine artworks using cyanotype printing – a scientific process which creates blue prints using sunlight.


Jo said: “We wanted to showcase some of the amazing female stories in our part of the world. The contribution of men in the North-East has long been celebrated, and we wanted to help restore the pioneering female figures of our history to their rightful places in what is a very masculine landscape.”

The installations are mounted on authentic recovered railway sleepers and placed along the Gem Trail for locals and visitors to discover. Each showcases the story and achievements of a different woman who helped shape the region’s history, including local botanist and conservationist, Dr Margaret Bradshaw; Jane Hackworth, a descendant of the town’s railway pioneers; and the Aycliffe Angels, who manufactured munitions during World War Two.

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The Trail was led by Discover Brightwater Landscape Partnership – a £3.3m landscape partnership based around the River Skerne, supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and made possible by those who play the National Lottery – in partnership with Groundworks North East and Cumbria, Locomotion, Shildon Town Library, Shildon Council, Durham County Council, and Shildon Railway Institute.

It was originally hoped the art trail would be completed in 2021, but plans were delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

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Mayor of Shildon, Councillor Shirley Quinn, who officially unveiled the Trail during a special reception at Locomotion, said: “I’m immensely proud of our town and its rich heritage, and it’s fantastic to see The Gem Trail shining a light on some of our lesser-known history.

“This project underscores Shildon’s unique place in our region’s story and celebrates some of the incredible women who helped shape the world we know today.”

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