Thanks to a local historian, Stooperdale in Darlington, has received Grade II listed building status. Echo Mmeories highlights the splendours of Darlington's own 'Buckingham Palace' and its links with the town's railway heritage

WHILE plans to demolish one interesting Darlington building were being prepared, another was going through the process of being preserved.

After last week's planning committee decision, Chesterfield, in Stanhope Road, appears to have no future.

But, late last year, the Secretary of State for the Environment decided that Stooperdale, in Brinkburn Road, should become a Grade II listed building.

The ruling was at the behest of local historian George Flynn, who heard last summer that the Government had put Stooperdale, built in 1911, up for sale.

"If it had gone to a developer there would have been no redress at all," says George.

As it was, Stooperdale was sold for £1,035,000 in October to its existing occupants, Railways Pensions Management Ltd, although Darlington Borough Council received several inquiries from developers with conversions - or worse - on their minds.

And it sailed through the listings process.

"If you go in downstairs," says George, himself a former railwayman, "it is very, very well-appointed, with wide corridors, wide staircases, marble chip flooring and it floods with light - marvellous windows."

Stooperdale was designed by the North Eastern Railway (NER) Company's architect, William Bell.

"The building is at once a landmark and a handsome addition to the architectural amenities of the district," said a very favourable report in 1914.

"It is approached from Brinkburn Road by a crescent-shaped macadamised carriageway 50ft wide, with handsome gates attached."

The gates, and the walls, at Stooperdale have also just been listed.

The 1914 report continued: "The main entrance, in the centre of the south front, is under an imposing terracotta portico in the Italian style, supported on heavy columns of masonry. The entrance hall is fitted with revolving draught-proof doors."

Local people decided Stooperdale was so splendid that it was Darlington's own "Buckingham Palace".

"Everything that careful expenditure, architectural skill and good taste could do was done in its construction, and it remains a monument to the princely status of the North Eastern Railway," said a railway historian in 1954.

Stooperdale was probably so well appointed - fumed oak woodwork, Terrazzo marble floors - because it was designed with no lesser person in mind than Sir Vincent Litchfield Raven.

He was the chief mechanical engineer of the NER, who lived in the recently-demolished Grantly, in Carmel Road, and came to work every day in either his horsedrawn carriage or his chauffeur-driven motor car (from August 2, 1910, NER employed Albert Cardwell Smith as Raven's private car driver).

This may well be why Stooperdale has such an imposing portico entrance - there is nothing a chief mechanical engineer likes less than getting out of his carriage and having to walk a few yards in the rain when a portico could keep him dry.

From his office to the left of the grand entrance, Raven designed and built some 200 locomotives - "all were robust and capable", says the Oxford Companion to British Railway History - and made important improvements to signalling.

He introduced "automatic train control" between York and Newcastle - a safety device whereby if a train passed a red signal, a bell sounded in the driver's cab and the brake was automatically applied.

In 1915, he electrified the Newport to Shildon mineral line and, after the war, he proposed the electrification of the York to Newcastle mainline - a man clearly ahead of his time.

His spell in Darlington was only short because, in 1917, he was knighted by Lloyd George and called into the Government as Deputy Controller for Armament Production to help the war effort.

In the 1920s, the Mechanical Engineering Department was transferred back to York, and Stooperdale never again had the prominence of Raven's day.

Accountants were transferred in - many coming from Peterborough in the 1950s and buying homes on the newly-built Mowden estate - and gradually pensions came to predominate. Today, the pensions people own the place and, as of this month, it is a listed building.

THE story of Stooperdale starts in the 18th Century when it was a 44-acre farm with two farmhouses: Stooperdale House and Elmtree House.

It came into the ownership of the Wooler family of Sadberge and Wolsingham, who rented it to a number of notables. Elias Smith, the first goods manager of the Stockton and Darlington Railway, transformed Stooperdale House into a gentleman's residence. After him, Alfred Hollis, the first manager of Darlington Forge, lived there, followed by Charles Rutter Fry.

Towards the end of the 19th Century, the Woolers sold the estate to Whessoe Foundry, in Hopetown. Around 1899, Whessoe decided it had enough of Stooperdale's land for its purposes and sold the remainder to NER.

NER was interested in the estate because of its proximity to the railway's ever-expanding North Road shops. A boilershop and paintshop were built on the Stooperdale estate to augment North Road.

The old Stooperdale House farm seems to have been demolished when the offices were being built. The house was where Darrowby Court is today.

WE don't know why Stooperdale was called Stooperdale. Last year, when Echo Memories was looking at Faverdale, the best explanation we could come up with was that it was the old Stowell family's "favoured dale". But there seems no logical explanation for Stooperdale.

THE listing of Stooperdale means that any demolition or alteration that will affect its character can only be carried out with the permission of the local council. This does not mean that it is sacrosanct, it merely means people can't go knocking it about willy-nilly.

There are 472 other buildings in the borough of Darlington that, like Stooperdale, are listed Grade II. There are 32 in the higher category, Grade II*, and seven in the top category, Grade I.

Darlington's Grade I buildings are the churches of St Cuthbert, St Andrew in Haughton, St Michael in Heighington and All Saints in Sockburn; Butler House and The Rectory in Haughton; Walworth Castle, and Thornton Hall in Staindrop Road.

The front of Thornton Hall, which is still a working farmhouse just beyond the Mowden estate, was built around 1550 and so, apart from churches, must be the oldest building in the borough.

Published: 16/01/2002