Historians and railway buffs have reacted with dismay to the news that a North-East icon is to be removed from an English banknote.

The Bank of England has announced that railway pioneer George Stephenson is to be replaced by 19th Century prison reformer Elizabeth Fry on the new £5 note, which is to be issued next summer.

The father of the railways has been pictured on the back of the £5 note since 1990, when he replaced the Duke of Wellington.

The note is packed with visual references to South West Durham's railway history.

Features include Stephenson's Rocket, his earlier Darlington and Stockton Railway No 1 Locomotion crossing the Skerne Bridge and Timothy Hackworth's old engine winding house.

But the note is flawed. Bank of England officials blundered by showing stone slabs projecting from the top of the Skerne Bridge columns, which do not exist, and were forced to apologise for the error.

Darlington historian George Flynn said he was very disappointed at the change and added: "It's a shame because every time somebody pulls a £5 note out of their wallet or purse they see Darlington.

"The worst of it is that we will lose a little bit of a link with our railway history because the Skerne Bridge reminds everybody in the country of the Stockton and Darlington railway.

"I'm a bit upset, but I suppose we have been getting free publicity for years." John Wilks, acting heritage manager at Darlington Railway Centre and Museum, said: "It's a bit of a shame because we are very closely connected with the £5 note showing George Stephenson, Skerne Bridge and the Locomotion.

"It is a pity that there won't be that direct connection, but the information about everything on the note will still be here in the museum."

A spokesman for Darlington Borough Council added: "The existing £5 note celebrates the part played by Darlington in the birth of the railways, so it's a shame that the note will disappear."

Stephenson's image will remain on the fiver for some time yet as the old note will circulate together with the new while it is slowly withdrawn.

And the town of Darlington will still retain a tenuous link with the new design - because Fry was a Quaker.