TEN years ago, the Church Commissioners tried to secretly spirit away some valuable paintings from Auckland Castle to sell them. They owned the paintings, they arrogantly said, so they could do whatever they liked with them, without consulting local people in whose midst the paintings had been since 1756.

Legally, they were correct. Since 1948, the Church Commissioners had been in charge of the historic assets of the Church of England, and that included the 12 Zurbaran paintings that a Bishop of Durham had bought in 1756.

But I argued that at least some of the true ownership, the moral ownership if you like, lay with the local people whose energies and minerals had created the wealth that Bishop Richard Trevor had used to buy the paintings, and in whose community the paintings had been ensconced for centuries before the johnny-come-latelys came along.

Plus, it was the local community that was to be denuded and damaged by the unilateral sale of the paintings – once they’d gone, the inexorable drift was for the castle to become a hotel or apartments.

Ten years on, I feel Darlington is in the same position as Bishop Auckland was in regard to Locomotion No 1, as the engine has been legally owned by the National Railway Museum (NRM) since 1968 when it took charge of the historic assets of British Rail.

But since 1857, Locomotion No 1 has been at the heart of Darlington, when it finished operational duties and the Pease family and the Stockton & Darlington Railway decided that the town was the most “suitable position” for the ground-breaking engine to be displayed for posterity.

The loco has been ensconced in Darlington since then, with visionary townspeople in the early 1970s even creating a museum around it.

So it feels like Darlington has owned Locomotion No 1 in every way except legally for the last 150 years – and yet the NRM is to rip that community connection up and unilaterally take it away.

That’s not to say that the engine has to be kept under lock and key in the town. After all, engines did travel – indeed, Locomotion No 1, being the star of early railways, once toured the world, illuminating Philadelphia, Chicago and Paris with its brilliance between 1876 and 1890.

There probably couldn’t be a better commemoration of 2025 than allowing Darlington’s prized possession to join Shildon’s treasured Sans Pareil alongside NRM’s Rocket in a parade of early locos.

Stockton might like to invite Locomotion No 1 to relive its glory days by appearing on the quayside for a while.

Yet, like sheep to a hillside, the engine is hefted to Darlington to which it should return.

Ten years ago, Bishop Auckland got lucky. It whistled up a philanthropist with £15m to spare, which has given a life-saving economic boost to the town centre. But without Jonathan Ruffer’s money, the Church Commissioners probably would have been able to ride roughshod over local sensitivities and sell the paintings into private hands.

At least Locomotion No 1 may only be taken to Shildon – but that makes this row even more self-defeating. The bicentenary is supposed to be about the whole area benefitting from the buzz about the 26-mile line, and that should roll on to celebrate Middlesbrough, Redcar and Saltburn.

Sadly, it is now a parochial row, with one place set to benefit at the expense of another place 13 miles away, and so Darlington, if it cares, has to stand up for what it feels has belonged to it since it gave birth to the modern railway.