The Stockton and Darlington Railway was born out of the increased pace of industrialisation and engineering developments during the 18th and 19th centuries, inspired by the development of steam locomotives on Tyneside by George Stephenson.
A Parliamentary Bill was passed in 1821 enabling the construction of the Stockton and Darlington Railway. The 25 mile stretch of railway was originally intended to use horse drawn carts on metal rails which would link the collieries in County Durham to the River Tees at Stockton. After meeting George Stephenson, the chairman of the railway, Edward Pease changed the plans to include a steam locomotive, the Locomotion.
On 27th September 1825 Locomotion set off on the official opening with a tender, five wagons with coal, one of flour and one containing surveyors etc. There was one coach with the committee, six wagons with strangers, 14 wagons with workmen, six wagons with coal. All attached to the Locomotive Engine and followed by 24 waggons drawn by horses. The Stockton & Darlington had become the first public railway to use a steam locomotive.
Many aspects of railway practice had to be developed on the line. Anybody could use the tracks for a fee and the need to allow trains to pass each other without the drivers fighting each other was one of the many issues to be addressed. People came from all over the world to find out more about how the railway operated and to take the lessons back to their own country.
The Stockton and Darlington Railway Company operated from 1825 to 1863. In 1863 the company was taken over by North Eastern Railway Company. 2025 celebrates the 200 year anniversary of the Railway.
Part of the original line of the Stockton and Darlington Railway runs through Preston Park and is preserved in the woodland next to the main road. Between 2003 and 2005 Tees Archaeology worked with volunteers to carry out a programme of survey and excavation along the earthworks of the line in order to learn more about its construction and use.
The work revealed that the embankment had been built of clay dug from the grounds of the park, that the sleeper blocks that supported the first track were set on sand in holes cut into the clay and that no ballast was used on the earliest track.
In addition a previously undocumented siding was recorded, probably to bring building materials for Preston Hall which was being built at the time, and a ramp and earthwork platform of unknown function were also recorded. The full report on the work can be found here.
Heritage Action Zone
The route of the Stockton and Darlington Railway has been designated a Heritage Action Zone by Historic England and a partnership has been created with the local authorities of the area and other organisations to looking at how the condition, preservation, interpretation and access to the route can be improved. Further information can be found here. There is also a very active friends group who have their own website here.