FULL STEAM AHEAD: Caroline Hardie, a heritage consultant, with artefacts from previous anniversaries of the opening of the Stockton to Darlington railway in 1825
FULL STEAM AHEAD: Caroline Hardie, a heritage consultant, with artefacts from previous anniversaries of the opening of the Stockton to Darlington railway in 1825

TEESDALE can cash in on the 200th anniversary of the opening of the world’s first public steam railway, says a key figure in the campaign to give the date the recognition “it deserves”.

A massive celebration is being planned for 2025 in honour of the opening of the Stockton and Darlington Railway.

Charity group Friends of Stockton and Darlington Railway is working with organisations and companies such as Hitachi, Network Rail, Durham County Council, Darlington Borough Council and Historic England.

The remains of the line are being spruced up with proposals for walking routes, events and guided tours to raise the 26-mile line’s profile locally, nationally and internationally.

It is hoped passengers at UK airports will see billboard trumpeting the achievements of people like engineer George Stephenson in 1825.

Caroline Hardie, a heritage consultant from Lartington, hopes to help reignite the North East’s passion for the historic railway.

She says its importance is known across the globe but it doesn’t get the attention it deserves closer to home.

Ms Hardie, a trustee of the friends group, said: “It was the start of the railway network as we know it and it spread across the rest of the world. But when I went to check the remains of the line, I found flytipping, used needles and sofas – hardly fitting for such a unique heritage asset.

“People travel from across the world. They treat it with more importance than we do. The year 2025 is coming quickly and we have a lot to do.”

On September 27, 1825, the first engine ran from Darlington to Stockton, preceded by a man on horse carrying a flag reading “the private danger is the public good”.

Stephenson pulled his train of wagons carrying 450 people at 15mph.

The ripples of what he had achieved spread for thousands of miles. People came across the globe to see for themselves and took the idea back with them. The age of steam had arrived, resulting in a global transport revolution.

Things we take for granted today – baggage allowance, timetables and commuting by rail – became commonplace. Postal and package deliveries were carried by rail, along with coal for industry.

The route started at Witton Park, went through West Auckland and St Helen Auckland, before travelling to Shildon and Darlington, then through what is now Teesside Airport to Stockton.

“Nineteen kilometres of the original line are still a live railway line today and other parts of the track survive. Only nine per cent of the track has been completely destroyed,” said Ms Hardie, adding that The Stockton and Darlington Railway soon expanded into places like Barnard Castle.

Skerne Bridge’s importance was recognised when it appeared on a £5 note in the 1990s but has been plagued with litter and flytipping.

Places such as the Railway Tavern in Darlington have national importance but “you wouldn’t know it if you went to them”, Ms Hardie said.

Ms Hardie says North East MPs and local politicians are backing the 200th anniversary plans, adding that while it’s important to have a major celebration, securing a legacy for the railway was more important.

Recognition for what was achieved was easier to come by in days gone by.

In 1875, people in the region partied like it was 1825 when they marked the 50th anniversary of the railway’s creation with exhibitions and statues. In 1925, there was a repeat performance with royal visits.

But the seed of decline was sown in 1975 when bad weather and poor marketing resulted in a fall in the number of people celebrating the anniversary.

“That year might have been the start of the decline of appreciation for the railway,” said Ms Hardie, who was speaking at this month’s networking group at Enterprise House at Harmire Enterprise Park, Barnard Castle.

The Friends of Stockton and Darlington Railway wants to create a walking route along the 26-mile route, eventually going to Barnard Castle.

Ms Hardie says people will come from far and wide but says there needs to be better and more accommodation, adding that businesses should prepare now.

“Whether you make cheese, bangers, beer or clothing, provide accommodation or produce anything, there will be opportunities,” Ms Hardie.