Stockton & Darlington Railway
Witton to Stockton on Tees, County Durham, UK
Captain Sir Samuel Brown
13th May 1822 - 27th September 1825, 1827, 1829 - 1830
ICE reference number
photo Committee of the Stockton and Darlington Railway [public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
The Stockton & Darlington Railway was the first permanent public railway in the world to be powered by steam. It provided the blueprint for railways as we know them. Little now remains of the original line, though Northern Rail's Tees Valley Line follows part of the route and the line's Skerne Bridge on the outskirts of Darlington is still in use.
This railway was engineer George Stephenson's first major work. It was built to carry minerals from Witton Park, west of Bishop Auckland, and coal from nearby collieries, to the River Tees at Stockton for export. Initially a canal had been suggested. However, in 1818 a railway was decided upon, in the form of a horse-drawn plateway. This plan was later changed to steam power, mostly owing to George Stephenson's efforts — he was building locomotives at his Killingworth factory with his apprentice Joseph Locke.
Knowing that there would be opportunities for manufacturing railway equipment, especially steam engines, Stephenson set up the company Robert Stephenson & Co
. (named after his son) to do just that. It was founded on 23rd June 1823. Its five partners were George and Robert Stephenson, Darlington wool merchant Edward Pease, Thomas Richardson (London banker, founder of Overend Gurney & Co.) and Michael Longridge (manager of Bedlington Iron Works
). The company had premises
in Newcastle and received its first order from the Stockton & Darlington Railway in November 1823.
This was one of the earliest railways to be built under an Act of Parliament rather than operating under a wayleave agreement. The enabling Act was passed on 19th April 1821, with a Parliamentary Bill including the use of steam locomotives on 23rd May 1823. The new railway's coat of arms bore the motto Periculum Privatum Utilitas Publica ('At Private Risk for Public Service').
Preliminary surveys of the route by George Overton
(1774-1827) were redone by George Stephenson, his son Robert Stephenson
(1803-59) and John Dixon
in October 1821. Robert Stephenson and John Dixon also surveyed the route of the Haggerleazes branch line, which received Royal assent on 17th May 1824.
The railway was operated eastwards from Shildon by both locomotives and horses, and at its western end, stationary engines were used for the Brusselton and Etherley inclines. The original line was 40km long, with branch lines added at Black Boy in 1827, Croft in 1829 and Haggerleazes (7.6km) in 1830. The same year the railway was extended 6.4km to Middlesbrough. As steam engines became more reliable and cheaper to produce, horse power was phased out and the railway was completely steam powered by 1833.
Nothing like it had ever existed, so operational details were devised ad hoc. At first it was used like a road for trains. There was no timetable and plenty of disagreements about rights of way — anyone could lease use of the line from the shareholders who owned it, provided they had money and rolling stock.
The tracks were a mixture of cast iron (20%) and malleable iron (80%) fish-bellied rails supported on stone sleepers. Malleable iron rails could be welded whereas cast iron ones were difficult to join in situ. The distance between rails was the same as that used on the horse-drawn tramways at the coal mines — 1.435m, later adopted as standard gauge.
Thomas Meynell laid the first rail on 23rd May 1822, just 10 days after work began. By summer 1823, some 35km of track had been laid. One of the biggest problems was filling the boggy ground at Myers Flat between Heighington and Darlington so that the rails and fences did not move as the soil sunk. The railway had originally a single line with passing places, though double tracks were provided in 1831, with timetables and signalling.
The railway had four interesting bridges — two over the River Gaunless, at Haggerleazes (NZ117256) and near West Auckland (NZ186266), one over the River Skerne in Darlington (NZ292156) and one over the River Tees in Stockton (NZ447179).
The 25.9m long Haggerleazes Bridge (1830) has a single masonry arch, skewed at an angle of 27 degrees to its abutment. It crosses a gap of 5.5m on a skew span of 12.8m with a rise of 2.1m. The line of the 3.65m wide bridge was set out by Robert Stephenson but its design is attributed to Thomas Storey, engineer for the Haggerleazes branch and the eastward extension to Middlesbrough.
Only the abutments of Gaunless Bridge
(1825) remain at West Aukland, the original ironwork was dismantled in 1901 and was reassembled for display first at Darlington, then at the National Railway Museum in York, where it remains. It had a timber deck carried on four 3.8m spans of wrought iron lenticular trusses, supported by cast iron trestles.
Skerne Bridge (1824-5) is constructed in masonry with a central arch of 12m span flanked by a pair of 2.4m span round-headed arches, with piers 2.4m wide between. Its design is attributed to architect and Durham county bridge surveyor Ignatius Bonomi. It is the oldest railway bridge still in use and is depicted on the UK's £5 note.
The 125.6m long Stockton Bridge (1829-30) was the first railway suspension bridge, designed by Captain Sir Samuel Brown. It had a main span of 85.65m and was 4.9m wide, but it oscillated so badly under the dynamic loading of passing trains that it was replaced by Robert Stephenson's three span cast iron trussed girder bridge in 1844.
Stephenson’s new locomotive Locomotion No.1, pulling 36 wagons and one passenger coach, made the inaugural journey on 27th September 1825. It carried coal, flour and some 600 passengers, though only 300 tickets had been sold officially!
[ Video showing a working replica of Locomotion No.1 at Beamish ]
The railway cost £167,000 to build, much of the finance coming from Stephenson's business partner Edward Pease and the local Society of Friends (Quakers). The Pease family later presented Locomotion No.1 to the Darlington Railway Centre & Museum, where it remains on display.
The Stockton & Darlington Railway amalgamated with North Eastern Railway on 13th July 1863 on generous terms. This became part of London & North Eastern Railway in 1922.
Assistant engineer (1821-5): John Dixon
Malleable iron rails (1822-5): Bedlington Iron Works, Morpeth
Skerne Bridge contractor: Francis Peacock, Yarm
Stockton Bridge contractor: Grahamsley & Read
Stockton Bridge chains: Brown's of Newbridge, Pontypridd
Gaunless Bridge ironwork: John and Isaac Burrell, Newcastle
Haggerleazes Bridge piling and foundations: Thomas Worth and John Batey
Haggerleazes Bridge arch and parapets: James Wilson, Pontefract
"The Chronicle of the Stockton and Darlington Railway to 1863"
by John H. Proud, North Eastern Railway Association, Hartlepool, 1998