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First railway ticket office
48 Bridge Street, Stockton on Tees, County Durham, UK
associated engineer
George Stephenson
date  1825
era  Georgian  |  category  Building  |  reference  NZ445183
The building believed to be the world’s oldest railway ticket office stands next to the site of St John’s Well level crossing on the Stockton & Darlington Railway. The first passenger ticket was sold here in 1825. The rail tracks were lifted long ago and the building later restored after falling into disrepair.
The original 40km single track line between Stockton on Tees and Witton in County Durham was the first proper passenger railway, and the earliest permanent public railway to be powered by steam. The railway company’s engineer, George Stephenson, cut the first sod close to St John’s Well in autumn 1821, while engaged in surveying the route.
On 23rd May 1822, the first rails of the Stockton & Darlington Railway were laid near St John’s Well in Stockton on Tees by the company’s chairman Thomas Meynell (1763-1854). The malleable iron rails, each 4.6m long and weighing 12.7kg, were set 1.435m (4ft 8.5in) apart — a distance that became known as ‘standard gauge’, now used by more than half of the world’s railway lines.
Passengers on the Stockton & Darlington Railway (opened 27th September 1825) needed somewhere to buy their rail tickets and pay their fares, so the existing building adjacent to the level crossing was (probably) adopted for the purpose. It’s also likely that people obtained tickets from local inns, as they did for travelling on stagecoaches.
The cottage containing the ticket booking office was also used as a weighing house for coal being transported by rail. The two storey structure is of dark red brick with brick chimney stacks, a slate roof and timber gutters. The front (west) elevation faces the railway line and has a central projecting bay, possibly added later than 1826, with side windows giving views up and down the track. Its west boundary wall, of brick with panels of iron railings, is immediately adjacent to the rails.
A plaque at the top of the north wall of the building, now 48 Bridge Street, read “The first rail of the Stockton & Darlington Railway was laid on the adjacent level crossing in May 1822”.
In July 1925, centenary celebrations for the railway were marked by a procession of locomotives along the remaining parts of the original route, including Stephenson’s Hetton Colliery locomotive (built 1822) and his Locomotion No.1 (1825). The Duke and Duchess of York unveiled a second plaque, below the first, on the north wall of the booking office, reading “Here the Stockton and Darlington Railway Company issued the first passenger railway ticket thus marking an epoch in the history of mankind”.
In January 1951, the building was Grade II* listed. After 1954, the plaques were taken off the north wall and mounted on the blank central wall of the bay to the west elevation. (The older one, commemorating the rail laying, was removed sometime after 2009. It has since been recovered and will be restored and re-erected.)
In 1975, a Stockton Railway Heritage Trail plaque was erected nearby to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Stockton & Darlington Railway. According to the inscription, the cottage was “standing long before” the trains began running.
However, the building fell into disrepair after the tracks were lifted and a photograph dating from the 1980s shows the walls shored up on steel props. During the mid-1980s, Bridge House Mission, a charity for homeless single people, acquired the building and restored it from near ruin. It is still owned and used by the charity.
Research: ECPK
bibliography
"The history of the first public railway, (Stockton & Darlington) the opening day, and what followed", edited by Michael Heavisides, Heavisides & Son, Stockton-on-Tees, 1912
www.darlington.gov.uk
www.darlingtonandstocktontimes.co.uk
www.historicengland.org.uk
www.ice.org
Location

First railway ticket office