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North Road Station

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The early history of Darlington North Road Station is not crystal clear but it is certain that the existing building, although built by the Stockton and Darlington Railway, dates from 1842 some 17 years after the line's opening laid the ground for modern railways.

On opening day in 1825 there were no stations. The Railway's main purpose was to carry coal from the Durham collieries to port at Stockton which may explain a recent tendency to dismiss the S&DR as just another wagon-way- two recent television series, supposedly about the early history of railways, did not even deign to mention the company. It always carried passengers though right from the opening day when the world's first steam drawn passenger train was hauled by George Stephenson's new marvel Locomotion. After things settled down passenger “trains” were horse-drawn coaches operated by other businesses under licence. If you wanted to travel you bought your ticket at a nearby shop, pub' or post office then waited at the track-side. It soon became clear that this arrangement was not good enough and, in Darlington, a shed (and it was a shed rather than a station) was built in 1827 for passengers at the point where the line crossed the Great North Road. It would not have been far from where the Museum stands today.

In 1833 the S&DR took complete control of passenger operations on its main line (a licence to run horse-drawn passenger coaches to Croft would be granted to one William Walton a few years later). By then a three storey warehouse stood to the east of the road and part of it was adapted to become the first proper passenger station in Darlington. It was not in use as such for long. In 1839 the S&DR moved passengers to a shed built back on the west side of the Great North Road which had an even shorter career replaced by a new building on the same site in 1842. It had an over-all roof sheltering platforms either side of three tracks the centre line being used as a carriage siding. Although extended several times since, including having a first floor added in 1876, the 1842 building remains as the centre of the station with the extensions largely sympathetic to it. As was common at the time the station was sited on a loop with the main running lines passing to the north. Darlington's main line station Bank Top follows the same pattern causing no end of headaches for today's operators who have to thread stopping trains between passing trains. When built the station was directly adjacent to the Great North Road which meandered further west than its current course. It was straightened out in 1856 and now passes under the embankment a little to the east of the station named North Road and numbered A167.

In 1841 the Great North of England Railway had reached Darlington at Bank Top with the Newcastle and Darlington Junction Railway opening in 1844 to complete what is now the East Coast Main Line to Newcastle. North-south traffic became more important than that going east-west but rail travel was much increased and the first expansion of North Road Station took place in 1853 when the south platform and train shed were extended. In 1856 the Darlington and Barnard Castle Railway was opened by the S&DR running from a junction just to the west with the ultimate aim of crossing the Pennines to Tebay and the west coast (achieved in 1861 by dint of some astonishing engineering) and both the platforms and building at North Road were expanded again. In 1860 a three track carriage shed was built alongside the main shed but the wall between the two was removed four years later and the southern track replaced with a platform facing what had been the centre track. In 1876 the upper storey was added and booking office expanded leaving the building much as it stands today.

With the decline of railways and Dr. Beeching's drastic pruning of the network the lines to Barnard Castle closed and were torn up and even the S&DR's original route was under threat. The vandalism did not extend that far but, by the early '70s, North Road was just a halt on the way to Bishop Auckland and Weardale with the only platform in use the furthest north running though the 1860 carriage shed. The building itself was genuinely threatened but the imminent 150th anniversary of the Stockton and Darlington Railway's opening spurred local people, the Council and the Museums Service to take it over for use as a museum. The ends of the train shed were closed off, the wall between it and the carriage shed rebuilt to enclose the old platforms and the Museum was opened on the morning of 27 September 1975 by HRH the Duke of Edinburgh. He would go on to open the National Railway Museum in York later the same day- the S&DR's 150th anniversary.

The Museum closed for a year or so for the Grade two listed building to undergo an extensive refurbishment programme costing £1.7m including grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Railway Heritage Trust, English Heritage, and the European Regional Development Fund. It reopened in 2008 with improved access, interactive displays and three Darlington built locomotives sharing the central track with George Stephenson's Locomotion- the machine at the head of the train that started it all back in 1825.

Today trains on the Bishop Line, as the route is now known, still stop at the single northern platform and run through the 1860 carriage shed but it is unlit and unfurnished and access from the platform has been closed off. 'Bus-shelter style canopies afford some protection from the elements and, with the exception of a few rail-tours, the trains are short locals which do not need the full length of the platform. Passengers do not use the building at all, reaching the platform via a footpath from the corner of North Road and McNay Street, but they can see it clearly while they wait for trains. The Bishop Line is becoming increasingly familiar to rail enthusiasts on their way to Locomotion or the Weardale Railway. Locomotion is the National Railway Museum's annex at Shildon, home of the Stockton and Darlington Railway's works and the world's first railway town. Today network trains operate only as far as Bishop Auckland, itself once a major junction station, but the line beyond there to Stanhope is now the Weardale Railway. The websites for both attractions can be reached from the Links page.


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