The demise of The Great North Road’s coaching trade was the direct result of the transport revolution brought about by the steam train. The first public railway was opened in September 1825 between Darlington and Stockton.
The original station at Darlington was right alongside the Great North Road, which then took a more westerly course than today. In 1856, the road was straightened, leaving the station some distance away. The North Road station lives on as the “Head of Steam” museum.
Darlington is immediately north of the Great North Road’s crossing of the Tees, but it has always been somewhat in the shadow of its larger neighbour, Durham. It was derided in the 17th century as “Darnton i’ the Dirt”. This unfortunate name was probably due to the unpaved streets of the town which are said to have inspired King James of Scotland to write the following verse during a visit of 1603;
‘Darnton has a bonny, bonny church With a broach upon the steeple But Darnton is a mucky, mucky town And mair sham on the people.’
Anglo-Saxon Dearthington grew to become a small market town. Darlington became famous for the manufacture of linen – particularly towels and tablecloths. Daniel Defoe noted that the town was eminent for “good bleaching of linen, so that I have known cloth brought from Scotland to be bleached here”. However he also disparaged the town, writing that it had “nothing remarkable but dirt”
A strong Quaker community developed and during the 18th and 19th centuries Quaker families were prominent amongst local business leaders and philanthropists. Best known was Edward Pease. He rejected an early nineteenth century plan to build a canal for the shipment of coal from south Durham to the mouth of the Tees and made the innovative suggestion that steam locomotives be used instead. The suggestion was accepted – the rest is history.
Darlington’s most famous landmark, the clock tower, was a gift to the town by the industrialist Joseph Pease in 1864.
Darlington became a centre for engineering and bridge building. Bridges from Darlington include:
- Middlesbrough Transporter Bridge
- Bosporus Bridge, Turkey
- Nile Bridge, Egypt
- Victoria Falls Bridge, Zimbabwe
- The Humber Bridge
Leading engineering companies included engine builder, Cummins.