A little piece of our railway history was restored and returned to its rightful place on 27 September 2018 when the 1925 plaque celebrating 100 years of railways (and the S&DR in particular) was reinstalled on the building at St John’s Crossing, Stockton-on-Tees.
The plaque was originally installed on what were buildings still in railway ownership at the time and unveiled on 2 July 1925 by the Duke & Duchess of York (later to be King George VI and Queen Elizabeth – later still too become the Queen Mother).
Why 2 July ? Until 1925, and at all anniversaries and celebrations since, the ‘railway birthday’ has been celebrated in September, to coincide with the opening day of the S&DR, but in 1925, a major international rail conference / exhibition was hosted by Great Britain, and it was felt international delegates may not visit twice in such quick succession, so the ‘birth of the railways’ was moved forward for that one year to coincide. So, royalty came to Stockton on Tees in July 1925. A rare occasion, and a cause for huge celebrations, as demonstrated by the huge crowds that turned out to see their Royal Highnesses.
More Recent Times
The plaque remained in-situ throughout most of the 20th Century, mounted on its stone block on the north face of the building, as shown in the photograph believed to be from the 1950s, below.
More recently, the plaque was moved to the west face of the building and re-installed without the stone block, as shown in the photograph believed to date from c.2010, below.
Theft / Damage
The plaque was stolen from the west face of the building, but later recovered. Unfortunately, attempts had be made to break the castings into smaller pieces, presumably to make it more transportable (probably to a scrap merchants). The photograph below shows the plaque condition as recovered. The outer frame, although suffering minor damage, was determined to be re-usable, but the inner plaque was damaged beyond repair, being cracked into two pieces with slivers of metal missing, as can be seen in the image below. In addition, six of the seven minor decorative scrolls (between the two main components) were missing.
There then followed a period of inertia, with the plaque placed for storage with William Lane Foundry Ltd of Middlesbrough, Teesside’s last remaining brass foundry.
BBC Look North ran a feature about the foundry, one of Middlesbrough’s most historic businesses, during early 2018, and several people, includes some Friends, noticed the plaque in the background of some footage. This in turn re-ignited enthusiasm for doing something with it, and an exploratory meeting of interested parties took place in February 2018.
A Project Team was created, comprising Bridge House Mission (the charity who now own the buildings, and therefore the plaque) Stockton Borough Council, William Lane Foundry, Stone Technical Services (a Darlington-based company who specialise in the restoration and conservation of historic and heritage buildings) together with the Friends.
Fund-raising commenced, primarily in the form of a Just Giving page set up by the Friends but with Bridge House Mission as the beneficiary – the Friends at that time being unable to be such whilst we awaited our registered charity status. This appeal reached its target very quickly, thanks primarily to the amazing generosity of one proud Stocktonian, who asked for no further publicity. An approach to the Railway Heritage Trust was also made, seeking publicity only, but this actually resulted in a discretionary grant offer from them, and Stockton Borough Council also offered financial support.
Re-Casting / Re-Installation
With finance secured, Contracts were placed with William Lane Foundry and Stone Technical Services.
The restored and re-installed plaque was unveiled by Eileen Johnson, Mayor of Stockton, on Thursday 27 September 2018 – the 193rd Anniversary of the opening of the line.