Chair’s Report May 2019

Chair’s Report

(Incorporating the Vice-Chair’s Report)

Friends of the Stockton & Darlington Railway

May 2nd 2019

My apologies to all concerned that this report is so late being circulated to you.  I wanted to wait until yesterday’s Rail Heritage Board had taken place in case there was anything of importance to report.  I am delighted to say that there is – we had a splendid presentation from the company that has been commissioned by the Rail Heritage Board to prepare the critical Access Report we need to achieve success in developing a walking and cycling route the length of the Stockton & Darlington Railway.  As Niall is fond of saying, this is the chain that will link together the key heritage along the route and allow people of all abilities to access it, hopefully using public transport as well.  Many of us already enjoy walking sections of the route and the Friends lead regular walks especially along the Durham end.  Niall will be leading a walk along part of it on May 21st on behalf of the Tees Valley’s Great Places Scheme.  Information about this (with an updated version of the poster) is now available on our media outlets.

We are also making plans for the Heritage Open Days in September which will include walks.  I am planning to lead a walk on Cockfield Fell which takes in the Haggerleases Line on behalf of the Bishop Auckland HAZ, which is the equivalent of our own HAZ.  The idea is to build up our partnership working with colleagues in other HAZ areas.   I am hopeful that BIG and Jane H-Y will be organising walks either on the Etherley or Brusselton Incline areas – I look forward to hearing what their plans are.

In relation to all of this I am delighted to report that I had a very fruitful meeting with Steve Howell at Durham County Council in relation to the plans for a significant event at Locomotion on the evening of Friday 27th September.  I am now waiting to find out what money is available to fund the event, and once things are firmed up, I will report the details to you all.  In the meantime, can I ask Friends to pencil in the evening of the 27th in your diaries – and also Sunday 29th, as we are also hopeful that Locomotion will be mounting a significant event with us on the Sunday (or possibly the Saturday).  Again, I will report back what is happening asap.  Durham has also been very helpful in supporting the ongoing work of BIG in relation to the Brusselton Incline and the Accommodation Bridge.

Earlier this month Niall and I met with Sophie Vohra who is completing a collaborative PhD under the joint supervision of York University and the NRM, York.  Her work is focussing on the celebrations of the S&DR that took place from 1875 onwards.  Sophie asked to meet with Niall and I as she is also interested in plans for 2025, and we also brought to her attention the abortive celebrations in 2000 which she is now interested in.  So if anyone out there has anything of interest to share with her (1875, 1925, 1975, 2000) please let Niall and I know and we will make sure is kept informed.  It is very pleasing to see academic research being developed in relation to the S&DR other than our own, which is proceeding as well through people such as Jonathan, Caroline and Jane and is appearing in our excellent journal on a regular basis.

Jane has reported that she has in fact visited the Railway Museum in York twice to go through the Graham notebooks and has been provided with a precis.  Search Engine are proposing to complete an exact transcript which will be invaluable.  Jane has made two visits to Beamish and two to the Fitzhugh Library.  She is also busy with Susan Nixon transcribing the last Samuel Holmes letters.  Samuel lived for the first six years of his life with his grandfather Timothy Hackworth before setting up in business with two first cousins in the States.  Jane has also been busy working with a student at Locomotion to prepare 12 panels for Locomotion which hopefully will be in place by the time of the birthday party on September 27th.  She and Jonathan have also been working hard on our Dropbox.

Plans for my visit to the USA to meet with potential (and indeed existing) partners are proceeding very well indeed and Niall and I were able to report on these to the Rail Heritage Board on Tuesday.  These were very well received and we are now going to hold discussions with the RHB about how these can be developed and utilised to further the work of the Board and the S&DR project overall.    My own personal desire is that an international academic conference on the S&DR and its influence on worldwide railway development should be held here in our area in 2025, with a particular emphasis on the S&DR’s influence on places like the USA, France, Germany and Russia.  Through this it is my hope that people like Timothy Hackworth will receive the acclaim they deserve and their stories will inspire current generations to believe that our area can once again be a world leader in the new technologies of our own day.

Niall and I also attended the launch event for the Brightwater Landscape Partnership which covers the area through which the River Skerne flows towards and through Darlington.  For those of you who do not know, the Skerne is a tributary of the River Tees so the Tees Rivers Trust is heavily involved as are a number of other organisations.  We will be working in close collaboration with Brightwater as part of the Stockton & Darlington Railway passes through the area and there is scope to work together towards the development of the walking and cycling route and improve the environment through which it travels.  It is really encouraging to see so many people working towards regenerating the area through which the S&DR travels to the benefit of local communities along the way.

Niall and I believe Ross and John attended a meeting with a gentleman called Michael Spence who owns a key area of land which contains part of the Brusselton Incline.  This was a very productive meeting in which the group discussed a revised and improved planning application for the land.  Our thanks go to Mr Spence for his willingness to do this and we hope our excellent relationship will progress into the future.  Successful working relationships with key landowners will be one of the keys to success for the project overall.

Niall and Ross also had their regular catch-up meeting with Councillor Chris McEwan of Darlington Borough Council.  As I am sure everyone will appreciate, this was extremely generous of Cllr McEwan as the Local Election campaign is well underway with the elections themselves on the day of our monthly meeting.  Once this is over, we will be able to take forward key issues such as the need for council support for our proposal to make a Resilient Heritage Bid for funds to look at developing our own organisation to make it ready to take forward our role from 2025 onwards – whatever that role may be.    I would personally like to thank Niall (and indeed Caroline) for the work they are putting into developing our bid.

A number of talks have been given over the last month to help ‘spread the word’ about the Stockton & Darlington Railway project.  I gave a presentation the Heighington Parish Council and to my own Rotary Club in Newton Aycliffe and I am currently booked to make presentations to a second community association in Newton Aycliffe and to Middleton St George Parish Council’s Annual Parish Assembly.   Niall made a presentation to the Middleton St George History Group and, as referred to above, will be leading a ‘walking lecture’ on 21st May. 

We are always in need of funds – what small charity is not – so Niall has made a bid to the Ecclesiastical Insurance Heritage Grants scheme for £1000.  If we are successful in this first round, this will open the door to making a much larger bid in the second round for up to £50,000.  So watch this space.  I am hoping myself to make applications for funding to allow us to develop a brochure that we can give to organisations when we are meeting them – and, indeed to organisations attending the birthday event on September 27th and those I will be meeting in the States in October.  Ideas for developing this brochure would be gratefully received.

Recently I attended the Heritage on Track meeting on our behalf and this was very productive. . This is the organisation that Niall will be leading the walk for later this month and is part of the Great Places Scheme for the Tees Valley.  One contributor, Graham of Locomotive Rhythm, is developing a fishbelly rail musical instrument and I am looking forward to hearing this when it is complete.  I also represented us at the NE Industrial Heritage group’s recent meeting which this time was held in, and hosted by, the Land of Oak and Iron Landscape Partnership.  We would love it if Locomotion could host the spring meeting in 2020.

As many of you will know, we were very disappointed (understandably so) that the Urlay Nook Signal Box came down.  However, we were very pleased to receive as a donation from Network Rail the signing in desk from the station.  This has been collected and is now in safe storage.  One outcome is that our links with Network Rail have been strengthened which can only be viewed as positive.

Niall and a number of others have been active on our Friends Face Book page and the numbers of subscribers continues to grow which is another significant step forward.  One of my resolutions is to try to participate myself.  During my working life as a teacher, I was discouraged from being on social media and I have never really taken up the habit since I retired.  I really will have to do so.  I could probably do with some lessons.

Richie Starrs has been actively working to help create some really positive outcomes of the Gaunless workshop and we will have news on this front shortly.  This will be posted for you on social media.  We have also been asked by the Rail Heritage Board to post the Chair’s/Vice Chair’s Report on the TVCA section of their web site which is now dedicated to the Stockton & Darlington Railway project.  Please do have a look.    The board has also asked us to let them have a regular update from Ross on planning related issues and issues on current risks to the S&DR heritage for information purposes.  Ross kindly produced a report on this which was forwarded to the Board, and they found it really useful.  A little more explanation was invited as the line goes through three local authority areas. 

This aspect of our work is very important as the three local authorities and the TVCA cannot be expected to know everything that is happening on a day by day basis on the ground.  So it is one of our functions to keep an ear open to find out if anything of significance is at risk or needs our help.  Today John of BIG will have some developments to report regarding the stone sleepers at Hamsterley which will hopefully be retrieved in the not too distant future and taken into storage at Locomotion – our thanks go to the museum for offering their support.  We are also looking into offering our support to the Railway Institute in Shildon, which may need help to remain a going concern.

Caroline cannot be with us tonight so she has asked me to include a few points in the report.  She would like to thank everyone who contributed by producing articles or proof reading and Peter for circulating it.  Caroline has asked if anyone would like to take on the job of producing an index on an excel spreadsheet of all past and current articles to make it easier for people to locate an article they want.  Please contact her if you would like to make this really useful contribution.  I know I would find it incredibly helpful myself.

Caroline always has about 20 hard copies printed and these have been circulated to some of the contributors, with the remainder available for sale (£3.00) or to be given to stakeholders.  For example, the Local Studies Library in Crown Street Darlington and the Durham Records Office receive copies.  The Globe can always be found in our Dropbox.  As you can imagine, work has already begun on the next edition, with some submissions in the pipeline already.  It would be great to have more photographs, news and current events, photographs of railway memorabilia or extracts from contemporary accounts and archives to include.

There is another date to go in everyone’s diary.  We are launching a programme of speakers in June this year, with the first talk taking place at Bannantynes Hotel (a truly S&DR related historic hotel) on 27th June in Darlington.  Bannantynes have agreed to let us have a large room for the event without any charge.  We are fortunate to have as our first speaker Ray State.  More information about the event will be posted on social media and also circulated by email by Peter.  We are going to ask people to book places for the talk as we will be organising the drinks for everyone through Bannantynes in return for the free room.  Bannantynes were also very helpful last September, providing a free overnight stay in the hotel for our raffle at the dinner on September 28th.

We are very grateful to Jane and Mike for helping to organise the first speaker event and taking this new project forward.  We are also grateful to Bannantynes for the support they are giving us on this occasion.  Thanks must also go to Peter who has taken on the very important responsibility for circulating information in the absence of a secretary.  If you have any interest in taking on this role, which also carries with it the responsibilities of a Trustee, we would be delighted to hear from you. 

Finally, I am delighted to say that some really important and exciting developments are taking place amongst the Friends at the Stockton end of the line.  Barry is going to take a few minutes tonight to begin putting us in the picture about what he and our new member Martin are hoping will be happening there.  Next year it will be Stockton’s turn to host our annual birthday party so watch this space – I am pretty confident that Stockton council already has its thinking cap on.

As time passes we will be in a position to share more and more with you about what will be happening between now and 2025 – and, indeed, after 2025.  In the meantime, thank you to everyone who whether in a professional or in a voluntary capacity is taking this project forward.  It seems to get bigger and bigger every day – but also more and more exciting.