The draft report on the Black Boy branch has been circulated to everyone who was involved for their comments. You can also read it here.
This historic environment audit, funded by Historic England, is about the 1827 Black Boy Branch Line of the S&DR and what survives today. It also makes recommendations on conserving, interpreting, and accessing the remains.
The Stockton & Darlington Railway had opened on the 27th September 1825. The 26-mile-long mainline was located in North-East England in the historic County of Durham. It ran from the coal mines near Witton Park to the River Tees at Stockton, via Darlington and Yarm where there were two branch lines. The next five years were a period of phenomenal growth and investment with the completion of an additional four branch lines at Black Boy, Croft, Haggerleases and Middlesbrough. Over the following decades, as railways spread across the world, the S&DR also expanded its network of tracks reaching as far as Barnard Castle, Tebay, Redcar, Saltburn and Weardale. It was amalgamated with the North Eastern Railway in 1863.
The S&DR between 1825-30 created the model for the modern-day railway network with a permanent, timetabled, transport infrastructure, offering a successful combination of a mixed goods and passenger railway available to anyone to use in return for a fee. Its financial and technical success eventually inspired other railways to develop in the UK and across the world. The S&DR boosted local industries, changed the landscape and by promoting the railway as the new revolutionary form of transport, it helped to trigger a second wave of the industrial revolution.
The first branch line to open after 1825 was the Black Boy branch, but it took two years before adequate resources could be found. This was due to a national financial crash combined with the S&DR remaining in debt after the huge investment of building the railway network and the purchase of its first steam engines. The main economic motivator for the branch line was accessing the high quality coal from the Black Boy collieries.
A number of long established collieries were already located north of Shildon when the route of the proposed Stockton & Darlington Railway was surveyed by Overton between 1818-21. Colliery owners were keen to access the railway and so the branch line was authorised in the same Act of Parliament in 1821 as the mainline, but to a different route. A ridge of land separated the mainline at Shildon from these collieries so Overton’s route, designed for horse power only, was more circuitous, avoiding the ridge. George Stephenson’s alternative route, approved by Parliament in 1823, made use of a stationary winding engine powered by steam so that waggons could be hauled up and over the ridge on an incline instead of avoiding it. For the first few weeks after opening in 1827 the line was worked by horses because the stationary winding engine designed to haul the waggons up the incline from Eldon was not ready. The first winding engine installed in 1828 was replaced by another designed and built by Timothy Hackworth in 1835 and this remained in use, despite various attempts to sell it, until 1874.
The importance of the incline declined once the Shildon Tunnel opened in 1842 which provided a more direct and efficient locomotive powered route to the coalfields and into Weardale. However the incline remained open to locomotive hauled trains in the event of a blockage by derailment or collision in the tunnel.
Survival of the Black Boy branch is relatively good between its terminus near Spout Lane at Locomotion in Shildon and Eldon. Retaining walls can be seen, the occasional boundary wall, the route is largely clear and accessible and the enginemen’s houses at the top of the incline survive. Much more will survive below ground.
North of Eldon, the picture is not so clear. The route is well-defined as far as Dene Beck and low lying walls may be original boundary walls. A culvert carrying the Dene Beck might be original, but was not viewed due to lack of public access.
To the north of the school the route consisted of many railway branch lines built by collieries and this landscape, once criss-crossed with branch lines, is either developed for housing or has returned to agricultural use. Small stretches of siding survive as woodland paths at Auckland Park. The industrialisation of this area is likely to have removed all traces of the early Black Boy branch.
Access to the Black Boy branch is good between Locomotion and Eldon, but surfaces are only suitable for walkers. North of Eldon, access is not available on the branch line, but circuitous routes through terraced housing and areas of wasteland, do provide opportunities to view the route. North of the Prince Bishops Community Primary School, access is well away from the route and little is visible. It is only for the determined who wish to appreciate the wider post-industrial landscape of the Eldon Valley and Auckland Park.
Report authors: Caroline Hardie with considerable support from other Friends of the Stockton & Darlington Railway
Niall Hammond for creating the GIS project. Photographs have been taken by the report authors and numerous Friends of the S&DR. Our photographs are populated by people because this is a community project and the community like to be in them.
Maggie Pulle visited The National Archives and copied primary source material on the Black Boy Branch which other volunteers transcribed.
The following volunteers have transcribed the text from historic documents:
Trevor Horner, Ken Todd and Barbara M. Brown
Thank you to the following people for sharing their knowledge about the Black Boy branch and its people:
Tom Walker re the Greeners, enginemen of Black Boy and Etherley Inclines
Colin Turner for generously sharing his research into the Eldon area and providing a display of historic material during our fieldwork lunch stop.
John Raw for helping to organise the fieldwork.
Steve Hardy for providing videos of the line for fieldworkers to watch.
The following volunteers participated in fieldwork identifying surviving heritage assets, creating a photographic record and providing an accurate grid reference so that the information can be passed on the Local Planning Authority and used to inform this report:
Peter Bainbridge, Ross Chisholm, Findley Hardie-Hammond, Jane and Edward Hurst, Beryl and David Myers, Angela Pickering, John Raw, Alan Townsend, Gerry Wilkinson and Cleo the Dog. Train cancellations prevented others from attending.
Thank you to Eldon’s One Stop Shop for providing a lunch and exhibition location, teas, coffees and biscuits.
Thank you also to the Durham Records Office for historic OS mapping and the Durham County Council HER officer Nick Boldrini for providing the records of heritage assets. Thank you again to Win Proud for giving the Friends permission to use John Proud’s archive. Thank you in particular to Historic England for funding the project.