Monthly news update covering April 2023


Dear Friends,

By the time you’ve received this we will have interviewed for our first employed staff member. Thanks to generous donations we are now able to appoint a part time secretary support post. The new office holder will be a significant help to your hard-working trustees and hopefully make use more efficient and free up time for developing projects and grant applications. My sincere thanks to our Vice Chair Alan Townsend for his generosity and hard work in making this happen.

We can also now announce that through the funding provided by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the first of three full time posts has been filled by Darlington Council. Cait Barrett who was previously working on community outreach at Darlington Hippodrome, is now the new S&DR Heritage and Community Participation Manager, with additional education and volunteer coordinator posts still to come. Cait will hopefully start in May and will over the next five years help deliver a programme of community and school activity all along the 26 miles.

On the subject of education our S&DR worksheets and resources developed with local museums partners and primary schools (funding from Historic England), are now live on our website and can be downloaded. Please tell any teachers you know about them!

It’s also great to see the first two of our walks’ booklets redesigned and updated thanks to funding from the Brightwater Landscape Partnership and hard work by our editor Caroline Hardie and input form volunteers. There’s also a lovely folder available as well to store them in (scroll to the bottom). We need funding now to update the rest in time for 2025.

Along with support from our trustees and others I have this month met with Dr Sarah Price at Locomotion in Shildon for a regular meeting;  enjoyed the fantastic trip for members to the Stainmore Railway Company at Kirkby Stephen organised by our own John Raw; met with Gemma O’Brien of the Hetton200 group to see how their celebrations of last year and on-going aspirations can work with our own; attended the Bishop Line Community Rail Partnership AGM; and finally had an in depth meeting with Darlington Council on how their Towns Fund government grant is to be applied to S&DR issues. On this last point a stated aim of the Towns Fund was to buy, reunite and restore the various elements of Edward Pease’s House on Northgate where the famous meeting between Pease and Stephenson took place. Since the 1860s this has been subdivided into four properties and the original Georgian building hidden behind a Victorian rebuild which today is a sad and shoddy sight with a number of fast-food shops below and largely empty above. Identifying owners of the building has been difficult and DBC have only managed to buy one part. It looks like some hard decisions may have to be made on how to progress this project in the near future but we are lobbying hard to come up with a progressive solution.

The date for our AGM this year will be Saturday 28th of October and will be held at the Georgian Theatre in Stockton. let me know if you would like to present a short paper or talk, or if you know of anyone we might invite. The AGM as with last year’s successful meeting will be a mixture again of business and talks (hopefully with fine catering again!).

2025 Planning.

The Festival Director for 2025 Niccy Halifax based with Stockton Council, continues to work on her initial festival programme and we hope to have sight of this soon.

We’ve been working with International Rail Heritage and North Bay Engineering on the design and historic accuracy of the planned replica train of waggons and the Experiment Coach which will be hauled by the 1975 replica Locomotion No.1 on the 26/27/28th of September 2025. The first rolling replica waggon should be on the rails in June and the whole train will eventually undergo its trails on the Weardale Railway sometime next year which should make a memorable sight!

The opportunity to build other live steam events around the planned No.1 journey is we know still very much in a number of peoples minds. The Rail Heritage Board has stated that while they can’t arrange this directly themselves, they will support and facilitate. We know from contacts by a wide range of people and across the UK there are a number of possible initiatives. So that the situation and opportunities are clear I met with members of the North East Railway Association recently and we felt that convening a meeting to members of the Heritage Railway Association would be an opportunity to brief people and encourage proposals for events coming forward. We hope to arrange this in the next month or so and will publicise it in advance.

The new Hall 2 at Shildon is well under construction and is anticipated to open in late 2023. The Iron work of the Gaunless bridge will be re-erected in a central location as part of this having now been removed from York for restoration.

As ever I look forward to seeing as many of you as possible at monthly meetings and events, but please do drop me a line if you want to discuss anything else S&DR related.

All the best. Niall Hammond, Chair

Friends of the S&DR.