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House of Commons Hansard
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Stockton to Darlington Railway
16 September 2015
Volume 599

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Guy Opperman.)

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The Stockton and Darlington railway opened for business 190 years ago on 27 September 1825, but it is 190 years ago to the very day that George Stephenson assembled Locomotion No. 1 at Heighington Crossing in my constituency, on the corner of what is now Hitachi Rail Europe’s new train-building factory in Newton Aycliffe, at the start of the Stockton and Darlington railway. There is a pub there which is now called, strangely enough, the Locomotion No. 1. The pub consists of the world’s first ticket office and waiting room,

I want to describe what happened on that day. I am grateful to Chris Lloyd, the deputy editor of The Northern Echo, who is a local history expert, for his description of the day, and of the official opening of the line nine days later.

On September 16, 1825, a curious crowd gathered on the edge of today’s Merchant Park, in Newton Aycliffe, and watched as the future was unloaded before their eyes. Robert Stephenson and Company had made the world’s first passenger steam engine, Locomotion No. 1, at its works at Forth Street, Newcastle. They had loaded it in pieces on to three low wagons and horses belonging to a Mr Pickersgill and dragged it along 30 muddy miles to Aycliffe village. In the centre of Aycliffe village, the horses turned west and pulled their heavy loads along the lane towards Heighington. Where the lane crossed the new track bed of the Stockton and Darlington railway, the wagons stopped. Small boys and strong men unloaded the 5 tonnes of bits, and George Stephenson assembled them into a strange-looking contraption that—although even he did not know it at the time—was the first of the first generation of passenger engines. Together, they somehow hauled or hoisted Locomotion No. 1 on to the rails for the first time, and thought about getting it going. Its boiler was filled with water. Wood and coals were placed ready for ignition to boil the water into steam, but no one had a light. It was not until April 1827 that Stockton’s John Walker announced to the world that he had invented the friction match.

Frustrated by the unnecessary delay, George Stephenson had to send a messenger to Aycliffe to collect a lighted lantern. As the messenger left, navvy Robert Metcalf of Church Street, Darlington, stepped forward. He always carried a “burning glass”—a piece of glass like a magnifier—through which he focused the sun’s rays so he could light his pipe. He offered the glass to Stephenson and by the time the messenger returned with the lantern, No 1’s boiler was alight and smoke was rising from its chimney. So began trial runs with the world’s first passenger engine pulling the world’s first railway passengers in the world’s first passenger coach called the Experiment, which was basically a shed attached to some wheels.

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I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate and I hope he will be here in 10 years for the 200th anniversary.

My hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Jenny Chapman) and I have a friendly rivalry over the name of this railway, and I am glad the Order Paper has the correct name: the Stockton to Darlington railway. Not only was Stockton the starting point for the first ever passenger railway journey, but I would say—this may contradict what my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson) says—we have got the first ticket office in Bridge Road. Does my hon. Friend agree, however, that regardless of all these differences, we need all our organisations to come together so that in 10 years’ time we can have the sort of celebrations our communities deserve?

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I agree with my hon. Friend. He may have the first ticket office and waiting room, however, but the first one used was at Heighington Crossing.

The train run was successful enough for the Stockton and Darlington railway to open nine days later, on September 25. On that inaugural run from Shildon to Darlington and then Stockton, Locomotion No. 1 pulled the first train—full of coal, bands and people—along the track which today is on the boundary of the new Hitachi factory.

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Further to the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham), I would like to make it clear that we have the first passenger railway station at North Road in Darlington. Although the name of the line is “Stockton to Darlington”, it should be noted that it was the people of Darlington who raised the money and paid for the line. All but £1,000 was raised in Darlington.

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Everything my hon. Friend said is absolutely right and I understand that the railway tavern is still used. It is the longest-used railway tavern in the world.

The 600 or so passengers on board—the directors sitting in the luxury of the Experiment while the world’s first railway enthusiasts clung to the sides of the coal trucks—could not believe their eyes as hedges and trees flashed by at unbelievable speeds. Now, the Hitachi Rail Europe factory had its official opening on 3 September this year, bringing 730 jobs, thousands more in the supply chain and train building literally full circle back to where it started. The new trains will enter the rail network by joining the exact route used by George Stephenson’s Locomotion No. 1, and where it was test driven to the outstanding speed of 15 mph.

The new inter-city trains will be a lot faster and more comfortable, but we must salute the energy, drive and ambition of the early rail pioneers. On 16 September 1825, Locomotion No. 1 did not just pull one railway train; it pulled the world into the mass transport era of the railway age. Such is the pride of the people of the north-east in the importance of the Stockton and Darlington railway that 50, 100 and 150 years after 1825, the opportunity to celebrate this gift to the world has been celebrated with processions, fairs, gatherings of locomotions and exhibitions. These anniversaries have been marked with major celebrations, with the casting of special medals and with great spectacle.

In 2025, the Stockton and Darlington railway will be 200 years old, and work has already commenced to ensure that local communities and visitors from around the world can visit and appreciate the surviving monuments, buildings and track bed of the line. This has already attracted action from Durham, Darlington and Stockton councils, engaged local people through a new charitable body, the Friends of the Stockton and Darlington Railway, and received initial funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Historic England.

The Stockton and Darlington railway was important to the economic success of the north-east and to community pride in 1825, and with the right support and action, this world-class heritage site can be as important again. Work has already begun, with huge community support, to rescue the remains of the 1825 line and give it the international recognition it deserves. Over the next 10 years, culminating in the bicentenary of 2025, there are aspirations to create a long-distance walking route along the original line. This will link up a number of excellent museums and provide heritage-led economic regeneration for the area. In that same year, 2025, the Tees Valley hopes to be awarded the capital of culture accolade. The case will also be made to ensure that the surviving elements of the Stockton and Darlington railway have appropriate statutory protection through designation either as a scheduled monument or as listed buildings. A case is also to be researched and made to seek the inscription of the 1825 line to ensure that it can become a world heritage site through UNESCO.

I hope that the Minister will recognise the great legacy of British engineering and enterprise that is exemplified by the Stockton and Darlington railway, and that she will offer Government support for our aspiration to seek appropriate status and conservation for the line. I also hope that she will join me in offering support to those community and public bodies seeking to protect the railway’s remains and use them to inspire heritage-led economic regeneration for the area, and to inspire the young of the region to seek careers in engineering and manufacturing.

On 17 June, I spoke at a conference held at Locomotion, the National Railway Museum, in Shildon in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman). The conference was organised by Durham County Council, Darlington Borough Council, Stockton Borough Council and the National Railway Museum. It was also lottery funded. The conference looked at how best to preserve the 26-mile route of the Stockton and Darlington railway. It is our ambition to submit a bid for world heritage status for the line because of its significance as part of the country’s industrial heritage.

The last time a bid was submitted to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport was back in 2010. A number of railway and wagon-way sites from the dawn of the railway era were collected into the bid by a committee chaired by Sir Neil Cossons, formerly the director of the Science Museum and then chairman of English Heritage. The sites included: the Causey Arch; the Tanfield railway; the Wylam wagon-way and Stephenson birthplace; the Stephenson locomotive works in Newcastle; the Bowes railway; the Liverpool Road station site; and the Stockton and Darlington railway between Etherley and Darlington.

The application, entitled “The Birth of the Railway Age: genesis of modern transport”, was submitted to DCMS in competition with 37 other bids. Although it was rejected in 2011, I understand that DCMS and the heritage agencies were requested to undertake a study to consider whether it would be possible to address the concerns that had been identified. However, no such study has been undertaken. Can the Minister say whether such a study could be undertaken now, because of the clear importance of maintaining these early examples of the country’s railway infrastructure? I know that UNESCO and DCMS place a lot of weight on community engagement, so will she also join me in thanking the community groups in south Durham and the Teesside area—including the Friends of the Stockton and Darlington Railway and the local authorities—that have engaged in maintaining the Stockton and Darlington railway route as best they can?

What advice can the Minister give, and what more can she do to ensure a successful bid for world heritage status for the Stockton and Darlington railway, either through a single bid or as part of a joint bid with other railway lines and wagon-ways?

As she knows, the heritage industry is an asset to the UK economy. Recent analysis shows that cultural heritage-based tourism accounts for £5 billion in GDP and some 134,000 jobs. When indirect effects are included, the figures rise to at least £14 billion and 393,000 jobs. I want some of that for Durham and the Tees Valley. I want to end by asking the Minister to come and see for herself the potential of the route and infrastructure of the Stockton and Darlington railway in heritage terms. It is only right that we protect the first of the railways as best we can. So please, Minister, visit us at any time.

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 9(3)).

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Guy Opperman.)

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Before I come to the claims of my constituency for the things we were first in, let me say that the invention of the railways was the most significant technological development in the past 250 years. It ranks with the invention of printing in the way it transformed human life and human culture, because it brought together people who had previously been separated if they had been living more than 20 miles apart, it sped up economic development, and it had a massive impact on the level of trade and, consequently, on the industrial revolution.

I am extremely proud that Shildon in my constituency has a long-standing tradition of railway making. My hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson) rightly said that the first train was made by George Stephenson, but he could not make the engines work and they kept breaking down. The person who could make them work was Timothy Hackworth, who lived in my constituency. Had he not had the engineering skills that he did, the Stockton to Darlington railway could not have run. The train making in the Shildon shops continued right up until 1983, when they were closed by the then Tory Government because it was claimed that the Shildon shops were a barony of engineers—if only we had baronies of engineers today!

We are delighted with all the work my hon. Friend and Durham County Council has done, and with the good sense of our right hon. Friend Lord Adonis in securing the inward investment of Hitachi. It is going to be an incredible boost to our local economy, because it will create not only 800 jobs in the factory, but a further 800 in the supply line. The fact that we cherish the Stockton to Darlington line and all the history that goes with it was shown in my constituency this summer when we had our annual walk along the Etherley incline. The incline is very interesting because one reason why the steam engines and the railway lines were developed was to get the coal from the Durham coalfields to the coast and around the whole country, in order to boost up and provide the energy for the industrial revolution. The steam engine on the incline did not move but it powered the movement of the coal—this was before we even got to passenger trains, ticket offices and all those marvellous inventions.

Following the closure of the Shildon shops, my predecessor, now Lord Foster of Bishop Auckland, had a fantastic initiative to get the National Railway Museum to open a branch in Shildon called Locomotion. That has been very successful, with about 200,000 people a year visiting it. It is particularly popular with local people and people from our region. One good thing it does is have apprenticeships, so that people can learn engineering skills alongside viewing the old technology. As a continuation of that work, the Friends of the Stockton and Darlington Railway have put together their successful project to celebrate the anniversary. I congratulate them and Councillor Trish Pemberton, who has been a driving force behind this piece of work. As my hon. Friend said, they have a medium-term plan to secure world heritage status. We are looking for support from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport on this. We want to develop a long-distance walking and cycling route as well as new exhibitions in Shildon on the history of the line.

People do not usually think of Durham as a holiday destination, but they are making a mistake. We have another world heritage site in the cathedral. In the previous Parliament, the DCMS provided help to my constituency to develop Auckland castle. We will do more on the Stockton to Darlington line. All Members of this House should come to Durham for a long weekend, as they will have a great time.

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I thank the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson) for securing this debate and his colleagues, the hon. Members for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham), for Darlington (Jenny Chapman), and for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman), for their contributions. I did think for a nanosecond that I was going to have to employ my referee qualifications to intervene on who did what first and when.

I cannot tell you, Madam Deputy Speaker, how excited I was when I learned that I was answering this debate. I think that my officials thought that I was slightly mad. They were definitely rather surprised by my reaction. The fact is that it is two excellent topics— trains and heritage—combined into one debate. That is a perfect excuse for me to sit on the sofa on a rainy Sunday, dust off the Bradshaw’s, fish out the “Great British Railway Journeys” box set and cheerfully brand it work. If Members have not seen the particular episode on the Stockton to Darlington railway, they should do so because it is really interesting.

I do not need a book or a DVD to tell me that we should not underestimate the role of our early railways and their pioneers in developing Britain’s industry, paving the way for the industrial revolution. It is right that we should celebrate this vital aspect of our national heritage.

Preserving our railway heritage is extremely important. People have deep attachments to their local railway, as evidenced by the crowds greeting the Queen when she recently reopened the historic Borders to Edinburgh railway. Railways clearly continue to be as important to growth today—demonstrated by the Government’s plans to support the northern powerhouse—as they were two centuries ago. Today, we are able to celebrate not only the anniversary of the opening of the Stockton and Darlington railway, but the 190th anniversary of the Locomotion No. 1 engine leaving George Stephenson’s works in Newcastle on its way to Darlington. Rail lines had been in use previously, but this line was the first locomotive rail line not just in England but in the world. Stephenson was convinced steam was the future, and he was right. Steam was initially designed for freight, but then passengers, undeterred that it took two hours to do 12 miles, became integral to its future. Put simply, this line, with Locomotion No. 1, revolutionised the railway industry.

The engine, which is on display at the local Head of Steam museum, looks amazing. In the episode of “Great British Railway Journeys”, Michael Portillo looked incredibly excited to see it. If I ever get the opportunity to slip away from this place, I would be delighted to make it all the way up to the north-east.

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The Minister would be very welcome at the Head of Steam museum in my constituency, which is within the first passenger railway station. It is a good museum, but, unlike the National Railway Museum in York and the site in Shildon, it is not a free museum. I feel that the site would benefit enormously by being included in that scheme, and it is worthy of that status. I would be grateful if she could give that matter some thought.

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That matter is not within my remit, but I will pass it on to the Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey), who is responsible for museums. I have a confession to make. In the mid-1990s, he worked for the Conservative Member for Stockton South, and so is very familiar with not just the line, which goes through Yarm and Eaglescliffe, but some of the local museums. I am sure that officials will draw the Minister’s attention to the hon. Lady’s comments.

Railway museums, including the National Railway Museum’s “Locomotion” site at nearby Shildon, have a key role in preserving and promoting railway heritage, so I am pleased that they will be playing an important part in the celebrations.

Interestingly, a local holiday was declared for the opening of the Stockton and Darlington railway on 27 September 1825. Whether or not the crowds who took part in that first historic journey, which reached dizzy speeds of up to 15 mph, realised that it was the advent of a trailblazing technology that would soon carry thousands of passengers across the country is unclear. However, the railway and Stephenson’s new engines were at the forefront of the development of industry and passenger travel nationally and around the world.

Throughout the anniversary we should celebrate the development of our railways and their continued connection to industry in Britain. It is appropriate that at the beginning of this month, as the hon. Member for Sedgefield mentioned, the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the Transport Secretary opened the new Hitachi factory at Newton Aycliffe, which was once on a branch line of the Stockton and Darlington railway. The factory will create more than 700 direct jobs and support thousands more indirectly, giving a huge boost to the local area.

One of the local projects commemorating the 190th anniversary is the HLF-funded Sharing Heritage project. Its aims include the training of 40 volunteers in heritage skills, such as recording the historic site, giving talks and delivering guided tours for visitors. As with all the best projects, it will encourage local people to engage in this important aspect of their heritage. Interestingly, research on participation in heritage projects has found that Heritage Lottery Fund volunteers report levels of mental health and wellbeing that are higher than those of the general population. For example, one in three heritage volunteers report an increase in self-esteem and confidence in their abilities, so it is a fact: heritage really does make people happy.

We have heard about the aim to achieve world heritage status for the railway site. I would like to talk a little bit about the process. It is great that so many local people are engaged with this fantastic site and realise that it may well have importance far beyond their local community. They aspire for the site to achieve international recognition. A key part of demonstrating why any site should be awarded world heritage status is the gathering of evidence to demonstrate its outstanding universal value. The conference on the railway that took place in June was an excellent tool in starting to gather that evidence and hear the case.

Those involved will also need to consider whether they wish to develop the bid just for this site or as part of a “birth of the railway age” nomination in conjunction with other sites, such as Stephenson’s locomotive works in Newcastle. If they decide upon the latter, the support of other local authorities and key stakeholders, such as the Science Museum and National Rail, will be crucial to developing a successful bid.

Another key element of any potential nomination is demonstrating how well the site is managed and protected. Effective management can be achieved only through full understanding of the site, for example through the preparation of conservation management plans. The current project to record the railway line, which I understand Historic England is also working on, is a good step in that direction.

The nomination process is lengthy, due to the necessary evaluations and checks to ensure that only the most significant sites are nominated. The UK is currently undertaking a round of technical evaluations for sites on the UK tentative list. That list contains several sites that have not yet been fully considered for nomination and that will go through the process over the next few years. The tentative list is therefore unlikely to be reviewed any sooner than 2019.

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The Minister is making a very helpful and interesting speech. She may not have the list in front of her, but will she look at the extent to which potential new world heritage sites are related to the industrial revolution? There has been a pattern of not giving the industrial sites the same status as other sites. The industrial sites are of interest not just to British people, but to people in other parts of the world whose industrial revolution was taking place at around the same time.

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I do not have that information with me, but we can certainly look into it. If that information is available, I am sure we can share it with the hon. Lady. It is important that inspiration is taken from other world heritage sites. Other sites celebrate the development of railways worldwide—for example, the Semmering railway in Austria, which is an amazing feat of engineering constructed between 1848 and 1854 over 41 km of high mountains and involving a series of tunnels and viaducts. I understand there is another site in India that similarly celebrates railways. I do not have the dates, but we can look at those heritage sites. Our own Forth bridge, which was inscribed in July, was the world’s earliest multi-span cantilever bridge, and is still one of the longest. That, too, has been celebrated. So there are examples out there of celebrating industry and engineering. If the Stockton and Darlington railway is to become a world heritage site, we need to decide whether to pursue an individual nomination processor to take a broader and more co-ordinated approach celebrating rail heritage and the industrial revolution.

I understand that the members of the Friends of Stockton and Darlington railway group have already been in touch with Historic England and the UK National Commission for UNESCO on this issue. Colleagues from each of these organisations are happy to provide further advice on the matter. It is appropriate that I join hon. Members who have contributed to the debate in congratulating the Friends group on all the work that they have been doing. They sound fantastic.

In conclusion, from the advent of the Stockton and Darlington railway to high-speed rail, for nearly 200 years the railways have been an integral part of our nation. I congratulate all those involved with the 190th anniversary of the Stockton and Darlington railway and wish them every success with their efforts to celebrate, preserve and promote this important aspect of our national story. I also look forward to supporting the hon. Member for Sedgefield and his colleagues in 10 years’ time in a debate for the 200th anniversary.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.