The Stockton and Darlington Railway

Ok, so this fantastic looking piece of sculpture isn’t part of the image collections, but yesterday I was doing my new starter induction day and spotted it in the Warehouse (NRM’s open store).

It’s a keystone from a decorative arch in the old South Stockton Railway station (now Thornaby station) and it has never before been on display at the NRM. It depicts a face on one side and grapes on the other. Imagine having this guy glaring down at you as you entered the station.

The South Stockton station was on the Stockton and Darlington Railway, the world’s first public passenger railway line, opened 27th September 1825. The chief engineer was George Stephenson (1781-1848), whose works also built the first locomotive to run on the line; this was designed by Timothy Hackworth and named Locomotion No. 1.

The print below, from a drawing by John Dobbin, depicts a large crowd turning out to watch the opening and shows the excitement generated by this historic event. The first train travelled eight miles from New Shildon to Darlington taking about two hours (this included three unexpected stops, two of which were due to a derailed wagon), it did however reach a speed of 15mph at one point.

There were six wagons ‘with seats reserved for strangers’ in which members of the public were able to travel, with 34 wagons in total. It can’t have been a comfortable journey, travelling in converted coal wagons, but an exciting trip nonetheless.

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