Darlington is an important regional centre serving the southern part of County Durham, Teesdale, the Tees valley and much of North Yorkshire. It was founded in Saxon times, and has a bustling town centre with one of the largest market places in England. On its west side are the Old Town Hall and indoor market, with an imposing Clock Tower designed by Alfred Waterhouse in 1864.
There are many fine buildings in Darlington, most notably St Cuthbert’s Church on the east side of the market place, with its distinctive tall spire. It is almost cathedral-like in its proportions, and was built by Bishop Pudsey between 1183 and 1230 as a collegiate church. Its slender lancet windows and steep roof enhance its beauty, which has earned it the name ‘The Lady of the North’.The church was restored by GeorgeGilbert Scott in the 1860s.
Perhaps Darlington’s greatest claim to fame lies in the role it played, with neighbouring Stockton, in the creation of the world’s first commercially successful public railway, which opened in 1825. It was the Darlington Quaker and banker Edward Pease who became the main driving force behind the scheme to link the Durham coalfields with the port of Stockton.
The original Darlington Station, built in 1842, was located at North Road Station. Today it serves as Head of Steam – Darlington Railway Museum – a museum ofnational importance which houses relics of the pioneering Stockton and Darlington Railway. These include a replica of Stephenson’s Locomotion No 1, a Stockton and Darlington first-class carriage built in 1846, a World War 11 newsstand, the Derwent, (the earliest surviving Darlington- built locomotive) and even Victorian loos. The present Darlington Station, Bank Top, was constructed at a later date as part of the East Coast line linking England with Scotland. So much early railway history is to be seen hereabouts that British Rail have named their local Bishop Auckland-Darlington- Middlesbrough line the Heritage Line.
Continuing with Darlington’s railway theme, there’s an unusual engine to be seen in Morton Park – Train is a life-size brick sculpture, designed by sculptor David Mach and unveiled by Lord Palumbo of Walbrook in 1997. During the summer months you can see a floral replica of George Stephenson’s Locomotion No 1 in the town centre, at the foot of Post House Wynd.