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Almost 200 years ago, on 27 September 1825, George Stephenson pulled 6 passenger wagons of invited guests, 14 wagons of workmen and 6 coal and flour wagons behind his famous steam engine Locomotion No 1. Its journey across the River Skerne in Darlington, on the iconic bridge built by Ignatius Bonomi , was later commemorated in a famous painting by John Dobbin and, in the late 20th century, on the back of the 1990 version of the £5 note.

This was a crucial event in railway history – for many, it was the beginning of the world’s modern railways, an innovation that revolutionised not only the transport industry but, literally, opened up vast new worlds.

The Bright Water area has two fascinating museums for those who are interested in railway history. The Head of Steam on North Road in Darlington houses Stephenson’s original Locomotion No 1 engine and many other interesting exhibits. This is located in the old North Road Station and is 5 mins way away from the famous £5 note bridge.

(This Grade II* listed bridge is in something of a sorry state due to graffiti and the close proximity of unsightly gas pipes but a number of local groups hope to make improvements in the near future.)

Locomotion at Shildon is split between two sites including the former home of Timothy Hackworth, thought by some to be an even more important figure than Stephenson in the evolution of the railways. Here you can see an outstanding collection of original engines spanning almost 200 years.

2025 will see the bicentenary of the Stockton-Darlington railway and will be commemorated by many events in our area. The Bright Water Landscape project will include activities to celebrate this momentous local achievement.

Some of the railway tracks in the Bright Water area date from the 1850s and parts of the area’s railway embankments still float across its marshy ground by means of an ingenious ‘raft’ that incorporates bags of ‘shoddy’ (low grade wool or cotton) – the original ‘shoddy work’! For a more detailed assessment of Bright Water’s railway heritage, see pp69-74 of our Heritage Audit.