Stockton and Darlington Railway

On his travels buying and selling wool, Edward Pease came to the conclusion that there was a great need for a railroad with waggons drawn by horses to carry coal from the collieries of West Durham to the port of Stockton. In 1821 Pease and a group of businessmen formed the Stockton & Darlington Railway company. Over three-quarters of the original £120,000 invested came from the Darlington area. The largest investor was Joseph Gurney, the Quaker banker from Norwich, who purchased £14,000 worth of shares.

On 19th April 1821 an Act of Parliament was passed that authorized the company to build a horse railway that would link the collieries in West Durham, Darlington and the River Tees at Stockton. Nicholas Wood, the manager of Killingworth Colliery, and his enginewright, George Stephenson, met Pease and suggested that he should consider building a locomotive railway. Stephenson told Pease that "a horse on an iron road would draw ten tons for one ton on a common road". Stephenson added that the Blutcher locomotive that he had built at Killingworth was "worth fifty horses".

That summer Edward Pease took up Stephenson's invitation to visit Killingworth Colliery. When Pease saw the Blutcher at work he realised George Stephenson was right and offered him the post as the chief engineer of the Stockton & Darlington company. It was now now necessary for Pease to apply for a further Act of Parliament. This time a clause was added that stated that Parliament gave permission for the company "to make and erect locomotive or moveable engines".

In 1823 Edward Pease joined with Michael Longdridge, George Stephenson and his son Robert Stephenson, to form a company to make the locomotives. The Robert Stephenson & Company, at Forth Street, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, became the world's first locomotive builder. Stephenson recruited Timothy Hackworth, one of the engineers who had helped William Hedley to produce Puffing Billy, to work for the company. The first railway locomotive, Locomotion, was finished in September 1825. The locomotive was similar to those that Stephenson had produced at the collieries at Killingworth and Heaton. The boiler of the Locomotion had a single fire tube and two vertical cylinders let into the barrel and the four wheels were coupled by rods rather than a chain.

Work on the track began in 1822. Stephenson used malleable iron rails carried on cast iron chairs. These rails were laid on wooden blocks for 12 miles between Stockton and Darlington. The 15 mile track from the collieries and Darlington were laid on stone blocks.

Opening of the Stockton & Darlington Railway
Opening of the Stockton & Darlington Railway

The Stockton & Darlington Railroad was opened on 27th September, 1825. Large crowds saw George Stephenson at the controls of the Locomotion as it pulled 36 wagons. Twelve wagons of coal and flour, six of guests and fourteen wagons full of workmen. The initial journey of just under 9 miles took two hours. However, during the final descent into the Stockton terminus, speeds of 15 mph (24 kph) were reached. These increased speed surprised one man and he fell from one of the wagons and was badly injured.

The train also included a purpose built railway passenger coach called the Experiment. The carriage seated 18 passengers and as it had no springs it must have provided an uncomfortable ride but for the first time in history, a steam locomotive had hauled passengers on a public railway.

The Darlington & Stockton Railroad began running trains every day except Sundays. The company received 1d per ton of coal for every mile carried. The following year this was reduced to half-penny a mile. Local colliery owners reported that locomotive transport was a third cheaper than horse transport.

For the first few years, only the freight wagons were pulled by locomotives. The passenger coach, Experiment, was housedrawn. It was built like an ordinary road coach except that it was double-ended so that the vehicle did not have to be turned for return journeys. The Darlington & Stockton trains were equipped with dandy carts in which the horses were placed when it was going downhill.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) Durham County Advertiser (1st October, 1825)

The hour of ten arrived before all was ready to start. About this time the locomotive engine, or steam horse, as it was more generally termed, gave note of preparation. The scene, on the moving of the engine, sets description at defiance. Astonishment was not confined to the human species, for the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air seemed to view with wonder and awe the machine, which now moved onward at a rate of 10 or 12 mph with a weight of not less than 80 tons attached to it.

The distance from Brussleton to Stockton is twenty and a half miles, the entire length from Witton Park Colliery, nearly 25 miles, being, we believe, the largest railway in the Kingdom. The whole population of the towns and villages within a few miles of the railway seem to have turned out, and we believe we speak within the limits of truth, when we say that not less than 40 or 50,000 persons were assembled to witness the proceedings of the day.

(2) The Scotsman (October, 1825)

The passengers by the locomotive engine had the pleasure of accompanying and cheering their brother passengers by the stage coach which passed alongside and observing the striking contrast exhibited by the power of the engine and the horse - the engine with her 600 passengers and load and the coach with four horse and only 16 passengers.

(3) John Sykes was one of those who witnessed the opening of the Stockton to Darlington Railroad.

The novelty of the scene, and the fineness of the day, had attracted an immense concourse of spectators, the fields on each side of the railway being literally covered with ladies and gentlemen on horseback, and pedestrians of all kinds. The train of carriages was then attached to a locomotive engine, built by George Stephenson, in the following order: (1) Locomotive engine, with the engineer (Mr. George Stephenson) and assistants. (2) Tender, with coals and water; next, six wagons, laden with coals and flour; then an elegant covered coach, with the committee and other proprietors of the railway; then 21 wagons, fitted up for passengers; and last of all, six wagons laden with coal, making altogether, a train of 38 carriages. By the time the cavalcade arrived at Stockton, where it was received with great joy, there were not less than 600 persons within, and hanging by the carriages.

(4) J. Francis, A History of the English Railway (1851)

In addition to the social advantages which accrued from increased communication was the development of commerce, and the increased importance of the various places through which it passed. The Stockton and Darlington railway turned the shopkeeper into a merchant, gave bread to hundreds; and conferred happiness on thousands.

(5) Edward Pease, diary entry (16th August, 1846)

Left home in company with John Dixon to attend the internment of George Stephenson at Chesterfield. I fear he died an unbeliever. When I reflect on my first acquaintance with him and the resulting consequences my mind seems lost in doubt as to the beneficial results - that humanity has been benefited in the diminished use of horses and by the lessened cruelty to them, that much ease, safety, speed, and lessened expense in travelling is obtained, but as to the results and effects of all that railways had led my dear family into, being in any sense beneficial is uncertain.