Origins of Darlington
Darlington began as an Anglo-Saxon settlement on the River Skerne which is a northern tributary of the Tees. Later the town seems to have come under the influence of the Danes as there are still many place-names of Viking origin in its vicinity. Since Norman times Darlington has been a borough and the site of an important market and was arguably the capital of southern County Durham though for administrative purposes it is no longer located within that county.
The name Darlington derives from the Anglo-Saxon Dearthington, which seemingly meant `the settlement of Deornoth's people' but by Norman times its name had changed to Derlinton. Confusion does not end here however, because during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the town was generally known by the name of `Darnton' or somewhat less politely as Darnton i' the Dirt. This unfortunate name was probably due to the once unpaved streets of the town which are said to have inspired King James of Scotland to write the following uncomplimentary verses during a visit of 1603;
'Darnton has a bonny, bonny church
With a broach upon the steeple
But Darnton is a mucky, mucky town
And mair sham on the people.'
`Mucky town' is certainly not a good description of Darlington today, as like many large towns in North East England it has a pleasant and attractive appearance. It is especially well endowed with town parks and leafy suburbs although despite its long history the very centre of Darlington is now largely of a Victorian and twentieth century nature.
St Cuthbert's, the "bonny church" referred to in the rhyme is still one of the most admirable features of Darlington. Built in the twelfth century by Hugh Pudsey, Prince Bishop of Durham Sometimes referred to as the `Lady of the North, It is one of the largest churches in the region.
THE CRADLE OF THE RAILWAYS
In the seventeenth century Darlington became a popular place of residence for members of the Quaker faith, who formed an influential and wealthy community in the town by the 1800s. The best known member of this Darlington fraternity was Edward Pease, the man responsible for Darlington's fame as the `Cradle of the Railways'.
It was Pease who rejected an early nineteenth century plan by local businessmen to build a canal for the shipment of coals from south Durham to the mouth of the Tees and made the innovative suggestion that steam locomotives be used instead. The suggestion was accepted.
George Stephenson, the famous engineer of Tyneside was employed by Pease to design the locomotives and develop the railway, though it was Pease who provided the financial support and he was very much in charge. On one occasion Stephenson had suggested an alternative route for the railway which would have bypassed Darlington and altered the railway history books. Pease was clear with his reply;"George thou must think of Darlington; remember it was Darlington that sent for thee"
THE STOCKTON AND DARLINGTON RAILWAY
The Stockton and Darlington Railway was opened on the 27th September 1825, and history was made, for as well as carrying coal, the train included six hundred passengers, most travelling in coal waggons, but some in a specially designed carriage called 'The Experiment'. The Stockton and Darlington Railway was thus the world's first public railway. On the historic day, the coal wagons for the journey were linked up to the locomotive called 'Locomotion Number One' at Shildon and were brought there from Witton Park Colliery by inclines at Etherley and Brussleton. From Shildon the Locomotion travelled for two hours with only minor hitches before arriving in Darlington, where coal was distributed to the poor. From Darlington the Locomotion and its train of passengers continued its journey to Stockton stopping only at Yarm Junction where more passengers, including a brass band climbed on board.
George Stephenson's original `Locomotion Number One', the locomotive that hauled the train on the historic opening of the Stockton and Darlington Railway can still be seen in Darlington today on display in the town's fascinating North Road Station Museum. This is one of the oldest railway stations in the world. A full size working replica of the `Locomotion' can also be seen at the Beamish Open Air Museum near Stanley, in County Durham. The `Locomotion Number One' is of course an older engine than Stephenson's more famous `Rocket', which won the victory at Lancashire's Rainhill Trials in 1829.
BRIDGE BUILDING AND JOURNALISM
Railways are not the only industry for which the town of Darlington is noted. Its engineering skills, particularly bridge building have long been important and famous bridges have been built at Darlington which span rivers as far away as the Amazon and the Nile.
Darlington also has an important publishing industry, as the headquarters of the Darlington and Stockton Times and The Northern Echo. The second of these newspapers was once edited by W.T Stead, the influential Northumbrian born social reformer who died on board the Titanic in 1912. Stead began his career as an editor with the `Northern Echo' at the age of only 22.
HELL'S KETTLES AND THE RIVER SKERNE
Although Darlington is undoubtedly in the valley of the River Tees, it is its tributary, the little River Skerne that flows through the centre of the town which is truly the Darlington river. The Skerne rises in eastern County Durham to the north of Sedgefield near the former colliery village of Trimdon and flows south before joining the River Tees at Croft near Darlington, close to the site of the famous `Hell's Kettles' at Oxen-le-Field.
These three, supposedly bottomless pits also known as `Devil's Kettles' or `Kettles of Hell', have been the subject of numerous legends and superstitions. Said to have been created by a ferocious earthquake in 1179, locals may tell you that they are full of green, boiling sulphorous water. People and animals are allegedly drowned or eaten alive by the Pikes and Eels that infest their waters.
The pits once aroused the curiosity of people the length and breadth of Britain and were even visited by the writer and traveller Daniel Defoe, who dismissed them as `old coal pits'. This they certainly are not, as coal has never been mined in the Darlington area.
THE DURHAM OX OF BRAFFERTON
Brafferton on the northern outskirts of Darlington is where the famous Durham Ox was bred. It was developed by the brothers Charles and Robert Colling, of nearby Ketton farm in 1796 and achieved such great fame that it was exhibited throughout England and Scotland in an especially designed carriage. Over a period of five years, the ox journeyed more than 3000 miles before the unfortunate beast dislocated its hip while on show at Oxford in February 1807. It was slaughtered two months later and weighed in at 189 stones. During its lifetime, it reached an incredible maximum weight of 270 stones. The Collings achieved far reaching fame for their development and throughout the country there are many inns named after the Durham Ox of Ketton Farm.
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