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  Darlington North Road Station

Darlington North Road station currently forms the core of Head of Steam, the Darlington Railway Centre and Museum owned and run by Darlington Borough Council. It is also served by trains on the former S&D main line to Bishop Auckland, but they are only a pale shadow of the service once provided by the S&D and NER.

The station was brought into use in April 1842, replacing the former warehouse on the opposite side of North Road which had become the first Darlington passenger station in 1833. At the outset, North Road station comprised a pair of through platforms covered by a single-span trainshed, with hefty timber queen-post trusses, fronted by a one-storey office building. The platforms were quite narrow and flanked three tracks, the middle one being used as a carriage siding. The whole of that building remains but the platforms have been extensively re-arranged and it has been enlarged a number of times, something which becomes evident whenever portions of external render are stripped off for repairs, revealing a patchwork of brick and stone beneath.

North Road station frontage in about 1972; the upper floor was added by William Peachey in 1876.

The contracts for the original building were let on 3 September 1841 to a design by John Harris (1812-69) who served as S&D resident engineer from 1836 to 1847. At the end of 1853 work began on lengthening the main (south) platform and the trainshed. This was supervised by a local architect Joseph Sparkes (1817-55), who graced the end walls of the shed with the present rusticated pilasters.

The opening of the Darlington & Barnard Castle Railway in July 1856 put further pressure on North Road, and that year brought a substantial lengthening of the main platform and office range. Short lean-to roofs, which already covered the main platform outside the trainshed, were further extended and finished off with high masonry walls matching the end walls of the shed. Clearly, the idea was to allow for a further lengthening of the shed roof in due course, but this never happened.

View from the west in 2011. The original trainshed houses 'Head of Steam' while the 1861 roof on the left spans the line to Bishop Auckland.

The station was built on a loop just south of the running lines, which were busy with goods and mineral traffic. Beyond these lay a goods station leased to the NER. This was relinquished to the S&D at the start of 1857 and eventually demolished, paving the way for an enlargement of the station site. Work began in late 1860 to build a 3-road carriage shed onto the rear of the station. This was roofed with a smaller edition of the main trainshed, and just four years later, in 1864, the wall between the two was taken down and replaced by a wrought-iron beam borne on cast-iron columns. By then the S&D had become the NER Darlington Section and the NER Engineer T.E. Harrison probably influenced the extensive platform remodelling which took place. The through tracks were reduced to just two and the platform area was much enlarged to give Harrison's favourite scheme of a single through platform with bays set into each end. The building work was overseen by William Peachey who also designed glazed ridge and furrow verandahs to go outside the trainshed. These were removed in 1932 as an economy but the basic fabric of the station is otherwise little altered since Peachey's last intervention, in 1876, when he added an upper floor to the middle of the offices and also enlarged the booking office. All this was done in sympathy with the original building, though he did toy with more radical changes, which were presumably dismissed by the directors.

The NER later linked the two bays to create a further through line, spanned by the present wooden footbridge, but conversion into a museum has restored the bay arrangement. It also required the closing of the ends of the main trainshed span and the insertion of a blockwork wall between it and the 1861 span, which houses the platform face used by Bishop Auckland trains. Since these are quite short, they now stop outside the trainshed, with access to the platform by a footpath from Northgate. The creation of the museum was an imaginative move, spurred on by the S&D sesquicentenary in 1975, which also provided a secure future for other historic buildings: the goods station, goods offices and carriage works, which are described separately.


The station interior, looking west, in the early 1970's. By then North Road had been reduced to a halt, and the future of the building was a matter of serious concern. We see the wooden footbridge which the NER provided after linking through the two bays to provide another through line; BR had no need of this second line and therefore substituted level access. The footbridge and the kiosk on the right still feature in the present museum.


Detail of the second (1861) roof span in 2011, showing how the queen-post trusses tackle the hip at the west end. At the moment this is something of a twilight zone, occupied by the running line and platform but not actually in use by either passengers or museum.





© W. Fawcett, 2011