Darlington is a market town in the Borough of Darlington, part of the ceremonial county of County Durham, in the North East of England. It lies on the small River Skerne, a tributary of the River Tees, not far from the main river. It is the main population centre in the borough, with a population of 106,000 as of 2011. The town owes much of its development to the influence of local Quaker families during the Victorian era, and it is famous as the location of the world's first passenger railway. It is popularly known by locals as "Darlo". The railway station is an important stop on the East Coast Main Line.
Darlington started life as an Anglo-Saxon settlement. The name Darlington derives from the Anglo-Saxon Dearthington, which seemingly meant 'the settlement of Deornoth's people' but by Norman times the name had changed to Derlinton. During the 17th and 18th centuries the town was generally known by the name of Darnton.
Visiting during the 18th century, Daniel Defoe noted that the town was eminent for "good bleaching of linen, so that I have known cloth brought from Scotland to be bleached here". However he also disparaged the town, writing that it had "nothing remarkable but dirt" (the roads would typically be unpaved at the time).
19th century industry
During the early 19th century, Darlington remained as a small market town. As the century progressed, powerful Quaker families such as the Pease family and the Backhouse family were prominent employers and philanthropists in the area. Darlington's most famous landmark, the clock tower, was a gift to the town by the industrialist Joseph Pease in 1864. The clock's face was produced by T. Cooke & Sons of York, and the tower bells were cast by John Warner & Sons of nearby Norton on Tees. The 91 acre South Park was re-developed into its current form in 1853, with financial backing from the Backhouse family. Alfred Waterhouse, who designed London's Natural History Museum and Manchester Town Hall designed the Grade II listed Victorian Market Hall in 1860, and Backhouse's Bank (now Barclays) in 1864, the latter taking three years to complete. George Gordon Hoskins is responsible for much of the town's architecture from this period, such as The King's Hotel. The Darlington Free Library was built with funding from Edward Pease, and opened in 1884.
Darlington is known for its associations with the birth of railways. This is celebrated in the town at Darlington Railway Centre and Museum. The world's first passenger rail journey was between Shildon and Stockton-on-Tees via Darlington, on the Stockton and Darlington Railway in 1825.
The town later became an important centre for railway manufacturing. An early railway works was the Hopetown Carriage Works (est.1853) which supplied carriages and locomotives to the Stockton and Darlington Railway. The engineering firm of William and Alfred Kitching also manufactured locomotives in the 19th century. The town developed to have three significant works; the largest of these was the main line Darlington Works, whose main works were known as the North Road Shops which opened in 1863 and closed in 1966. Another was Robert Stephenson & Co. (colloquially: "Stivvies"), who moved to Darlington from Newcastle upon Tyne in 1902, became Robert Stephensons & Hawthorns in 1937, were absorbed by English Electric around 1960, and closed by 1964. The third was Faverdale Wagon Works, established in 1923 and closed in 1962, which in the 1950s was a UK pioneer in the application of mass-production techniques to the manufacture of railway goods wagons.
To commemorate the town's contribution to the railways, David Mach's 1997 work "Train" is located alongside the A66, close to the original Stockton-Darlington railway. It is a life-size brick sculpture of a steaming locomotive emerging from a tunnel, made from 185,000 "Accrington Nori" bricks. The work had a budget of £760,000.
For 19 years, the A1 Steam Locomotive Trust built a 50th member of the long withdrawn LNER Peppercorn Class A1 engine, called 'Tornado' and numbered 60163, from scratch in the 1853 former Stockton and Darlington Railway Carriage Works at Hopetown. Many of the original fleet had been built at Darlington locomotive works in the late 1940s.
Darlington has long been a centre for engineering, particularly bridge building. Bridges built in Darlington are found as far away as the River Nile and the River Amazon. The large engineering firm Cleveland Bridge & Engineering Company still has its headquarters in the town. The firm built the Middlesbrough Transporter Bridge and the Humber Bridge, among others. One of the leading engine building firms, Cummins, has major premises in Darlington, and it houses the industrial headquarters of AMEC. The engineering companies Darlington Forge Company (cl.1967) and Whessoe also originated in Darlington.
In 1870, The Northern Echo newspaper was launched. It is based in Priestgate and is a long-standing part of life in the North East. Although a local paper, it is a full-bodied newspaper in its own right and includes national and international news in its scope. William Thomas Stead was a notable editor of The Northern Echo. Opposite The Northern Echo building is The William Stead public house, restaurant and beer garden. It was announced on 9 April 2011 that The Northern Echo are to relocate to make way for the Cornmill Shopping Centre expansion.
In 1939, Darlington had the most cinema seats per head of population in the United Kingdom. The town centre has undergone a full refurbishment entitled The Pedestrian Heart, which has seen the majority of the town centre pedestrianised. Initially, the project received criticism surrounding changes to public transport, and removal of Victorian features along High Row. There is now growing evidence, however, that the now-completed changes are meeting with local approval.
In 2007 planning permission was granted for a new shopping centre to replace the dated and unsuccessful Queen Street shopping centre. Planned to open in 2010, the project has sinced stalled, with any works yet to take place.
In August 2008 the King's Hotel in the town centre was devastated by fire, severely damaging the roof and 100 bedrooms. Several shops, including Woolworths, were damaged and had to close for weeks afterwards. No one was killed in the blaze. Work on the restoration of the building was completed by the end of 2011.