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Conservation (historical environment)

Brief historical overview

There is known to have been significant agricultural activity in the Darlington area since the early Neolithic period.

Early settlement in the borough is evident at the Roman fort in Piercebridge with an associated village just outside its former east gate (see Scheduled Monuments section). It is thought to have been founded in approximately the second century AD.

Excavations to the north of the town centre of Darlington uncovered a burial site containing skeletons and grave goods from the later-sixth or early-seventh century, suggesting an Anglo-Saxon settlement possibly to the south of the cemetery, around Bondgate.

An assemblage of late-ninth and tenth century Viking sculptured stones were collected from within and around the pre-Conquest church at Sockburn, indicating another high-status cemetery.

The town of Darlington experienced medieval growth as a result of its position in the Durham bishopric. The market flourished to serve the agricultural hinterland and those passing through the town on the Great North Road between London and Edinburgh.

In 1585, a fire destroyed most of Darlington. The town was rebuilt within the medieval streets and burgage plots. This pattern of central yards and wynds still survives in the Town Centre (see Conservation Areas section). 

The latter half of the eighteenth century saw the beginning of large-scale industry in the town. The emphasis shifted from leather processing to textile preparation. Darlington's Quakers played an active part in the industrial development of the town. Later, they were also responsible for many landmark Victorian public buildings and manor houses, cemeteries and parks such as South Park (see Registered parks & gardens section).

On 27 September 1825 the Stockton and Darlington Railway (S&DR) opened, conceived by Edward Pease, a prominent Darlington Quaker and retired woollen merchant, and engineer George Stephenson. It was the world's first public passenger railway pulled by a locomotive. This led to a sudden expansion of the the town, where totally new industries (e.g. iron works) emerged and started to replace the traditional ones (e.g. textile manufacturing).

In 1863, the S&DR opened a major new locomotive works to north of North Road Station in order to cope with the demand, relocating its former manufacture at Shildon. These works, along with the rail link between London and Scotland, made Darlington the centre of a complex railway network and heavy engineering industry, leading to a huge rise in the number of workers in the town. Later that year, the S&DR merged with the North Eastern Railway.

Around 100 years later, in 1964-65, the Cummins Engine Factory (see Listed Buildings section) was built just outside Darlington. It was the first use of Cor-ten steel in a British building, and the first large-scale use of neoprene gaskets in a building in Britain.

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This page was last updated in January 2024.

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