Since Steam Railway went to press with the latest issue, Darlington Borough Council has launched a petition to retain George Stephenson’s Locomotion in the town, following a decision by the National Railway Museum to relocate the Stockton & Darlington Railway pioneer to Shildon.
George Stephenson’s 1825-built Locomotion – the first locomotive to haul a passenger train on a public railway – is set to move to its namesake museum in Shildon in 2021 as part of controversial NRM plans. THOMAS BRIGHT/SR
On January 22, the National Railway Museum announced that, as part of its £4.5 million plan to redevelop its Locomotion site at Shildon, it would be moving Locomotion from its long-time home of Head of Steam Museum in Darlington – where it has been on display since 1975 – to Shildon when the locomotive’s current loan agreement expires in 2021.
Sarah Price, Head of Locomotion, said: “On September 27 1825, Locomotion set off from outside the Mason’s Arms public house in Shildon – just a short distance from where the museum is now based. This pioneering locomotive hauled the first train to Stockton, cementing Shildon’s place as the ‘Cradle of the Railways’ – the world’s first, true railway town.”
Science Museum Group trustee and Network Rail chairman Sir Peter Hendy added: “The homecoming of Locomotion will give the museum even more opportunities to put the heritage of Shildon and the North-East on the map, and to make 2025 a truly national celebration with a global impact.”
The announcement has been met with furious criticism from Darlington’s senior politicians, with the town’s Conservative MP Peter Gibson describing the move as “cultural vandalism” in his maiden speech in the House of Commons.
In response to the NRM’s announcement, a cross-party group of politicians and railway groups, including the A1 Steam Locomotive Trust, has backed a campaign to retain Locomotion in the town where it has been on display almost continuously for the last 163 years. An online petition has been created at www.darlington.gov.uk/saveourloco
On Thursday (January 30), a motion urging the NRM to reverse its decision received unanimous backing from councillors at a meeting of Darlington Borough Council.
Councillor Heather Scott, Leader of DBC, said: “I want to send a very clear message to people in Darlington that this council will leave no stone unturned in our quest to keep Locomotion in Darlington.
“I would urge everyone to come forward and sign our petition. The case for keeping Locomotion in Darlington is not just persuasive, it’s compelling.”