Keys to the Past

Local History

Darlington (County Durham)

The town of Darlington stands on the River Skerne, which is a tributary of the Tees. It is on the southern edge of the County and lies about 20 miles to the south of Durham. Although it owes its growth in the 19th century to the rise of its industries and the growth of the railways, it is now a pleasant town, with many town parks and leafy suburbs.

The earliest evidence for settlement in the area dates to the Mesolithic period, over 10 000 years ago. A number of flint tools of this date have been found in the heart of the city during recent archaeological excavations at the Market Place. These tools were probably used by early hunter-gatherers, possibly fishing in the Skerne. Environmental evidence from nearby the River Skerne has shown that there may have been waterlogged land around the river which may also have been home to many wild birds which could also provide food for these first settlers. The bones of an elk discovered here show that larger animals were also there to be hunted.

Other stone and flint tools have been found elsewhere in the town, such as the stone axe found in Hummersknot Avenue, and flints tools discovered near the Grammar School. These are probably of later date, possible Neolithic or Bronze Age. By this date the local population were beginning to settle down and farm, rather than live of wild plants and animals. The simple stone axe may have been used to cut down trees to clear ground for planting crops. However, although these people undoubtedly had permanent homes, no remains have these settlements have yet been found, although the possible remains of an enclosure of slightly later, Iron Age or Roman date has been found.

During the Roman period there was certainly occupation in the area. The nearby fort at Piercebridge was probably the main settlement in the surrounding area, and it is unlikely that Darlington itself was significant town. Nonetheless, several groups of Roman coins have been found within the area of the modern town, including a Coin hoard.

Although Darlington may not have been an important town in the Roman period it became increasingly significant during the Anglo-Saxon period. The earliest records of the place name are Old English - 'Dearthingtun' or 'Dearnington', possibly coming from 'Derning', which may have been an early name for the River Skerne. The earliest archaeological remains of this period is the cemetery at Greenbank found in 1876, which probably dates to the 6th century AD. However, by the 10th century it was clear that the focus of the town had moved to the area around St Cuthbert's church, which was clearly important in this period. Another Anglo-Saxon church may also have stood nearby on the site of the Market Place
The remains of several carved stone crosses of this date have been found at the church, as well as a Viking period Hogback. This last object shows that there must have been an Anglo-Scandinavian influence in the area - in the early 11th century the town of Darlington was given to the Bishop of Durham by the Viking nobleman Styr, son of Ulf.

By the Norman Conquest Darlington was clearly an important town. The Boldon Book recorded several mills on the River Skerne. The existence of an early cloth making industry is shown by references to the presence of dyers. It was also an important trading centre, and goods such as wine, salt and herrings were bought and sold here. By the 16th century the noted writer John Leland was able to write that Darlington was 'The best market town in the bisshoprick, saving Duresme (i.e Durham)'. He also mentioned many of the towns important buildings, such as the Bishops palace, St Cuthbert's Church and the bridge. Although no remains of the bridge can now be seen, the first reference to this bridge came from the 14th century. The church, although probably of Anglo-Saxon date, was rebuilt in the 13th and 14th centuries and was one of the most important churches in the diocese. It was under the control of a Dean and a Deanery stood nearby on the south-east corner of the market place.

In the 17th century the Quaker community of County Durham began to come and live here, and by the 1800s they formed an important part of town society. One of the most important members of the Quaker community was Edward Pease, who was responsible for the one of the most important elements in Darlington's growth - the railways. He suggested that rather than building a canal between south Durham and the mouth of the Tees, the coal from the collieries of this area should be moved by railway. George Stephenson was employed to design and built the railway. The Stockton and Darlington Railway was opened in 1825, becoming the first steam-powered, public railway in the world. It carried coal and passengers. The original steam engine 'Locomotion Number One' can still be seen in the town's North Road Station Museum.

Many of the public buildings and spaces of the town and surrounding suburbs (including Haughton-le-Skerne and Cockerton) posess memorials commemorating the efforts of Darlington's inhabitants in major conflicts including the Boer War, First World War, Second World War and more recent conflicts. Darlington's South Park has displayed many war relics from late 19th and 20th century conflicts including memorial guns from the Boer War and a WW1 tank. Many of the churches contain memorial plaques dedicated to individual soldiers and congregations who served, with many churchyards displaying a larger public memorial monument such as a cross, a calvary, a statue or obelisk. Many public buildings including banks, pubs and working mens clubs or institutes also display plaques or tablets dedicated to fallen members. Other important sites related to the legacy of the First World War include the memorial hospital built in 1925, displaying the names of 700 men of Darlington who served in the war on panels in the foyer. The foyer itself is a memorial to one soldier who won the Victoria Cross. The names are also recorded on an obelisk in the grounds of the building. Darlington's West Cemetery also has a cross erected by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission dedicated to those buried overseas.

Reference number:D6778

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Please note that this information has been compiled from a number of different sources. Durham County Council and Northumberland County Council can accept no responsibility for any inaccuracy contained therein. If you wish to use/copy any of the images, please ensure that you read the Copyright information provided.