Keys to the Past

Local History

Shildon (County Durham)

Shildon lies about a mile to the south-east of Bishop Auckland. Like many towns in this area it owes its growth to the rise of the East Durham coalfields in the late 18th and early 19th century.

Shildon lies about a mile to the south-east of Bishop Auckland. Like many towns in this area it owes its growth to the rise of the East Durham coalfields in the late 18th and early 19th century.

The earliest settlers in this area would probably have been groups of people who lived during the Mesolithic period - over 6000 years ago. They would have lived by collecting wild plants and fruit as well as hunting wild animals. It is possible that the small prehistoric flint tool found in the area might originate from around this period, however, we have no remains of early settlements in Shildon.

The Romans arrived in County Durham in the 1st century AD. They built a line of forts along the main road leading north to Hadrian's Wall. They also built many other roads in the region. Possible traces of Roman roads have been found at several places in Shildon, such as Brusselton Wood. It is likely that small settlements would have grown up in places alongside the course of the road, though no traces of these have yet been found.

By the end of the Anglo-Saxon period the village of Shildon had become established but it was not the only settlement in the area. A spread of medieval settlements existed around Thickley, though these have now largely disappeared.

Shildon really grew in size during the Industrial Revolution, and indeed it can claim a fundamental place in the history of the rise of world industry. The massive expansion of coal mining meant that the traditional way of moving the coal - along horse-drawn wagon ways - was not sufficient. Instead steam engines began to be used. At first static engines pulled the wagons, but soon moving engines - the steam train - began to be used. George Stephenson built a track from Witton Park to Stockton-on-Tees. Static engines pulled the coal over Brusselton Bank incline, after which the trucks were attached to steam engines. The remains of one of the Static engine houses can still be seen at Brusselton. Originally it just carried coal, but soon demand led to passengers being carried. The first passenger train began its journey in Shildon on 27th September 1825.

Shildon was also the home of one of the overshadowed innovators of the railway industry, Timothy Hackworth. He built one of the first ever engines, the Sans Pareil. His home can still be seen but it has now been turned into a railway museum. His workshop, the Soho Engine Works, stands next door. It was developed by the engineer Timothy Hackworth from 1833. By 1855 it was a large complex of workshops and other buildings.

Those of Shildon who served and fell in the First World War and later conflicts are commemorated on varius memorials around the area. The most notable of these is the roadside bronze statue of a DLI soldier crouched in a battle-ready stance on top of a squat cenotaph close to the entrance to St. John's Churchyard. It is a listed structure and regarded as one of the best examples of a war memorial in the county. The actual church of St. John is known to contain a number of memorials including plaques and stained glass windows whilst the churchyard has a memorial headstone dedicated to 11 men who died in WW1 and WW2 and who are buried there.

All Saints Church also has a large number of memorial features including a memorial altar and various plaques donated by families in remembrance of fallen relatives. A memorial cross was once located in the churchyard, but this was moved to a position opposite the Rail Institute (which also contains a WW1 roll of honour plaque) and replaced by a small headstone detailing the relocation.

Reference number:D6881
Event(s):Limestone Landscapes Historic Environment Audit And Action Plan; Archaeo-Environment Ltd
The identification of Historic Landscapes in Durham Project; Chris Blandford Associates

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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.