The Writing of John Glass - John Glass was Shildon Railway Institute's lonest serving President, having been present at the inauguration meeting in the cellar of The Globe Inn in 1833 and serving as president twice - once between 1861 and 1863, and then a second time between 1867 and 1884. When he died in December 1884 Glass was thought to be the oldest living railway employee in the world having been involved from the early days of the Stockton & Darlington Railway. Glass wrote some pamphlets connected to the area's industry and notable figures, of which we feature two transcripts here..
Above: The site of the former Institute building on Station Street which became a cinema
The Institute was also, during the Victorian era, the hub of many of sporting and games clubs in the town ranging from football teams to draughts clubs. It was used as a centre for political speechmaking, and in conjunction with the various classes offered there from the sciences to the arts, was a venue for the various prize giving and distribution of certificates.
In February of 1911, it was clear that the Institute building on Station Street was worn and tired and past its best. At a prizegiving speech on Weds 8th Feb, Alderman J W Pearse was goaded by an attendee, Mr J D Rider over promises of a "beautiful Mechanics Institute" that had been long promised. It would be two more years before the company fully delivered on this promise. Though the stone above the entrance states 1911, it was on Saturday the 8th of February 1913, eighty years after the founding of the Institute, that the new building on Redworth Road was formally opened by Arthur Francis Pease, a director of the North Eastern Railway Company. The new building, which still stands today, had been erected entirely at the company's expense.
The Northern Echo of the 10th February 1913 reported upon the opening of the new building and narrates that after the doors had formally been opened the concert hall was immediately crowded with railway officials and members of various NER Institutes as well as the public. It is not reported whether local music composer and wagon worker George Allan was present but as a long-time member, it’s highly likely that he was. We do know from the report, though, that Dr Samuel Fielden and his wife Jane were among those present.
Vincent Raven opened the proceedings inside the new building by explaining that for some years the wagon works at Shildon had been growing, and consequently the town too. Due to that, and the condition of the old institute building from the 1860s, the NER directors had been approached with regard to a new Institute, which had led to the present gathering.
The silver-gilt key to the building was then presented as a memento to Arthur Pease by Mr R W Wordsell, manager of the works. Pease then gave a speech noting that he was no stranger to Shildon and that there were five generations of his family present in the room, partly on account of prior generations being represented by portraits. He mentioned that if his father, grandfather and great-grandfather had not been in some way connected with Shildon their pictures would not have been hanging on the walls. He noted that though he was a director of the North Eastern Railway, there were a number of shareholders equivalent to two-thirds of the company’s workforce, and a balance had to be maintained between the interest of both groups. He noted also that he believed this institute was the oldest on the former Stockton and Darlington Railway route and hoped the building would be a very great blessing to the town, and there would be many pleasant social gatherings in it for many years to come.
In his speech, Vincent Raven highlighted that though he was more connected to the institutes in York, Gateshead and Darlington some of which were larger, but none better arranged or more comfortable than the new Shildon Railway Institute.
The old building was converted to become a cinema under the name The Essoldo, though in time it became unviable in that format and it became derelict before its eventual demolition. Today nothing stands in that small square plot other than shrubs and benches.
During the Great War of 1914-1918, New Shildon, like many towns across the nation, saw its young men volunteer to protect their country. Many of these were railway workers, though many more stayed to contribute to the war effort through their work at the wagon works which was in part given over to military engineering. A significant number of the young men who volunteered did not return, and a memorial plaque was installed in the stairwell of the Railway Institute to honour the sons that had given the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
After the 1st of January 1923, and as a consequence of the Railways Act of 1921, the North Eastern Railway and the Shildon Railway Institute, came into the ownership of the London and North Eastern Railway. In 1933, to celebrate its centenary, the Railway Institute held an exhibition of rolling stock at the wagon railway works yard, which was opened by the chairman of the board of directors of the London and North Eastern Railway, Mr William Whitelaw.
In 1965, the LNER was one of the big four nationalised rail companies that became part of a larger British Rail. This was in the era after the Beeching reports of the 1950s that advocated the closure of many of Britain's branch lines as part of a nationwide rail restructure. Were it not for the presence of the railway wagon works at Shildon, with its need to feed rolling stock on to the nation' main rail arteries and the conveyance of cement from Weardale the line connecting Shildon to the main route from North to South might well have disappeared.
Despite the continued engineering success of the British Rail works at Shildon however, that company and the British Government of the day saw little future in the manufacture and repair of rolling stock at Shildon and ion the 23rd April 1982 plans to close the works were revealed.
To dispose of the asset, and in a gesture of seeming goodwill, British Rail sold the Railway Institute building on Redworth road to the then committee on behalf of the community of Shildon for the sum of £1. Whilst it was thus preserved for ongoing availability to the community, this transfer also meant that the responsibility for its upkeep was also handed on to the community. When the building was first acquired by the committee, members immediately set to work to carry out a number of essential repairs, providing the labour on a volunteer basis.
On the 30th June 1984, British Rail's wagon works at Shildon formally closed. Shildon was no longer an employer of railway engineers. The local economy of the town was hit badly and a steady process of economic decline began. Railway tracks connecting the works to the Bishop Auckland branch line were lifted and removed. Buildings associated with the works demolished or converted to become part of an industrial estate. Shops, pubs and New Shildon Workingmen's Club, over time became unviable and closed to stand empty or be demolished.
In 2013 the Railway Institute Building on Redworth Road celebrated its own centenary with, among other things, an exhibition of photographs of events there in days gone by.
Shildon retains shadows of its past as a railway town, thanks in part to the preservation of parts of Hackworth's home and original works, the existence of a handful of buildings that escaped demolition and the coal drops. It also still has a working railway station, and in later years in an exciting development has become a secondary site for the National Railway Museum, now amalgamated with the National Science Museum which hosts part of the national rail collection. Nonetheless, there are feelings that too much of the town's significant contribution to the world's rail story has still already been lost. It would be tragic to lose any more of it. What's more, with the bicentenary of the 27th Sept 1825 bearing down upon us, it should be imperative to ensure that what remains is preserved for the future.