If you've not been watching this first series of "The Architecture The Railways Built" we can heartily recommend that you start at the beginning via catch up TV. It's a superbly well made and engaging romp through some of the most beautiful, incredible and mind-boggling railway architecture that this country, and further afield has to offer, from hidden funicular railways to modern engineering marvels, it's got the lot - even a Victorian station that never saw a train pull up at its platform (you'll have to watch for that - I'm not giving anything away). What we've enjoyed about it almost the most is that, as its presenter, Tim Dunn seems to have found a childlike and genuine joy in every single item featured - and watching you can see why.
I say "almost the most" as last night, Tues 23rd June, was a particularly spectacular episode - the penultimate in this series, and it strongly featured buildings from Shildon and along the Stockton and Darlington Railway route - which through the natural process of bias has to make it our favourite episode.
Tim Dunn took particular care to explain the almost misleading nature of the naming of the route explaining that it ran from Shildon (though purists will berate me for saying that as of course the horse and static steam engine powered section bringing the coal to Shildon ran from Phoenix Row near Etherley). It was such a superb showcase for our region, with the Brusselton Incline featured, Daniel Adamson's Coachouse, the Masons Crossing, Skerne Bridge (yes, the one from the old £5 note!).
Best of all, for us, though was the discussion that Tim had with Chair of the Friends of the Stockton & Darlington Railway, Trish Pemberton, concerning our very own Shildon Railway Institute and the role of mechanics institutes in the Victorian railway industry ethos. Shildon's Tim took a moment to comment on the grand appearance of our Grade II listed, William Bell designed, Institute building. The only shame for us really was the overall deterioration exposed through its present general condition; something we very much hope to remedy.
That our building has been featured in this way, reminds us, and fixes in our minds that it is not solely our members and the people of this town that think our Institute has importance. It is recognised by those who know as one of our treasures of the steam passenger railway origin story. The building is a grand one, and it has been thought that this is because, although ours is the worlds earliest Railway Institute, founded in 1833, the current building superseded an earlier 1860 building (for its first 27 years the Institute 'squatted' in other buildings) created by the Stockton and Darlington Railway on Station Street which became unusable in 1906. The Directors of the North Eastern Railway were at that time building others in York, Gatesehead etc., and came back to Shildon to replace ours last of all. Perhaps its impressive design and ornament was something of an apology.
Worth pointing out here that the Institute is not simply the building itself, though clearly having premises is very important to the principle of an Institute. Having a Grade II listed one with architectural merit and such a great back story (see our Heritage page) underpins the understanding that we should champion it, bring it back to a condition that its status warrants and plan to ensure that it is looked after for the years ahead.
That is precisely what we intend to try to do.
Thank you, Tim, for stopping by - you're always welcome; and thank you to Trish Pemberton for her insights on the programme and pointing out the 'Stute'.
(24th June 2020)