Darlington Street Railway

Darlington's first street tramway, which was owned and operated by the Darlington Street Railway Company Limited, was one of the earliest in the country, opening on the 1st January 1862. The tramway was promoted by American entrepreneur George Francis Train, the man behind the first true street tramway in the British Isles (Birkenhead Street Railway Company), as well as three separate lines in London (Marble Arch Street Railway; Surrey Side Street Railway; Westminster Street Railway) and one in Stoke (Staffordshire Potteries Street Railway). The rails used on all these lines were 'step' rails, the inside edges of which were lower than the main road surface (or sometimes with the outside ends proud of the road surface if poorly laid), a design that inevitably invoked opposition from the influential carriage-owning classes, especially in London, where Train seems to have taken personal pleasure in aggravating the establishment; as a consequence, all three of his London lines were to close within 15 months of opening.

The Darlington line is believed to have been standard gauge and about 1 mile in length, running from the Market Place northwards along Northgate and North Rd to its junction with Whessoe Street, just before which, a short branch led off northwestwards into the Stockton and Darlington Railway station approach.

The tramway was plagued by the same problems as all Train's other 'step' rail concerns, and inevitably, these issues gave rise to a vociferous opposition lobby in Darlington, with additional hostility emanating from market traders, farmers and stockmen, all of whom were inconvenienced by the tracks crossing the Market Place. Despite the tramway making a moderate loss in its first two years of operation, the company had many influential local shareholders who were keen for the venture to succeed, so in the summer of 1864, an application was made for an extension to the initial three-year operating licence. Unfortunately, opinions were evenly divided at the Local Board (the local authority), and despite many of the populace wishing to retain the tramway, the argument was eventually lost by the finest of margins, the tramway ceasing operation on the last day of 1864.

Although photographs of this very early horse tramway (January 1862 to December 1864) have not survived, contemporary accounts from Darlington state that tramcar crews wore uniforms. In fact, staff working all of Train's street tramways are known to have worn uniforms (likened by contemporary commentators to those worn by the Rifle Brigade, and possibly of Oxford Grey), so the aforementioned Darlington accounts are entirely consistent with the approach to staff uniforms on the other systems Train was involved in.

Further reading
For a detailed history of early street railways, including Darlington, see: 'Pioneers of the Street Railway in the USA, Street Tramways in the UK…and elsewhere' by John R Stevens and Alan W Brotchie; Stenlake Publishing Ltd (2014).