SHA Facilitate the Return of Shildon’s 1919 NUR Works Branch Banner

One of Shildon’s most important and symbolic industrial cultural objects returned to display for the first time in decades on Saturday 5th February 2022, and the Shildon Heritage Alliance CIC played a central role its return. The group paid, through its local fundraising, for the materials used in the construction of a new purpose built case, which was designed and built by Shildon Railway Institute Committee member Selwyn Jenkin. The group also played a key role, through its network of contacts, in facilitating the agreement between its custodians, the Auckland Railways Group, and the Railway Institute Committee. Then the SHA CIC organised a grand unveiling event which featured songs of Shildon written in the community and also brought the current serving General Secretary, Michael Lynch, to Shildon to speak and unveil the repaired banner. Other guest speakers key at the event included Gerald Slack of the Auckland Railways Group who spoke of his group’s endeavours to have the banner repaired, and the suitability of the Institute as the best location for its display, and Shaun Thompson, current Secretary of the Railway Institute, who as part of his speech, presented Mr Lynch of the RMT with a lifetime membership of the Institute.

Mr Shaun Thompson, Secretary of Shildon Railway Institute receives the gift of an NUR Centenary Certificate commemorating Shildon Works No.2 Branch to be displayed at the Institute.

The silk banner revealed on the day, was manufactured in 1919 for the National Union of Railwaymen Shildon Works No. 2 Branch, which depicts Shildon Works at its peak. It had been put in storage decades ago due to its fabric having become very fragile. The patient endeavours of local rail historian Mr Slack, and his group, have led to the banner being carefully repaired by a leading restorer.

Speaking of his motivation for repairing it, Gerald said “When we were granted custodianship of it in 2016, by the National Railway Museum, we were saddened by its poor condition as a consequence of unfavourable storage and the ravages of time and acutely aware of the imperative to restore it to save it for posterity and displayed in the town. There was also a personal interest in restoring and displaying the banner as both my grandfather and great grandfather worked at Shildon Works, as did many members of my wife’s family.”

It is thought to be one of the earliest NUR banners still in existence, having been commissioned only six years after the Union’s founding. Given the delicate nature of its silk damask fabric its 103 year survival to date is in itself an achievement. It was made by George Tutill and Co., a London company founded in 1837 and the best known banner makers in Britain at the time. They were tremendously expensive, so seen as symbolic of the power and success of each union branch.

On its new home, Gerald told us, “Shildon Railway Institute is absolutely the right place to display the banner. Standing close to the Shildon Works site, its own history is entirely synonymous with the legacy of the works.” There is a further connection in that the NUR was formed in 1913, just less than two months after the current Shildon Railway Institute building was opened, replacing an older building nearby.

Gerald Slack of the Auckland Railways Group told of his group’s quest to see the banner repaired and displayed in Shildon

The banner was visited briefly on unveiling day by some younger relatives as an act of tribute. The Newcastle Rail and Catering Branch, and the Newcastle and Gateshead Branch, of the RMT brought along their current banners which depict hand-painted scenes of iconic bridges and rail architecture and engineering on Tyneside. The 1970s Shildon Works No.2 branch banner was also present and on display – and it is hoped that this too might be put on permanent display at the Institute in future.

Folk musician, Sam Slatcher was also present to perform at the unveiling, offering a solo rendition of songs composed by and for the community of Shildon in one of his projects run in the town. The song “Shildon Town” reflects the famous friendly and welcoming nature of the town’s people and recognises how despite the removal of rail engineering from the town it is still very much connected to the world by the passenger railways that originated here. “Wonderful Giants of Old,” by contrast is a lovely graphic storytelling of the opening day of the first five miles of the Stockton & Darlington Railway telling how everything made its way on that leg of its first journey, culminating at Shildon, before being attached to Stephenson’s ‘Travelling Engine”, later Locomotion No.1, to head off to the coastal coal port. Finally, “The Light at the End of the Shildon Tunnel,” penned by the SHA CIC’s Dave Reynolds, is a soulful song of optimism in waltz time that speaks of the opportunities and ‘good times’ yet to come for the town.

Sam Slatcher (above), of Citizen Songwriters, entertained those present with wonderful songs of Shildon

The organisers of the unveiling were delighted that Michael Lynch, was present to speak at the event, particularly as a donation from the RMT boosted Gerald’s appeal to fund the banner repair. The Union branches also supported the Institute in an appeal at the end of 2020. On this Gerald said, “We remain ever grateful to the RMT for kick starting the appeal. Also to the local people and enterprises that contributed to the appeal, and the unstinting support of Shildon Football Club, the Town Crier and Mike Amos.”

Mr Lynch, during his speech, which included much well researched factual detail regarding the development of the town’s trade union branches, also presented the Institute with two fine gifts. The first is a banner bearer’s sash, generally work by members of the team carrying the banner and supporting ropes at a demonstration, from the era before the founding of the National Union of Railwaymen, which bears the initials of the forerunning Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants who were absorbed by the NUR when that union was founded. The second item is a framed NUR Centenary Certificate dedicated to the Shildon Works No.2 Branch. Both items will be put on public display at the Institute in the coming months.

Mr Michael Lynch, General Secretary of the RMT Union presents the Institute with a framed banner carrier’s sash from the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, a forerunner of the National Union of Railwaymen

Institute Secretary, Shaun Thompson expressed on behalf of the Institute, particular appreciation to Mr Jenkin for his part in creating the case to enable the banner’s return, as well as fellow Committee member, Adam Thompson for assisting Mr Jenkin. Other statements of appreciation were also shared.

The banner was unveiled at around 1:30pm in the tightly packed entrance hall of the Institute, with the cover, having been made by SOS Volunteer, Samatha Townsend, being removed on cue by Mr Lynch and Anth Knight of the SHA who also assisted in the fitting and cosmetic completion of the case. The sight of the revealed historic banner was met with applause and expressions of enjoyment.

The moment the banner was revealed by Mr Lynch and Anth Knight of the Shildon Heritage Alliance CIC

Overall the event was a lovely afternoon, made even better through the efforts of SHA/SOS volunteers who provided free refreshments which included soft drinks, tea, coffee and a buffet of delicious sweet and savoury foodstuff. We hope the occasion is one that will live long in the memory of those who attended and that the next step in our reconnecting the Institute with its distinguished heritage will not be too far in coming in the future.

Above – the 1919 NUR Shildon Works No. 2 Branch banner in its repaired state prior to the cover being placed upon its protective casing

Our third local heritage film, featuring the Etherley Railway Incline

Today, Thursday 16th December 2021, the Shildon Heritage Alliance CIC are unveiling our third local heritage film, created in partnership with the Etherley Incline Group.

Entitled “Coal By Degrees – Etherley’s Historic Railway Incline” the film is set four miles west of Shildon, but reveals the story of a feature of the Stockton and Darlington Railway that was very important in the origin story of Shildon’s rise to becoming the world’s first industrial railway town. Had a different method and route been chosen to transport that all important coal to the coast, then Shildon may have remained a relatively minor market town for decades longer until its own coal reserve was discovered.

Unlike our previous film about the inclines, this centres on interview footage with two key members of the Etherley Incline Group (EIG), a heritage focused group that have taken on the specialism of curating local knowledge about that particular feature and to watch over its wellbeing. John Raw is a Shildon lad with a particular interest in cricket and out local rail stories generally – he is a familiar face wherever there is a heritage event in the area, and well known for leading guided walks throughout Shildon and Brusselton. Mary Smith is newer to the area but an avid researcher and lover of the history stories of working class people.

The film was shot and edited with animations and music by SHA CIC Director Dave Reynolds on an entirely voluntary basis with no charge to the EIG

We’re pleased to have been able to engage with the Etherley Incline Group on this collaboration and hope that people enjoy hearing about the past, and future, of this important and influential feature in our area’s landscape.

You can watch the film here:


SHA uncover the WWI stories of Shildon Railway Institute members.

Remembrance weekend 2021 saw the Shildon Heritage Alliance CIC reveal the findings of their year long project to bring to light the stories of 250 male and female members of Shildon Railway Institute who served during WWI and whose names are commemorated on a war memorial that was installed in the Institute early in 1921.

What’s unusual about the memorial is that 220 of the persons named survived and lived on, so have stories that extend beyond the war. Many of them, including six nurses, went on to raise families many of which are still represented across the town today.

The reveal event, which took place on Saturday 13th November, at the Institute, also featured a talk by historian Rob Langham on the North Eastern Railway during WWI. It had also been intended to feature a concert by the Durham Miners Association Brass Band featuring the work of Shildon born composers George Allan and Tom Bulch whose sons served during that conflict, however that element of the event had to be cancelled at short notice owing to an outbreak of Coronavirus in the band.

Another concession to the virus on that day was the address scheduled to be given by Shildon Heritage Alliance CIC Director Dave Reynolds, though SHA/SOS volunteer Samantha Townsend was able to step in to deliver the address on his behalf. The address to those present was as set out below.

Three physical copies of the findings of the project were made available for members and visitors of the Institute to read – and a digital copy was published on the Shildon Railway Institute website. This is intended to be a living project and as new information comes to light it will be updated and republished. You can view the digital copy here:


Address on the hundredth anniversary of the Shildon Railway Institute war memorial.

Dave Reynolds: Director & Volunteer of the Shildon Heritage Alliance CIC

Today I’m here to talk to you about a project that has been a year in the making on our part. 

I’m doing that as a Director of the Shildon Heritage Alliance which is a Community Interest Company that was set up in 2019 principally to work with the Committee of Shildon Railway Institute to work to keep breathing life into this great and oldest of Railway Institutes which is now in its 188th year. 

It also exists to champion other pieces of Shildon’s heritage that fall into the gaps left by other groups and organisations large and small are interested in.

We are an organisation of about fourteen volunteers, with various skills and abilities, and nobody within the SHA ever receives payment for any the work we do. 

What we do, we do out of love for this community and its past, present and future.

A primary goal for the SHA is to try to ensure that Shildon Railway Institute can be here for this community for another hundred years, and to move towards renovation and preservation of this iconic Shildon landmark.

We paid to have a condition survey conducted during 2020 that suggested that 

A key stage that must be achieved on this journey is to prove to would-be funders, like the National Lottery, that this Institute is here for, and actively used by, as many parts of our community as possible.

I cannot deny that the Coronavirus pandemic has set us back on that mission.

But we’ve also been pleased to have welcomed new groups that want to make Shildon Railway Institute their new home. These include:

Shildon Railway Institute Football Club

The recently reformed Shildon Branch of the Royal British Legion

The Shildon Institute Singers

We, and the committee, are also pleased to have welcomed back the groups that use the institute for fitness sessions, bingo and midweek dancing.

Our Institute Women group (not to be confused with the Women’s Institute) has been doing tremendous work to bring different activities and experiences to the place.

There is room however for much, much more so please speak to us if you have a group or organisation in keeping with out values that needs an occasional home for activities.

Another thing that we have to be able to do is to prove to would-be funders that we recognise and are capable of looking after what we have. 

This is something that this Institute in latter decades has forgotten to do.

One of the things the SHA has tried to do in that respect is help financially and physically with spruce ups of parts of the building to help to make them more enjoyable to use.

It was with this in mind that in October last year I looked at the Railway Institute Members War Memorial on our main stairwell and decided to try to clean it up a little.

That in itself took me around thirteen hours of work with Brasso and a dozen dusters.

As you can imagine – in that space of time I had plenty of opportunity to get to know some of the names quite intimately.

And that got me thinking.

Who were these thirty men who laid down their lives for king and country?

And who were the 220 lads and lasses named that also served?

What was their connection to the Institute – and what could that tell us about the Institute at that time?

We decided to set up a project to learn what we could about the memorial – and the men and women named.

That was when we quickly learned that the memorial would be 100 years old this year.

But before I tell you something of what we learned – I firstly want to thank the people that contributed a great deal, or a little, time to this endeavour.

They are:

  • Dawn McArdle
  • Kelly Ambrosini who tried to keep us all co-ordinated 
  • Michelle Armstrong and her dad Bill Armstrong
  • John Raw
  • Trevor Horner
  • Catherine Howard 
  • Lisa Knight 
  • Pauline Buddin 

The memorial, is an arrangement of three plaques

It was created through family and member subscriptions and was ordered from a company called Jones and Willis who specialised in such memorials. 

They were a Birmingham firm who manufactured church furnishings – one of the biggest firms of this kind in the latter part of the nineteenth century. They also opened premises in Liverpool and in London.

These plaques were installed then unveiled and dedicated on the 8th November 1921, with New Shildon born John Henry Smeddle and Archdeacon Derry in attendance. 

Why John Henry Smeddle?

John was born in New Shildon in 1866 – and was the son of Dr Robert Smeddle, a well known figure of the town. 

He grew up on Magdala Terrace. He became an apprentice in the North eastern Railway in 1882 and pupil of the Engineer of its Central Division. 

He became a foreman at Scarborough and Inspector at Gateshead and by the end of the nineteenth century he had become Assistant Area Locomotive Superintendent for the North Eastern Railway and had been inducted into the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

But his life had been touched by the war. He was mobilised in 1914 and served in France in 1915 and 1916 attaining the rank of Major and becoming 2nd in Command of the 8th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry while the battalion fought at Ypres, Armentieres, Kemmel and the Somme.

He was probably the most senior Shildon born soldier to have served in that conflict – and would have been well known in the town.  


To find out something about the other soldiers and nurses named, we used a variety of sources.

  • Much of the information in this document was drawn from information available at the following websites
  • Ancestry
  • Fold3
  • BritishNewspaperArchives
  • The British National Archives
  • The Red Cross

Additional sources included:

  • A list of Shildon Works NER employees and enlistment details available from the Head of Steam Museum at Darlington
  • North Eastern Railway Magazine (1914-1919)

Censuses of particular interest:

  • The 1901 Census – which was taken on 31st March 1901
  • The 1911 Census – which was taken on 2nd April 1911
  • The 1939 Register – which was taken early in the 1939-45 war on 29th September 1939 

But what did we learn?

Well, the answer to that is a great deal – and not always what we expected

Firstly – the hardest thing we had to learn – beyond the harrowing tales of soldiers lives – was that we will probably never get to know everything we wanted to about every name.

This was in part because in September 1940 a fire caused by an incendiary bomb at the War Office Record Store in Arnside Street, London, destroyed approximately two thirds of 6.5 million soldiers’ documents from the First World War. 

The records which survived were mostly charred or water damaged and unfit for consultation and became known as the ‘burnt documents’. The surviving ones were digitised from 1996 onward.

Not only that, but we were also very reliant on snapshots in time – the censuses.

These are taken every ten years and a great deal can happen in between – people come to Shildon and leave Shildon and the evidence is not always there.

There were probably fewer than twenty that we were unable to identify – though none of these were the men who lost their lives. 

We have not given up hope on those names. We think the 1921 census released next year might offer us some more clues.

The next big thing we learned was that we went into this exercise expecting most of these men to have served in the Durham Light Infantry.

The men, specifically, on this memorial served in a wide range of regiments

Perhaps one of the biggest intakes from Shildon at the beginning of the war was into the Royal Army Medical Corps. These were the brave lads who would risk their lives to retrieve casualties from the battlefield and get them to the safety of the field hospitals.

The North Eastern Railway had long had an ambulance movement with classes and competitions.

Many of the lads who were part of this movement were signed up as military reservists before the war, and were mobilised in the early stages.

There were indeed many of the men who joined the Durham Light Infantry pioneer battalions who particularly sought the labour of swarthy fit young men.

But the military unit most associated with the railway workers was the 17th Battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers which was a ‘pals’ battalion into which men of a common working background could enlist to fight together.

That said it would be incorrect to say that these men enlisted into either one of the other of these Regiments

They were spread right across the military units.

  • The Seaforth Highlanders
  • The Green Howards
  • The Kings Own Liverpool Regiment
  • The Sherwood Forresters
  • The Coldstream Guards

Men went to units that needed them.

Many with experience of running locomotives were taken into the Royal Engineers Railway Operating Division  – and with the Shildon Works in living memory its easy to forget that Shildon had a large locomotive department too. Their experience was essential in getting supply trains across Europe and North Africa.

Many joined the Royal Field Artillery, or the Royal Garrison Artillery.

There were more specialist roles such as with the Remounts, sourcing horses to send to the battlefront – as anyone who has seen War Horse will recall.

Though most joined army battalions there were others that became seamen or joined the fighting naval battalions.

And we must not forget that it was during this conflict that a new form of aerial warfare was introduced, and there were a handful of Shildon Institute men whose mechanical skills were welcomed into the newly formed Royal Air Force to help keep flying machines airworthy.

Then of course there were the nurses – and we must be particularly grateful that this memorial includes the names of six volunteer nurses – often overlooked – a couple of which went on to make a lifetime career in nursing after the war.

Something else that we learned that really surprised us is what these young men and women did in their civilian lives.

We have often been told that Shildon Railway Institute was a place for the men of Shildon Works and their families – we know that this was not exclusively the case.

We have seen from early membership books that the membership of this Institute, despite its having been created by Railway officials, was drawn from many walks of life.

The young men whose names were added to this memorial in 1921 had a range of occupations.

It’s true that most were employed either at the Works or the Locomotive Operating Department.

There were however a good few men from mining families – like Thomas Edwin Sayers or Henry Greener.

There were young men employed by the shops and merchants across the town – like Thomas Ingledew who was a confectioner or Samuel Longstaff Reeve, a clerk for a paper seller.

There were teachers, – like Joseph Huntson Atkinson, and George Crawford, some of whom had been brought to Shildon by their teaching career.

There were labourers

There were also a handful of career soldiers who had joined the army long before the war started.         

The names that I gave there were just from the thirty men listed who died in that war – there are many other examples to be found.

This Institute was a place for anyone who wished to join and support it – whatever their background.

This was during days when it would still have been known for its lecture hall, its reading room and its extensive library as well as its leisure facilities. 

There is no wonder that the town’s teachers were drawn to become members. 

Just like William Denton, who was once an apprentice of Timothy Hackworth but became a world renowned Geologist and Daniel Adamson junior who was likewise and became a recognised engineer – both of whom were members of this Institute and both of whom acknowledged its role in taking them to new heights.

This is why it’s important for us, today, to similarly make the Institute a place for a range of people from this town and to find opportunities for them in doing so. It’s part of the DNA of the institute.

There are 250 stories that we have tried to uncover in our research.

Some of you know one or two of them – on account of being related and perhaps having been told about them through stories passed down in the family.

We want this Institute to know them all and for family members that weren’t told of the bravery of their relatives during this bloody, destructive and harrowing conflict – to be able to come here and know something of these men and women.

Our plan is to publish the research and then to invite contributions from families to tell us more. To tell us the things that the official documents never do about these very real human beings.

We will keep on updating this research for as long as there is something new to learn.

You can always access it via the Shildon Railway Institute website – or physically here at the Institute – and in both places there will be means to submit whatever else you know – which, with you permission we will add.  

I want to share just one the stories with you.

Alfred Graham was born in 1897at Brusselton. He was the son of John Graham and his wife Annie and was one of six children. 

His father was an Engine Repairer and Fitter who had himself been born in New Shildon. In 1901 the family lived at 18 Victoria Street, a house built for New Shildon’s railway workers in the 1860s. 

His father died while Alfred was a boy, leaving his mother to raise the family and the children in turn to support their mother. 

By 1911 the family had moved to 2 Adamson Street, New Shildon, so of all the young men commemorated on the Railway Institute War Memorial, Alfred probably lived closest to the Institute itself. 

He worked as a Shearer at the North Eastern Railway’s Shildon Works and had done so for five years before he enlisted. After the outbreak of the war, Alfred enlisted into the 9th Battalion Kings Royal Rifle Corps as a Rifleman with the regimental number 23279. 

He gave his mother’s name as his dependent, with an address of 10 Adamson Street. 

Arthur served with his unit on the battlefields in France. 

In September of 1916 his battalion were in the vicinity of Dernancourt to the east of Amiens, camping to the south of Becordel. 

On the 14th September the battalion received their orders for a big attach that was to be launched on the 15th with the co-operation of French troops, so on the 14th at 6:20pm they moved up to the Pommiers Redoubt, closer to the firing line. 

The commanding officer recorded in his war diary that the men selected for the attack were veterans of the Somme and considered the “picked troops of the British Army” and that it was a great honour to have been selected for this attack. 

He noted that “A new form of armoured motor car was employed for the first time driving this attack. They were known as ‘tanks’ and were able to move over any kind of rough ground, being able to cross shell holes or trenches, climb banks and get over sunken roads.” 

In Arthur’s final hours of his life he would be among the first to witness the advent of tank warfare. 

The battalion arrived at Montauban Alley at 5am on the 16th September where they supported the 43rd Brigade in an unsuccessful attach on Gueudecort before taking stock of their casualties. 

They had lost 11 officers and 231 NCOs and other men. Among them was Rifleman Alfred Graham. He was only 20 years old when he was killed that day. 

Alfred was buried in the London Cemetery and Extension at Longueval, Department de la Somme, Picardie on France. His death was reported to his work colleagues in the North Eastern Railway magazine. 


220 of the names on the memorial were of men who came back from the war – many to lead lives in Shildon.

But it’s right that they too should be remembered

Many brought home scars both physical and mental.

A few did not live long after the war having returned with medical conditions attributed to their service


After the end of the war, in late 1918 with the British public was celebrating victory, the authorities begun to consider a problem closer to home. Housing.

Before the First World War slum housing had been an embarrassing issue. During it, thousands of men who lived in squalid conditions were rejected by the Army as not fit enough to fight.

Now hundreds of thousands of men were returning from the horrors of the Western Front expecting the country to reward them for their heroic efforts.

David Lloyd George’s government promised to provide ‘homes fit for heroes’ and under the Addison Act, his government put in place powers and funding for local authorities to take the lead in the matter.

The result was inventive new forms of building, stark modern styles and thoughtful town planning that shaped housing development for the rest of the 20th century

In Shildon this would lead to developments such as Dean Gardens, Southland Gardens, The Oval and Sunnydale.

We’ve been inspired by this Homes Fit for Heroes movement to start a new fundraising appeal phase for the Institute.

The main stairwell of this building is in a disgraceful and neglected condition. 

We want to see it transformed back into a setting that befits being the home for this memorial.

The lads and lasses on this memorial are the heroes of this Institute – and we want to create a home fit for our heroes.

Most of the spruce up work we’ve done in the Institute so far has been things we can achieve with volunteer labour, but this is a task that will require both scaffolding and professional decorator skills.

So we’ve engaged three local decorators to provide quotes and straight away begin fundraising through our events and requests for donations toward this objective. 

We hope that we can make this happen during the first half of 2022.

Thank you for listening.

I hope you all find what we have discovered interesting and we’ll look forward to any additional information that this community has that it is willing to share on these soldiers and nurses.

I also hope that you’ll enjoy what’s coming up next as author and historian Rob Langham has much to tell us about the North Eastern Railway in the First World War.


Shildon Heritage Alliance publishes digital copy of Railway Institute’s 1855-1892 Report Book

As part of our wider initiative to surface and expose the heritage value of Shildon Railway Institute, the first and therefore longest running such organisation associated with the railways, the Shildon Heritage Alliance CIC have produced and published a digital image of the Institute’s Half-Yearly report book via the website.

The report book was used to capture a six-monthly address to the members of the Institute on behalf of the serving committee, and each report reflects the progress and challenges of the Institute as well as its financial ongoing standing as an act of transparency to the members whose contributions part financed it. Running to 270 pages, the document covers the period from 1855, where the Institute inhabited a reading room that was part of the Masons Arms building, through to 1892. Details in the book cover the creation of the first New Shildon Mechanics Institute building in 1860, early structural problems with it during the 1860s, and its eventual expansion in the mid 1880s to incorporate the adjacent house (which still stands on Station Street today).

It offers truly interesting insight into the parallel evolutions of New Shildon as a town, community and the Institute itself.

The original book, currently in the hands of a private owner, unable to be scanned flat, was photographed page by page, with permission, and with each page then painstakingly being reformatted and reassembled to create a digital book. The whole process took over 45 hours to complete over a number of months when time allowed by SHA.CIC volunteer and Director Dave Reynolds.

The resulting digital image can be accessed without charge at the following web page:

It should be noted that the digital file is really large at around 399MB so caution should be exercised when accessing it – you might not want to view it using a mobile device not connected to wi-fi as the data charges or consumption might prove something of a shock.

We’re hoping that the document will prove a useful reference to individuals and organisations looking to understand not just the history of the organisation and the town, but general attitudes to working class education and reading in that era or regional economic conditions.

The imaging isn’t perfect – you may spot the occasional thumb tip here and there – but by making this unique historical record available we hope that we have helped to share something more of the story that this historic organisation played in the growth of New Shildon and the opportunities it gave to our working class forebears.

Shildon Heritage Alliance’s “Little Big Meeting” during 2021

Saturday, 7 August, under the auspices of the Shildon Heritage Alliance CIC, Shildon’s Hackworth Park hosted the Little Big Meeting, a day to celebrate the industrial history and achievements of the people of County Durham and, particularly those in Shildon. It was held because the Durham Miners Gala (or the Big Meeting), which takes place in Durham on the second Saturday of July, had to be cancelled due to coronavirus. A terrible weather forecast at the beginning of the week suggested that the event may not go ahead. However, organisers and entertainers held their nerve and put on a show.

The Marras, the friends of the Durham Miners Gala, issued an invitation to communities across the north-east to host their own mini-galas, offering small grants to help enable this. The SHA CIC, whose members and volunteers also overlap with other local heritage organisations including the Eldon Drift Miners Banner Group and Brusselton Incline Group answered the call, submitting an application for a grant, as well as an additional grant application to the Bishop Auckland and Shildon Area Action Partnership to provide a small budget for entertainment to engage younger visitors.

The day began with a blustery banner march to traditional Gala Day march music played by the Durham Miners Association Brass Band. Local men and women paraded the banners of Eldon Drift Colliery and the 1970s banner created by the Shildon Branch of the National Union of Railwaymen. The newest banner in the parade was that of the Women’s Banner Group celebrating the role of women through the ages that have provided strong and essential support in the mining communities of the north. The beautiful banner was made possible by the determination of a group of women volunteers, and organisers of the Little Big Meeting were proud that it should have its first public parade at their event.

As those who have been to the Big Meeting will know, a key traditional part of the Durham Miners Gala since the 1870s are the speeches by trade unionists, activists and politicians. This was also the true of the Little Big Meeting. Speeches were given by Samantha Townsend (Shildon town councillor, County Councillor and Chair of Bishop Auckland Constituency Labour Party), Yvette Williams MBE (Justice for Grenfell Tower), Jane Hackworth-Young (Vice Chair, Friends of the Stockton and Darlington Railway, and great-great-grand-daughter of Timothy Hackworth), Tosh MacDonald (ASLEF trade union) and Alan Mardghum (Durham Miners’ Association).

Following her own speech, Durham County Councillor Samantha Townsend, a SHA CIC volunteer who was also part of the organising committee, spoke of her pride. She said, “It really moved me to see Hackworth Park used to celebrate our history, culture, heritage and community.
“The banner parade was very emotional, just as it can be in the Durham Gala, and I hope that some people who got involved or took photos will consider travelling up to Durham for the next Big Meeting.
“It was an honour to welcome friends and visitors to Shildon, some of whom had travelled from as far afield as Seaham and Hull to celebrate Shildon’s unique place in history”.

Visitors interested in local history were spoilt for choice as lots of local history groups hosted stalls explaining the rail and coal history of the area. Heritage stallholders, such as those running the Durham Mining Museum were pleased to share their stories. Lynn Gibson, of Durham Mining Museum summed it up, saying, “the Durham Mining Museum thoroughly enjoyed the day talking to people who visited the stall about the mining heritage of the area. It was great to see so many kids asking lots of questions about their heritage”.

The event was not just about history and politics. Those who braved the changeable weather were enjoyed hours of entertainment and the rain did not dampen the spirits. Organisers wanted to create an event that had something for all the family, and they were happy to see people of all ages enjoying the different acts that performed. Runaway Samba got the crowds swaying before the Infinity Dance performers showed everyone how to dance properly. Sam Slatcher of Citizen Songwriters performed his original songs, including ones inspired by Shildon and Durham city. Throughout the day Ian the Entertainer worked tirelessly to wow the crowds.

Dave Anderson, Chair of Marras – Friends of the Durham Miners’ Gala, was part of the organising committee who brought the event to Shildon. He reflected, “It was almost as important to do the event as it was that it was a success. I think the wide variety of speakers, performers and exhibitions made up a great event at a time when we are just beginning to move out of the pandemic. It was very much in the spirit of the Big Meeting and a steppingstone to next year’s return in Durham”.

Shildon Heritage Alliance CIC Director Dave Reynolds, lead organiser of the event, gave thanks to all those involved, saying “Special thanks to those that worked tirelessly throughout the day to entertain, engage and inspire our younger visitors.
“The phrase ‘the past we inherit – the future we build’ is most pertinent here. These young people are our future, and to connect them to their roots whilst they played and danced and enjoyed themselves was one of our big hopes for the day and you ensured that we had something for everyone”

Organisation for the Little Big Meeting was a collaboration that also involved the Eldon Drift Miners Banner Group and the Marras – Friends of the Durham Miners’ Gala. The event was made possible by support Shildon Town Council and funding from Marras, the Durham Mining Museum, ASLEF and AAP funding from county councillors Samantha Townsend, Matthew Johnson and Shirley Quinn. Organisers also paid special thanks to Shildon Town Council staff, whose hard work and dedication on the day and during preparations made the event possible.

We also also asked those who enjoyed Saturday’s Little Big Meeting to support The Big Meeting. To find out more or to sign up to Marras – Friends of Durham Miners Gala, visit

Brusselton Incline Illustration

Telling the Story of the Brusselton Incline

The Shildon Heritage Alliance has made a second short film, in partnership with the Brusselton Incline Group, telling the story of the Brusselton Incline and its part in the creation of the world’s first public steam passenger railway at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

This film was produced and directed by Shildon Heritage Alliance CIC Director Dave Reynolds based upon input from Brusselton Incline Group members Trevor Horner and John Raw, and with additional documented input from Caroline Hardie of the Friends of the Stockton and Darlington Railway. It was narrated by Daniel Childs, a SHA CIC volunteer.

The film was created at no cost to the Brusselton Incline Group or the SHA CIC in that it it was entirely voluntary.  It features spectacular aerial footage shot by local drone enthusiast and photographer Mark Ingleby, as well as ground based film footage and animations created by Dave Reynolds. Even the music was offered voluntarily, by experienced film and TV composer Glenn Maltman. In all it took about eight weeks to create from planning and scripting to to launch.

The film was premiered online on the 195th anniversary of the opening of the Stockton & Darlington Railway, on the 27th September 2020, as part of a Heritage Action Zone Festival organised to consist of events extending along the full extent of the Stockton & Darlington Railway route. It had been intended to receive an initial physical screening at an exhibition organised by the Shildon Heritage Alliance and Brusselton Incline Group that week – however this wider plan had to be shelved as a consequence of rising cases of coronavirus infection resulting in new restrictions on public gatherings.

Dave, who is also a member of the Brusselton Incline Group, felt it was important to highlight the story of the Incline, and the reasons why it is now a scheduled ancient monument.

“The Incline is a much misunderstood feature. Though it’s often visited, even locals are a little unsure of what it is, how it worked and why it’s important. There are a few common misconceptions about it, such as the idea that steam locomotives might have run up and down the hill, or along the stretch at the bottom of the valley.  When you learn that it was rope hauled, with powerful static steam engines at the crest of each hill, then on the face of it that becomes quite impressive.  When you dig into the detail of that idea, though, and the challenges in undertaking such an endeavour – that’s when you realise that it’s really much more remarkable than that.”

“Since the Brusselton Incline Group was formed in 2014 they have undertaken some remarkable work restoring and looking after the remaining visible sections of the incline.  They have made it a much more appealing, and understandable, place to visit – so I really wanted to highlight why Brusselton should matter to them, and to the surrounding community.”

There is a great deal to say about heritage features around Shildon, and we’re proud to have captured this little chapter on a short film that can help people to digest.

The Shildon Heritage Alliance intends to work on another new film during 2021

You can watch The Story of The Brusselton Incline here…..

Shildon Works - Sawing Timber

Documenting Untold Stories of Shildon Wagon Works

It’s been a busy time for the Shildon Heritage Alliance CIC since our formation in mid 2019 – particularly with our project to revive and hopefully restore Shildon Railway Institute.  That has been going well – but we’ve had a few successful side projects too.

We organised a reunion for the former workers from Shildon Wagon Works to commemorate the passing of 35 years since the place was closed. And hot on the heels of that was the Chuffed To Bits Beer Festival, a festival themed on Shildon’s connection with the railways, just what you’d expect at a railway institute.

But amidst the madness, we made our first attempt at doing something to create a longer-lasting legacy regarding the wagon works, which was an attempt to get some of the untold stories of the workers themselves down for posterity. To do this we thought we’d make a film, which we called The Full Works.

Now, I have to say here that we’d have failed utterly had none of those workers bravely come forward to tell their stories on camera; so we have to thank our friend Colin White who contacted and co-ordinated a number of former colleagues. It wasn’t easy for some of the men to recall those days and at least one became quite emotional and decided not to continue.

The footage was shot, appropriately, inside the main hall of the Institute, where it was screened several days later. But in addition, we managed to acquire, again through a number of former workers, some archive photographs. This was augmented by some stunning aerial photography carried out by Skyward Aerial, using a licensed drone pilot.

For a first attempt, we were quite pleased with the results and proud of our effort. We’re also pleased to say that a number of other former workers came forward on the day of screening offering to allow us to similarly capture their memories – which we will aim to do during 2020.

The film is available online for anyone to enjoy hopefully for a long time to come. We’ve added it to this page for your convenience (see below).

There were a number of other film submissions put forward for the works reunion event too, including footage extracted from TV reports at the time of the wagon works closure, footage from the 1975 150th anniversary steam cavalcade and TV documentary footage belonging to the Stabler family featuring their story around the time of the works closure. We were really grateful for all of those films, as well as the superb contribution made by the Shildon History Recall Society.

The Shildon Heritage Alliance CIC is Born

We’re pleased to announce that our organisation has been born. On 13th August 2019, Companies House recognised us as a company. But why has this come about? Well, the Shildon Heritage Alliance is the new name for the group behind the Save Our Stute campaign, which is working with the Committee of the Shildon Railway Institute to keep that organisation going and make a case to renovate the building ahead of the steam passenger railway bicentenary in 2025.

Why become a company? It’s a good question. As a campaign group we have found that a number of the activities we have to carry out over our five year plan for that project require us to be more ‘organised’. For example, fundraising on a smaller scale to cover the costs of a spruce up or minor projects like acquiring exterior notice boards would benefit from our having access to a centra and accountable bank account. Having a more professional brand and image that is separate to that of the Committee of the Railway Institute helps make our role and involvement clearer. Having a formal recognition of what we are and in what ways we are accountable will help us to achieve some of the larger applications for help and funding we will facilitate on behalf of our clients at the Railway Institute.

In brief – it means that we can be taken more seriously as a body of people looking to apply some positive influence in out town and neigbourhood.

So look out for the name Shildon Heritage Alliance CIC (Company Number 12154211), because that’s now ‘us’.