A County Durham railway station has been found to be older than first thought and is now believed to be the world’s oldest railway station, new research has discovered.
Heighington & Aycliffe Railway Station has been discovered to be older than initially thought, and has been upgraded to Grade II* listing to reflect its importance.
The station in Newton Aycliffe was initially listed as at Grade II in 1980 due to its importance in the early development of the Stockton & Darlington Railway.
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The George Stephenson’s Locomotion No. 1 (then known as Active) was put on the rails in 1825 at the site for the inauguration of the Stockton and Darlington Railway.
It was also the site of tragedy three years later in 1828 when the Locomotion‘s boiler exploded, killing the driver.
The building was first thought to date to the mid-1830s. However, new research by Friends of the Stockton & Darlington Railway and Historic England, has found that the building was in fact completed in 1827.
Experts believe this makes it the earliest example of a railway station in the world. The station previously thought to be the oldest existing railway station, the Liverpool Road Station, was opened in 1830.
Following the new research, the Department for Culture, Media & Sport has upgraded the railway station to Grade II*. The new listing elevates the station to the top 10% of England’s most important historic buildings.
Niall Hammond, Chair of the Friends of the Stockton & Darlington Railway CIO, said: “Nearly 200 years ago, the S&DR was the railway that got the world on track, by creating all the fundamental ideas of the modern railway and inspiring a worldwide revolution in transport and communications. It’s fantastic to see this recognised in the new listing upgrade and a just reward for all the in-depth research by Historic England and our own members, especially the late Brendan Boyle.”
The building was commissioned before the concept of a railway station had been developed. Its original purpose was as a tavern to provide shelter and refreshment for workers and customers at the adjacent coal and goods depot.
Although it was not officially referred to as one until the late 1830s, a newspaper report in September 1827 shows that the building fulfilled the main functions of what later came to be recognised as a railway station: a stopping point for trains, a building providing shelter for passengers, and a receiving point for unaccompanied parcels and goods being transported by rail.
There is also evidence of someone using the site to commute to work, and the incorporation of the domestic accommodation could be seen as the forerunner of the station master’s house, a key part of railway stations built throughout the Victorian period.
Sarah Charlesworth, Listing Team Leader for Historic England in the North, said: “It’s amazing to think that this simple building in County Durham helped to inspire a way of travelling that’s used by billions of people across the world. From the humblest single platform station to the vast terminals of St Pancras and the Gard du Nord, they all owe a debt to Heighington & Aycliffe Railway Station.”
Now, the researchers are hoping to discover more stories about Heighington & Aycliffe Railway Station and are asking people to submit their own memories.
The Missing Pieces Project is looking for photos, drawings, audio, film or text about the building. You can submit your memories here.
The station’s upgraded listing is part of the work of the Stockton and Darlington Railway Heritage Action Zone, a five-year, heritage-led conservation and economic development scheme in partnership with Historic England, local authorities and other stakeholders.
2025 will celebrate the bicentenary of the opening of the Stockton and Darling Railway.