The birth of modern-day railways in Stockton heralded an era of economic prosperity and focused the attention of the world on the town.
Nothing did more to ensure Stockton's place in the history books than George Stephenson's 'Locomotion' No 1 and the Stockton & Darlington Railway.
The early 19th century saw a massive increase in the demand for coal and it became clear that a quicker and cheaper means of transport needed to be devised. Coal poured out of Durham and, although the port of Stockton was close, road links were inadequate and the winding River Tees made the passage to the sea a difficult and costly one.
The need for the introduction of the railway in the north east was more apparent than anywhere in the country. Whilst the rest of the counties of England benefited from the introduction of canals for the transport of coal, the north east had to depend on horses and mules, with bags slung across their backs, travelling along tracks which were impassable to carts.
The idea of a railway or canal link was first mooted by Leonard Raisbeck, the Recorder of Stockton, at a dinner at Stockton Town Hall in 1810. He moved a resolution that a committee should look into ways of linking Stockton, Darlington and the collieries of west Durham. The most popular idea, a canal, was defeated in 1818, both by its estimated cost of £205,000 and the fact that the proposed route by-passed both Stockton and Darlington.
In recent years great strides have been made to celebrate and document the region's railway heritage.
Interpretation around the Borough includes commemorative plaques on Bridge House and Yarm Town Hall, and a number of street names in the Borough have been named after significant people and events, including those related to the railway.
Further interpretation work includes the 1825 railway themed artwork as part of the Southern Gateway junction improvements near Stockton High Street. This is where the first rail of the Stockton and Darlington Railway was laid on 13 May 1822 near St John's Crossing, on Bridge Road.
The St John’s Crossing junction celebrates the heritage of the site and an artwork has been developed to depict the inaugural journey. The artwork designed by Steve Tomlinson is located behind Matalan/Halfords with the installation coinciding with the works in August 2013. On the opposite side to the main installation there is an interpretation panel, next to some smaller artwork which provides historical context. Sited on the Bridge Road side, near to the historic Bridge House which was used in the operation of the railway.
Longer term projects include the potential to develop a scale model of the Locomotion for the Preston Park Narrow Gauge Railway, and consideration is already being given to how the Borough will celebrate the 200 year anniversary of the Stockton to Darlington Railway in 2025.
As part of the regeneration scheme on Stockton High Street it was agreed to install a large scale moving-art work inspired by the heritage of the Borough.
Models of three potential designs were displayed in the Rediscover Stockton Shop for a public vote and the winning design by artists Rob Higgs and Keith Newstead was of a locomotion rising up from a stone plinth, entitled ‘The Stockton Flyer’.
The Stockton Flyer launched in June 2016 as part of the community celebration to mark the Queens official 90th birthday. Hundreds of people descended on Stockton Town Centre to see the automaton make it's first appearance as well as enjoy a whole host of free family fun activities.
You can see the Stockton Flyer whir and whistle into action every day at 1pm on Stockton High Street.