The former Stockton & Darlington Railway’s Heighington & Aycliffe Railway Station, including the associated platform and remains of the coal drops, is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:
Architectural interest: * as an early proto-railway station designed as a public house and domestic accommodation to oversee a coal depot, but also accommodating passengers; marking it out as possibly the world’s first railway station;
* for its good-quality vernacular construction eschewing needless ornamentation; an illustration of the Stockton & Darlington Railway’s Quaker-influenced approach to architectural design.
Historic interest: * as one of the least altered buildings constructed for the Stockton & Darlington Railway in the 1820s, when the railway was highly influential in the development of other early railways both in England and abroad;
* as a marker for where Locomotion No.1, the Stockton & Darlington Railway’s first steam locomotive, was first placed on the rails in 1825, and where its boiler exploded in 1828.
Stockton and Darlington Railway (S&DR) was pioneering: when it opened on 27 September 1825, the concept of the railway station, like many aspects of railway operation, had yet to be developed. The S&DR’s 1823 enabling Act gave it powers to operate a public railway for the carriage of both passengers and a full range of goods. However, it expected to make most of its revenue through the transportation of coal between the collieries around Shildon and West Auckland to depots along the line, principally at Stockton, Yarm and Darlington, but also with a small depot where the railway crossed the lane between Heighington and the Great North Road at Aycliffe. It was at this crossing that Locomotion No.1, the company’s first locomotive was placed on the rails after leaving Robert Stephenson & Co. works in Newcastle on 16 September.
In June 1826 the S&DR decided to build inns to oversee the railway’s depots at Stockton and Darlington, (perhaps prompted by the S&DR Chairman, Thomas Meynell, who had privately built an inn next to the Yarm depot). These were in effect proto-railway stations: the concept of the railway station had yet to be developed. The buildings were designed by John Carter, a mason from Heighington who had superintended the construction of bridges along the line. In September he was also commissioned to build a cottage at Aycliffe Lane (the C19 name of Heighington Lane). Around the same time a regular passenger service between Darlington and Shildon commenced along this stretch of the line, using a horse-drawn coach. The inn at Stockton was completed and leased out at the start of 1827. On 7 May 1827 the S&DR advertised the leases for the newly completed dwelling houses overseeing both the Aycliffe Lane and Darlington depots, noting that the company was seeking to obtain licences for them as inns. Unfortunately, the local magistrates refused to oblige and the house and depot at Aycliffe Lane was let without an alcohol licence in September 1827 to Matthew Turnbull for £20 a year, £4 less than Turnbull had previously offered. An editorial in the Durham Chronical 15 September 1827 decrying the decision of the magistrates indicates that the cottage was already taking on some of the core functions of what was later identified as a railway station, often being used to shelter passengers awaiting coaches and as a collection point for goods and parcels being transported by rail. As a proto-railway station, this direct use by passengers marks it out as being more recognisable as a railway station than its contemporaries at Darlington and Stockton: the cobbled surface shown in historic photographs between the building and the line has been suggested as being the world’s earliest railway passenger platform.
A plan of Great Aycliffe township, 1828, shows the original T-shaped building, the main line and several sidings, along with two small outbuildings: one on the far side of the line to the west (perhaps a waiting shelter, but more likely a storage shed) and one to the east, at the entrance to the depot yard, this probably being a weigh house. By this time the depot was also being used by steam locomotives to take on water, possibly pumped from a pond also marked on the plan. On 1 July 1828 Locomotion exploded whilst taking on water at Aycliffe Lane, killing the driver John Cree and injuring Edward, Matthew Turnbull’s brother.
In autumn 1829, an alcohol licence was finally obtained following a change in the law to allow appeals against local magistrates’ judgements. Although often referred to as an inn, (sometimes as the railway inn, sometimes as The Kings Arms) the property is not thought to have been large enough to provide overnight guest accommodation. Its use as a railway station also appears to have been ad hoc and informal in its early days. Passenger services up until the end of 1833 were provided by a number of independent coach operators using horse-haulage, paying a toll charge to the railway. With the S&DR taking over these services, using steam locomotives, Aycliffe Lane is presumed to have more fully taken on the function as a booking office for the railway, although it appears not to have been referred to as a station in company records until 1840: the S&DR’s terminology evolved through the 1830s. The station layout is shown in detail on Thomas Dixon’s 1839 plan of the railway, by which time a pair of railway workers’ cottages had been added to the east side of the original building. Use as a public house lapsed around this time and by the first depiction by the Ordnance Survey, (1:10560 surveyed 1856) it is labelled as ‘Heighington and Aycliffe Station’. It was renamed Heighington Station in 1873 and is marked as this on the Ordnance Survey map revised 1896 which also shows a reconfigured coal yard to the south and the addition of a signal box across the line to the north west (built 1872, listed Grade II). The building remained in use as a railway station with attached housing through most of the C20 but fell into disuse in the 1970s, the station becoming an unstaffed halt. In 1984 it was renovated and converted into a public house called Locomotion 1 which closed for business in 2017.
There is no staircase within the original T-plan building: this may have been an original design feature, the upper floor serving the track level, the lower floor serving the yard. Historic photographs show that the doorway at the northern end of the leg of the T-plan was converted into a window in the first half of the C20, this possibly allowing the insertion of a staircase internally which was subsequently removed. The conversion of the window in the head of the T-plan into a doorway also took place sometime before the mid-C20.
Railway station and railway worker’s housing. Built 1826–1827 as a cottage/proto-station by John Carter for the Stockton & Darlington Railway, a pair of cottages added by 1839, converted to a pub 1984 with an extension added to the west cottage.
MATERIALS: squared, coursed sandstone, cottages rendered. Welsh slate roofs with brick chimney stacks.
PLAN: the original T-shaped building presents as a single storey to the railway line which passes on the west side, but as two storeys facing the original coal yard to the south. Originally the two floors may have lacked internal connection. The upper floor was originally accessed via a doorway from the lineside platform, the door now reduced to a window in the leg of the T plan. The head of the T is now a single room but was formerly subdivided into two rooms. This has a small, now blocked booking office window overlooking the approach to the original doorway. The floor at yard level below is considered to largely retain its original plan form, including both storage rooms and two domestic rooms with fireplaces, all interconnected and accessed from a single door to the yard. The 1830s cottage forming the centre of the building retains its one-up one-down plan form, also accessed from the yard, but is now interconnected to the rest of the building. The eastern cottage’s plan form has been altered by the 1984 addition of the southern wing and single storey eastern lean-to.
EXTERIOR: the original building is quoined, the windows having similarly dressed monolithic lintels and projecting stone sills, generally with renewed, multi-paned vertical sashes. Some of the stonework adjacent to the cottage to the east is rendered. The roof is low-pitched and hipped, with end stacks at the east and south ends of the T plan. The ridgeline of the pair of cottages extending to the east is level with the eaves of the original building, the upper floor of the cottages being an attic storey. The cottages’ roof is similarly low-pitched with a hipped east end and a central, square, ridge stack. Windows are also generally multipaned sashes the openings having projecting stone sills. The 1984 extension is sympathetically detailed.
Platform elevation (west): the original doorway, now reduced to a window, is central, placed at the north end of the leg of the T-plan. To its left, in the south-facing wall of the head of the T-plan, is the former ticket-office window, a small, now blocked opening. To the south of the original doorway there is a window. The doorway set centrally to the head of the T-plan was formerly a window. This is flanked at low level by small basement windows.
Roadside elevation (north): the road ramps up to the railway’s level crossing leaving a narrow gully between it and the basement/yard level of the building. There are no doorways in this elevation, only windows. The original building, of two broad bays, has windows to both floors. The two former cottages have noticeably smaller windows, the cottage to the centre having a single window to the first floor, the east-end cottage having a single window to each floor.
Southern Yard elevations: the original building is accessed at yard level via a door at the northern end of the leg of the T-plan. Above the door there is a small window to the upper floor, with a larger window to each floor in both the adjacent south and east elevations. The south elevation of the leg of the T-plan is blind. The south elevation of the cottage to the centre of the building has a door and window at yard level and two smaller windows above. The southern elevation of the eastern cottage is replaced by the 1984 extension, the southern gable wall of which carries a large low relief panel depicting the steam engine Locomotion No.1 and a C19 family group.
INTERIOR: this has been extensively remodelled but retains some C19 features including the brick vaulting to the rooms on the ground floor of the head of the T-plan, and a number of fireplaces including a large example formed with monolithic jambs and lintels on the upper floor of the original building and simpler fire places on the lower floor in both the original building and the western cottage, these formed in brickwork.
SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: stone flags and kerbing considered to be part of the former station’s low platform remain in situ. The cobbled surfacing shown in historic photographs may also survive concealed beneath gravel and vegetation. Extending to the south of the original building there is the stone-built end of the former coal drops, including sections of rail.
This list entry was subject to a Minor Amendment on 29 September 2023 to correct a typo in the description