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Over the years there has been a number of claimants to the title of the world's first railway town. In reality close examination of the historical facts only supports one of these claimants, New Shildon, a south-west Durham settlement that owed its very existence to the arrival of the railways, almost 200 years ago. New Shildon emerged from an area of low lying marshland in the first decades of the 19th century, to become a thriving industrial town and centre of excellence for early locomotive engineering. Within a matter of a few years the young upstart was to merge with its much older neighbour, Shildon, to form a single township. The headquarters of the Stockton and Darlington Railway's engineering facility until the 1860s, and in the years to follow one of the most important wagon works in the British Empire. In a number of themed essays, local railway historian Gerald Slack, gives a detailed insight into Shildon's early history, highlighting the the far reaching influence of the major players, such as Timothy Hackworth and William Bouch. Also the challenges faced by a rapidly expanding population, in an increasingly industrialised county.
The 75 years during which Lingford Gardiner & Co. were to operate their engineering business, from Railway Street Works, were to witness a dramatic change in the fortunes of both Bishop Auckland and South-West Durham. Bishop Auckland was to become a self confident market town and regional centre, driven forward by the continued expansion of the South-West Durham coal field and mineral extraction in Weardale; supported by a vibrant railway network. Drawing extensively on information and archive material not previously available, our narrative tells the story of the rise and ultimately the fall of Lingford Gardiner & Co.; as King Coal fell into decline in the region. As is often the case the storytelling has been hindered to some extent but the paucity of the available documentation, and it's hoped its publication will encourage others to bring forward further material. The Lingford Gardiner & Co. story is part of a wider initiative "The Four Clocks Heritage Venture", a collaboration between the Four Clocks Centre and the Aucklands Railway Group. The aim of the initiative is to promote the Bishop Auckland's heritage links, with particular focus on its industrial past.