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History of Darlington



Darlington began as a Saxon village. It first appeared in writing in the early 11th century when it was called Dearthingtun. Its name was probably originally Deornoth ing tun. Deaornoth was man. The word ‘ing’ meant belonging to and tun meant farm or hamlet. So it was the estate belonging to Deaornoth. St Cuthbert’s Church probably dates from Saxon times.

In the Middle Ages Darlington belonged to the Bishop of Durham. In the 12th century the Bishop turned part of the settlement into a market town. In the Middle Ages there were very few shops. If you wanted to buy or sell anything you had to go to a market. The Bishop could make money by charging tolls. However Darlington was a very small town, even by the standards of the time. It probably only had a population of several hundred. It was also largely an agricultural settlement. Many of the inhabitants made their living from farming. Nevertheless there was some industry in Medieval Darlington. The main one was making wool. Wool was woven and dyed in Darlington. There was also a leather industry. Skinners lived in Skinnergate. (The street name ‘gate’ does not mean a gate in a wall it is derived from the Danish word ‘gata’ meaning street). Where does Bondgate get its name? In the Middle Ages most men were villeins or bondmen, halfway between slaves and freemen. They were tied to the land and had to spend some of their time working on the Lord’s land. When the Bishop created a market town he probably freed some of his villeins but some remained bondmen and lived in bond gata or bond street.

Through the centuries Darlington was a thriving little market town. In 1569 a rebellion occurred called the Rising of the Northern Earls. Following its defeat a number of men were executed in Darlington. The exact number is not known. Then in 1585 Darlington suffered a disastrous fire. (Fire was a constant hazard in those days because most buildings were made of wood with thatched roofs). It started on 7 May 1585 between midday and 1pm. The fire spread quickly. Unfortunately water was scarce because of a drought and people desperately used milk and beer to try and dowse the flames. In all 273 houses were destroyed and 800 people were made homeless. However Darlington was soon rebuilt. Like all towns in those days Darlington suffered outbreaks of plague. It struck in 1543, 1597 and 1605. In the 18th century Darlington became famous for the manufacture of linen. It was noted for making towels and tablecloths. The first newspaper in Darlington was founded in 1772. The first bank in Darlington opened in 1774. In the 18th century turnpike roads were built. You had to pay a toll to use them. A turnpike road was built from Boroughbridge through Darlington to Durham in 1745. It was followed by one from Barnard Castle through Darlington to Stockton in 1749. In 1751 another was built from West Auckland to Darlington.


At the beginning of the 19th century Darlington was still only a small market town but it grew rapidly and had reached a population of 50,000 by 1900. In 1809 a dispensary was founded in Darlington where the poor could obtain free medicines. The first hospital opened in 1864. On September 27th 1825 the famous Stockton to Darlington railway opened. In 1823 an Act of Parliament formed a body of men with powers to clean the streets of Darlington and light them (with oil lamps). They also had the power to appoint night watchmen. From 1830 Darlington had gas lighting. However like all towns in the early 19th century Darlington was dirty and unhealthy. a water company was formed in 1846 to supply piped water. In the 1850s a network of sewers was built. Then in 1875 a statue of John Pease was erected. South Park was laid out in 1877. From 1880 horse drawn trams ran in the streets of Darlington.

The first public library in Darlington opened in 1885. Central Station was built in 1887. In the 19th century the old linen industry came to an end but a new engineering industry grew up in Darlington and there were many iron foundries. Electricity was first generated in Darlington in 1900. The horse drawn trams in Darlington were replaced by electric ones in 1903. However they in turn were replaced by buses in 1926. The first cinema was built in 1911. In 1915 the boundaries of Darlington were extended to include Faverdale and Branksome. In 1932 they were extended to include Whinfield, Haughton, Lingfield and Firth Moor. In 1967 they were extended to include Blackwell. In the 1920s and 1930s the first council houses were built in Darlington. Many more were built after 1945. In the late 20th century traditional manufacturing industries in Darlington declined. Fortunately they were replaced by service industries. The Queen Street Centre was built in 1969. Darlington Town Hall was built in 1970. Darlington Sixth Form College opened in 1970. The Railway Museum opened in 1975. Northgate House was built in 1976. The Arts Centre opened in 1982. Darlington also has the Dolphin Centre, which was opened by Roger Bannister in 1983. The Cornmill Shopping Centre opened in 1992. In 1997 Darlington became a Unitary Authority. Also in 1997 the brick train sculpture was erected. Eastbourne Sports Complex opened in 1999. Today the population of Darlington is 101,000.