Barnard Castle flourished in the 19th century when its new railway station brought visitors from far and wide to explore all it had to offer, but where is this station now?
24th February 2021Heritage
Nestled in the beauty of Northern England, Barnard Castle is home to a wealth of history. From its medieval origins, to recent political notoriety, this quaint market town has certainly undergone a magnificent evolution over the centuries. But, if you look close enough, you can see the remnants of the past scattered throughout the structures of the present.
In history, there are certain key inventions which propelled human society forward into new ages. In prehistory, we see things like the wheel, and close to the world we know technology like mobile phones and the internet has pushed us further than ever before. The conception of one particular new feat of engineering in the 19th century was responsible for changing the face of Britain, and Barnard Castle was definitely a part of that: The railway.
Granted, a form of rail transport had been around for quite some time, starting with horse-drawn wagonways in 16th century Germany. But by the 19th century wrought iron rails and the steam locomotive meant Britain was the home of the world’s first modern rail transport. The opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway in 1830 was the start of a rapidly growing system which granted the people of Britain a freedom of travel they’d never had before.
County Durham was no stranger to the elusive new trains, in fact 40 years before Barnard Castle’s own station opened in 1861, the first passenger train had run from Stockton to Darlington. But the introduction of the station really gave the town a boost. Not only did the new trains transport soldiers to the shiny new Barracks of the Durham Militia, but they turned the town into a popular tourist destination. It had a lot to offer to these new visitors, with its beautiful surrounding forest and the fascinating Bowes Museum which still stands proudly on the town’s edge today.
Like many towns of the time, the people of Barnard Castle decided they should make every effort to impress their new visitors, and so the town faced some pretty exciting new developments. From flowerbeds and greenspaces, to the grand Victorian townhouses built along Galgate, the town received a fresh coat of paint.
On top of these more aesthetic updates, the railway brought jobs to many, both in the now flourishing industry and in the railway themselves. Houses, industrial buildings and railway buildings began popping up all around town. But unfortunately, this success wasn’t to last, and in the late 19th and early 20th century the local economy declined. Buildings which were once symbols of Barnard Castle’s thriving prosperity became war offices, training camps and stables during World War One.
But that doesn’t mean they’re gone. Look to the heart of the old town and you might see the traces of this important time in the town’s history. For example, Montalbo Primary School incorporates the original goods yard of the station, providing a wonderful opportunity for students to explore the heritage of their own town from the comfort of their own classrooms.
Next time you find yourself in Barnard Castle, cast your eye around the town, and see if you can’t uncover the clues of its rich past for yourself!