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  Darlington Bank Top Station

Bank Top is Darlington's principal station, serving the cross-country Stockton & Darlington Railway (S&D) route as well as the East Coast main line. The present building, opened in 1887, is one of the most distinguished of the mature station designs of the North Eastern Railway (NER) and is the third to occupy this site.

Bank Top originated as the northern terminus of the Great North of England Railway, which linked Darlington with York and opened to passengers in March 1841. The station was conceived as a temporary building but remained in service for a further fifteen years after the main line was continued north to Tyneside by the Newcastle & Darlington Junction Railway, opened in 1844. It was finally replaced in 1859-60 by a new building on the same site, designed by the NER's first architect, Thomas Prosser. The main feature of this was a pitched-roof trainshed, on the site of the eastern span of the present station roof; this was fronted on the west by an office range of which no illustrations have been found. It seems to have been a rather dull one-storey building enlivened by a small iron carriage portico. This became the terminal feature in the view along a new street, Victoria Road, which was created to link the station with the town centre. The trainshed covered a single through platform and three tracks: the platform line and a pair of carriage sidings, with further tracks outside to the east to handle goods traffic. The east wall of this trainshed survives as the middle portion of the rear wall of the present station, but otherwise Prosser's building has vanished from sight.

Just three years after the completion of the second station, the S&D merged into the North Eastern Railway, yet for years passengers wishing to make connections between the two systems had to take a shuttle train between Bank Top and North Road. This was solved by the building of a new route which left the NER main line south of Bank Top and rejoined the S&D just east of Dinsdale. That enabled all 'Darlington Section' (former S&D) passenger services to be routed through Bank Top, which was rebuilt as a model interchange station in time for the opening of the new line on 1 July 1887.

A High-Speed train about to leave the south end of Bank Top station in the late nineteen-eighties.

Demolition began in May 1885, and reconstruction took two years, during which normal services had to be maintained. To manage this, the western half of the new station was built in front of the old one while the station offices, which occupy the middle of a large island platform, were built on the site of the old entrance building and re-use much of its foundation walls. The outcome was a station whose planning embodied the best ideas in current practice: in particular, the concept of a centralised plan based on an island platform having direct road access to it. This is characteristic of a number of Austro-German stations, but the first to develop the concept in a really ambitious fashion is Halle, which was begun at the same time as Bank Top. The plan was not much favoured in Britain, although it was adopted for the reconstruction of Edinburgh Waverley station in 1892-1900.

The original layout. Access to the cab road is from Parkgate, which the railway crosses by twin bridges some distance to the north (right). Bay platforms 5 & 6 were provided for Darlington Section trains heading to North Road and beyond. Bays 2 & 3 were then, as now, for Stockton and Middlesbrough.

Although the detailed design of Bank Top is by the NER Architect, William Bell, and his team, it was planned by the Engineer, Thomas Elliot Harrison, and is the last of his major stations, completed just nine months before his death on 20 March 1888. It was evidently seen as a flagship project by the NER's 'Darlington' directors, representing the old S&D interest, who were an influential minority on the Board. Thus the direct road access to the north end of the platform was duplicated by a pedestrian entrance at the head of Victoria Road via a carriage porch flaunting a lofty clocktower. This gave the station its visual place in the townscape but was evidently not to the liking of John Dent Dent, NER chairman from 1880 to 1894, who publicly deprecated the amount of money which the company had spent.

(below) View south along the carriage road into the middle span of the trainshed. It is still enclosed by some fine, original cast-iron railings.




For the trainshed roof, Harrison and Bell revisited York (1877) and Newcastle Central (1851) stations, combining the sturdy, swelling wrought-iron ribs of the former with elegant cast-iron arcades redolent of the latter. An innovation was the use of lattice purlins which make for a robust yet still visually light design which gives rise to intricate shadows. In later designs, Bell would employ simple and cheaper I-beams instead. Alternate spandrel brackets feature the NER's heraldic device and the arms of Darlington, Durham and Newcastle. Thus we see in the left-hand bracket above Darlington's train, Durham's cross and Newcastle's three castles.


The station is planned around a central office range, reached by pedestrians using a pair of subways (only one of which survives in use) from the Victoria Road entrance, whose cabstand is enclosed by a further short span of trainshed roof. A typical Harrison concept is the provision of a concourse recessed between the wings of the office range; this is seen also at York and was a feature of Darlington's 1860 station.

The concourse area of Bank Top station, seen in 2005 during repairs to the trainshed skylights. It has a subsidiary pitched roof because the middle span of the trainshed stops at either end of the 2-storey office range. The low shop premises were inserted into the concourse during a British Rail remodelling of 1973, which produced the present travel centre.


Designing the bracket and case for the station clocks was a relaxing exercise for one of Bell's staff. Darlington's heraldic shield appears on the left

(left) Victoria Road entrance and cab shed. The clocktower formerly housed a bell, which is now displayed on the station platform.





© W. Fawcett, 2011