A History of Darlington

By Tim Lambert

Early Darlington

Darlington began as a small 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 a man. The word ‘ing’ meant belonging to and tun meant farm or hamlet. So it was the estate belonging to Deaornoth. In turn, its name changed to Darlington.

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 of Darlington 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. However, in 1569 a rebellion occurred called the Rising of the Northern Earls. Following its defeat, several 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 noon and 1 pm. 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 in Darlington and 800 people were made homeless. However, Darlington was soon rebuilt.

Furthermore, 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.

Meanwhile, the first newspaper in Darlington was founded in 1772. The first bank in Darlington opened in 1774.

Modern 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 the 19th century amenities in Darlington improved. In 1809 a dispensary was founded in Darlington where the poor could obtain free medicines. The first hospital opened in Darlington in 1864 and on September 27th, 1825 the famous Stockton to Darlington railway opened.

Meanwhile, 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 gaslight.

However, like all towns in the early 19th century, Darlington was dirty and unhealthy. However, conditions in 19th century Darlington gradually improved. A water company was formed in 1846 to supply piped water. In the 1850s a network of sewers was built in Darlington.

Then in 1875, a statue of John Pease was erected. South Park was laid out in 1877 and from 1880 horse-drawn trams ran in the streets of Darlington. The first public library in Darlington opened in 1885 and Central Station was built in 1887.

In the 19th century, the old linen industry came to an end in Darlington 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. Meanwhile, the first cinema in Darlington 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.

Meanwhile, the Queen Street Centre was built in 1969 and Darlington Town Hall was built in 1970.

Darlington Sixth Form College opened in 1970 and the Railway Museum in Darlington opened in 1975. Northgate House was built in 1976 and 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.

The Clock Tower in Darlington
Clock Tower, Darlington

Then in 1997, Darlington became a Unitary Authority. Also in 1997, the brick train sculpture was erected. Eastbourne Sports Complex opened in 1999. In 2023 the population of Darlington was 108,000.