Darlington in the Tees Valley has a rich heritage and history. Darlington's fascinating pioneering historic past features themes such as railway heritage, Quaker heritage, literary links and market town heritage. The stunning central Market Square in Darlington with the covered Victorian Market and beautiful Gothic clock tower is the site for a choice of Darlington Markets which include the Darlington Farmers' Market, Craft Fairs, the Darlington Food Festival and French and Continental Markets. The town is a major centre in the Tees Valley for fine local produce, a superb choice of restaurants and fine dining options and an impressive selection of chic boutiques, quirky gift shops and the historic department store Binns, now one of the select House of Fraser department stores.
Darlington theatre, arts and entertainment centres include the outstanding Darlington Civic Theatre and Arts Centre. Here you can see big name musical theatre shows and concerts, drama classics such as Agatha Christie plays and comedy performances by some of the UK's best loved comedians. West End Shows often play at the Darlington Civic Theatre. Music features strongly in Darlington with both the Darlington Arts Centre and the Forum Music Centre serving as hotspots for a range of music concerts including classical, jazz and folk at the Arts Centre and regular Open Mic acoustic nights at the Forum. Live music gigs at the Forum Music Centre in Darlington include the best of the UK Tribute Bands.
DarlingtonOS is the premier theatre society in the North East. Producing two full scale musicals each year at the beautiful 900 seater Darlington Civic Theatre which also plays host to West End touring productions. A registered charity, DarlingtonOS strive to bring quality musicals to local audiences with profits being distributed to local and national charities. Working with professional directors the society have gained critical acclaim for their varied productions such as Barnum, Jesus Christ Superstar and West Side Story. Tickets for productions are available to book on-line as well as a growing number of production images and detauiled information about the history of the society.
Darlington centre contains some impressive Victorian architecture, much of which like the Darlington Library, Central House and Crown Street Chambers, was designed by the Victorian architect GG Hoskins who also designed the spectacular gothic Middlesbrough Town Hall and Municipal Buildings. Prior to setting up his own business, Hoskins served his apprenticeship under the other famous Quaker architect in Darlington, Alfred Waterhouse. It was Waterhouse who designed Darlington's architectural gem in Market Square, the Victorian covered market and beautiful clocktower. The bells of the Darlington clock were cast by John Warner & Sons who also cast the original Bells for Big Ben in London. Special tours are available on Heritage Open Days during September to view the inner workings of the clock tower. Darlington's Market Town history stretches right back to between 1003 and 1016 when it was first referenced as a market town. The stunning Victorian covered market first opened in 1864.
Darlington's Quaker and industrial heritage are closely linked. It was the Darlington Quaker industrialist Edward Pease who funded George Stephenson's pioneering engine, Locomotion No.1, the very first passenger-pulling engine. You can see this historic rail engine up close at 'Head of Steam', the Darlington Railway Museum. A statue of the Darlington MP Joseph Pease can be seen in the attractive pedestrianised Darlington town centre. Pease was the first ever Quaker MP. Other historic buildings in Darlington linked to the town's Quaker heritage include the Friends Quaker Meeting House on Skinnergate with an adjacent burial ground where many of Darlington's most famous Quaker families are buried.
Darlington s history is explored on the AboutDarlington.co.uk web site. It includes information on things to see in the town, local history events and photographs of Darlington from the 1890 s through to the present day. For an unusual walk you could follow the sites Guide to the West Cemetery, discovering tales of Victorian circus performers, scandals which shook the North East and even the demise of Charles Dickens wayward brother.
Darlington Tourist Information Centre, The Dolphin Centre, Horsemarket, Darlington. Tel. 01325 388666.
Towns in Britain which deserve the title 'Birthplace of the Railways' include both Darlington and Stockton in the Tees Valley and nearby Shildon in County Durham. All sit along the historic Stockton & Darlington Railway route. The railway heritage of the North East is to be celebrated and two particular railway museums which explore this proud heritage in-depth include the Locomotion National Railway Museum in Shildon and the Head of Steam Darlington Railway Museum.
The Stockton & Darlington Railway first opened in September 1825. This historic railway line was the very first public railway worked by steam locomotives. The railway had been established initially for the transportation of coal from the West Auckland mining area to Stockton's riverside terminal. At the Darlington Railway Museum you not only have the opportunity to view Stephenson's Locomotion No 1, the first ever steam powered passenger engine, you can also visit the historic North Road passenger station here at the museum which dates from 1842. The Head of Steam Railway Museum in Darlington sits along the Stockton & Darlington Railway line. This really does mark the spot of 'the birthplace of the railways'.
Recently refurbished throughout, the Head of Steam Darlington Railway Museum is family friendly with interactive displays like 'How to build a railway' inside. One exhibit entitled 'The Beginning' tells the story of the opening of the Stockton & Darlington Railway and historic engines on display here alongside Locomotion No.1 include the Derwent, the earliest surviving Darlington-built locomotive. Replica living history exhibits include a WW1 period station with period luggage and bicycles, a period waiting room as it would have been in the original station and fascinating features such as Victorian toilets dating from 1864. How the railways have featured in film, poetry, literature and music is explored in the Audio Visual display.
Facilities at the Darlington Railway museum include a children's playroom and the onsite Railway cafe. Use the old Ticket Machine in the museum and receive your own souvenir Railway Ticket.
The Darlington shopping experience is a highlight in the North East. Over 250 independent stores in Darlington include everything from chic and quirky boutiques like Cheeki Boutique to unique gift shops, independent outdoor clothing and sports shops and specialist food shops.
Darlington Markets centred around Market Square and West Row and the Victorian Covered Market are award winning. Weekly, monthly and seasonal markets in Darlington include Craft Fairs held on the second and fourth Friday of each month. Darlington Craft Fairs are where you are guaranteed to find unique local crafts and gifts. The monthly Darlington Farmers' Market takes place on West Row and features an outstanding choice of fresh local produce including cheeses, fresh meats, vegetables, preserves, pies and other fine local foods. Darlington Indoor Market is daily and offers a range of fresh fruit, vegetables, fish, meat and gifts. The Darlington Outdoor Market takes place every Monday and Saturday on West Row and this traditional outdoor market is not to be missed for a range of fine traditional goods. A selection of themed Darlington Markets also take place during the year including Darlington Christmas Markets and French and Continental Markets. Visit the Darlington Markets website link right for dates and details.
Darlington town centre is a delight featuring many listed historic buildings and character narrow medieval like shopping Wynds and Yards. Around the Darlington Wynds and Yards you will find an outstanding choice of independent jewellery shops, gift shops, antiques centres, fine cook shops and art shops. Many shopfronts in Darlington have a unique and historic character such as Goldsmiths the Jewellers with its feature clock on Blackwellgate and adjacent to Goldsmiths the beautiful 1930s facade of Binns Department Store which bends round High Row. The history of the Binns department stores began in Sunderland in 1807 when the founders George & Henry Binns set up a drapers shop on the High Street. The Binns Department Store, like the railway heritage of Darlington, has strong Quaker links. The Binns family were Quaker drapers with strong links to Quaker networks across the North of England. In 1897 on Sunderland's still stunning Fawcett Street the first Binns Store with ornate shop frontage appeared. Binns Department Store in Darlington, with its beautiful 1930s shopfront facade is today one of the selection of House of Fraser department stores. House of Fraser acquired the various Binns Department Stores in the UK in the 1950s.
Unique independent Darlington shops to visit include the beautiful Boudoir Lingerie boutique and Eastern Origins stylish home interiors & gift shop both on Grange Road. A beautiful selection of unique gifts and antiques are to be found at the Darlington Antiques Centre on Northumberland Street and on historic Skinnergate visit Leggs independent designer clothes store in Darlington. Around the character Darlington Wynds and Yards sit more fine shops such as Bramwell's Jewellers and The Silver Shop on Post House Wynd, The Cheese and Wine Shop on Clark's Yard and specialist cycle shop the Iron Horse Cyclery also on Clark's Yard. For funky fashion clothing and accessories Cheeki Boutique in Darlington on Skinnergate is a top spot.
Dining out in Darlington guarantees a memorable eating out experience for here in Darlington in the Tees Valley sit a cluster of award winning and outstanding restaurants. A wide choice of cuisine features in Darlington restaurants from authentic Italian food to Modern British, Indian, French, Mexican and Mediterranean cuisine. One of the award winning restaurants in Darlington is 'Oven' on Duke Street. Oven's co-owner and head chef Tarek Thoma previously worked at The Dun Cow Pub in Sedgefield, a popular dining choice with the Blairs and where Tony Blair took George Bush for a meal. Enjoy the best of local produce and a variety of creative dishes at the Oven Restaurant in Darlington.
For fine authentic Italian cuisine in Darlington the chic Foffano's Italian restaurant in Darlington Market Square offers a sumptuous mix of authentic Italian and Mediterranean flavours. Darlington has a particularly excellent choice of fine Italian restaurants and there are superb Indian restaurants in Darlington too such as Reema Indian restaurant on Coniscliffe Road, Darlington's oldest and long-standing Indian restaurant with a reputation for quality dishes cooked using traditional Tandoor techniques. Ochis Mediterranean and Caribbean Restaurant in Darlington on Bondgate is where to sample authentic Caribbean food at its best.
Alongside the outstanding choice of premier Darlington restaurants sit a selection of great specialist food shops, chic cafes and delis and inviting deli style sandwich bars. Granny's Kitchen in Darlington on Bondgate creates memorable homemade favourites such as its signature dish, sweet and savoury pies as well as homemade soups, cakes, biscuits and chutneys. Relish sandwich bar on Skinnergate is where to head for a range of delicious sandwiches and paninis. A choice of character Darlington Pubs can also be found around Darlington Market Square and town centre.
Darlington Food Festival annually in late September takes place in the central Market Square and this is an exciting Tees Valley food festival which draws celebrity chefs such as Paul Rankin in recent times and numerous local produce companies from around the North East. Also in September is the Rhythm n Brews Festival in Darlington featuring great live music gigs alongside the finest of local real ales. Darlington Festivals and events include a year round programme of themed events such as the May/June Community Carnival, the July/August Summer Market Spectacular, the November fireworks spectacular and the Christmas Lights switch on.