Safe and Sound

Stories of Emergency Response in the Tees Valley

Museums in the Tees Valley always strive to have an ongoing project which allows for partnership work. In order to decide what that might be we look for common ground across our collections. Each museum has a different strength; Hartlepool has a long maritime history, Middlesbrough was a planned settlement that grew rapidly during industrialisation, and Darlington has been given the name “cradle of the railways”. It often proves difficult to find a commonality between such diverse collections, but Leona White-Hannant Curator of the Head of Steam – Darlington Railway museum, suggested that the emergency services could provide a running thread through each of our collections.

The introduction of the railway brought to England’s green and pleasant land a new and unfamiliar problem. There was now a clear possibility that engines could collide, theft could increase, and criminals would be free to use the vast network of train lines to hide from the law. Not to mention the social unrest caused by large numbers of immigrant Navvies employed to lay the tracks that joined up once remote towns and villages.

Opening S&D railway

Watercolour by John Dobbin, depicting crowds watching the first train cross Skerne Bride during the opening of the Stockton and Darlington Railway, 1825. This was the world’s first steam locomotive used to haul passengers on a public railwayand the opening attracted thousands of spectators. One such spectator, eager to be part of the action, clung to the side of one of the wagons. When speeds reached up to 15mph he lost grip and fell off, crushing his foot under the next wagon. Although the opening was deemed a success overall, the day’s events did highlight the dangers of this new transportation.

These changes were all too frightening to Victorian society. It quickly became apparent that a force of some kind was necessary to maintain order. The first mention of this force came in 1826, in a regulation of the Stockton and Darlington Railway. They incorporated into their constitution that the Police Department should consist of, ‘one Superintendent, four officers and as many gate keepers as circumstance required’. These early railway policemen were appointed to preserve law and order on the construction site, patrol and protect the line and control the movement of trains to avoid collisions.

It is this connection to the Railway Police that kick-starts our project, ‘Safe and Sound, Stories of Emergency Response in the Tees Valley’. The partnership between the Museum of Hartlepool, The Head of Steam Darlington Railway Museum and The Dorman and Captain Cook Museums in Middlesbrough, aims to widen knowledge of and public involvement with our social history collections, but especially those relating to the emergency services and the individual men and women who have served our communities for over 200 years.

Photograph courtesy of the Head of Steam – Darlington Railway Museum

Photograph of Darlington’s Railway Station staff, the group includes two North Eastern Railway Police Officers and was taken in the late 1800s. Initially the main role of the railway policeman was to ensure the movement of trains at the platform so to avoid collision, however by the late 1880s mechanical signaling had been installed throughout many stations, allowing Railway Policemen to take on other station duties, such as issuing tickets to those whom they thought were travelling for lawful reasons.

From Police on the railways to crews on the lifeboats; the Nurses, Paramedics and Midwives who we trust with our lives, the Air Raid Wardens of World War Two and to those who risk their lives fighting fires, this area is steeped in stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. ‘Safe and Sound’ looks to unearth the history of these services. It seeks to tell the tales of those who not only worked for them, but also of those non-uniformed heroes who responded to emergency situations with courage and nerve.

The project, which got underway earlier this year is still in the research phase. Anna Dodgson, Cultural Officer for the Museum of Hartlepool, but who works across venues in the Tees Valley, is currently sifting through and pinpointing artefacts that allow for the exploration of this rich history.

Findings will be presented in regular newsletters which inform our followers on the history, objects, photographs and stories that have been unearthed along the course of the project. Research will also build towards having a website, symposium and publication. A touring exhibition where the stories and objects uncovered will be on display to the public will be the climax of the two years research.

Photograph courtesy of the Head of Steam – Darlington Railway Museum

Photograph of an unknown North Eastern Railway Police Sergeant taken in the late 1800s. Note the St John’s Ambulance badge on his forearm. During the Industrial revolution, men worked in dangerous conditions where accidents were frequent but workers rarely saw a doctor. Members of the Order of St John wanted to help. They trained the public in first aid so accidents could be treated quickly. In 1877 they set up the St John Ambulance. The railway was just one of these dangerous industries and as it became more popular with the public, it became clear that the Railway Police, along with other workers in the stations and workshops, needed to know how to deliver first aid. Classes were organized and delivered by members of the St John Ambulance. When the participant completed the course they were given a badge and a certificate.

If you are interested in helping with our research, or if you worked for the British Transport Police in the Tees Valley area and would like to share your story, or perhaps if you are even a collector who would like to showcase the objects you have collected over the years, then please get in touch with Anna Dodgson.

All photographs courtesy of the Head of Steam – Darlington Railway Museum