This set of four table mats features the 1825 Skerne Bridge in Darlington and the 1826-7 Merchandising Station with Locomotion No.1 hauling wagons over the bridge, while to the rear, a horse drawn passenger coach travels along the trackbed of the Stockton & Darlington Railway. In the foreground, the countryside is still rural – soon that would change as the railway attracted more industry. This design is also available in tea towels, fridge magnets, key rings, tin mugs, coasters and nightlights.
The Skerne Bridge was originally going to be designed and constructed under the supervision of George Stephenson. Stephenson’s original design was to be like his innovative bridge at the river Gaunless and made of ironwork and stone. However, the price of iron rocketed, the Gaunless Bridge was damaged during the bad winter of 1823-4 and Stephenson had trouble with the foundations. So, the Stockton & Darlington Railway Committee brought in Ignatius Bonomi to design the bridge instead. Bonomi was the County Architect for Durham but he had never built a railway bridge with such constant and weighty traffic. It was perhaps no surprise therefore that the bridge embankments started to show signs of weakness within three years of the railway being opened. The bridge was strengthened by John Carter in 1829 who was the S&DR’s part time inspector of works and building designer. Carter was already familiar with the bridge having acted as the S&DR’s inspector during the original building works and he was a stone mason by profession. He introduced curved flank walls to help support the embankments and created the distinctive design that is seen on early paintings. These curved flank walls were also replaced in the late 19th or early 20th century presumably to further help the bridge cope with the heavier traffic still being hauled along the line. It was also widened about the same time. The bridge remains in use today and is the oldest, continuously used railway bridge in the world. It featured on the UK five pound note in the 1990s and is now considered to be one of the UK’s one hundred most cherished buildings. You can read more about the Skerne Bridge in an article by Brendan Boyle here.