It can be difficult to make the women involved in the early days of the railway visible. They were scarcely mentioned at the time, didn’t attend committee meetings and were rarely employed. Often their role was as an unpaid support for their paid husbands. So, let’s take a quick look at some of the women we do get a little glimpse of in the records.

1.         Some of the very first shareholders who bravely invested in the Stockton & Darlington Railway in order to get it established were women. -. Harriet Peacock and Ellen Storey, both from families who were to have long associations with the S&DR. Other women were to add their subscriptions at later dates.

2.         Jane Hackworth nee Golightly, Timothy Hackworth’s wife was a stalwart support to Timothy who was the Stockton & Darlington Railway’s first mechanical engineer and locomotive supervisor. She was described as a woman of great individuality, competent, energetic, and an admirable housewife.’ In her younger days she was a great horsewoman. She became a Methodist and met Timothy attending Methodist meetings c.1810-11. They married in 1813 at Ovingham parish church.

She gave birth to six daughters and three sons (one of whom died in infancy). When Timothy first started working on the S&DR in 1825 he lived in temporary accommodation (Bed & Board) first in Darlington and then Brusselton while the new family home was being built in New Shildon. He wrote to her often (the letters are in the Search Engine at the NRM in York) and during this time she gave birth to twins.

Jane laid the foundation stone for the new Wesleyan chapel at New Shildon and then gave the address. When the chapel was ready, she rode 40 miles to seek an able minister to open it (Young 1975, 333-4). She regularly sent hampers to family members and others who needed support (she ‘fed the hungry and clothed the naked’ according to a tribute paid to her after her death) and had considerable regard for the railway workmen and their families.

Both Jane and Timothy believed that education should be accessible to all their children, not just the boys. Indeed, their youngest daughter Jane, was sent to complete her education at a Roman Catholic School at Villevorde, near Brussels, something they were criticised for at the time.

She died two years after Timothy in 1852 in the house at New Shildon where she was living with Ann Ambler (married, age 36), Mary (age 34), Elizabeth Holmes (widowed, age 32), Timothy an engineer (age 26), Ann (age 22) and grandson Samuel Holmes (age 5), plus a servant.

3.         Mrs Anderson was the wife of Joseph Anderson who was engaged in May 1827 to manage the weigh house, keep accounts and generally be useful (great early job description!) at Spout Lane between New Shildon and Thickley. This also required him to keep the time of the mechanics at New Shildon and to regularly be at the foot of Brusselton Incline to collect the tickets – and he had to monitor the enforcement of byelaws. These duties took him by rail to Stockton, Darlington and Yarm at least twice a week. He had no assistant to cover for him, so Mrs Anderson covered his duties at the weigh house while he was away (Tomlinson 1914, 134-5). An unreliable source suggests that Mrs Anderson’s first name was Rebecca but this needs confirming.

4.         Mary Simpson. The S&DR commissioned a merchandising station in 1826 which was ready for use in 1827. It was located on the line just west of the Skerne Bridge in Darlington. In 1833 when a new goods station (also called a merchandising station) was built across the road, it was recognised that they needed to formalise and improve on the passenger offer. The merchandising station was partly converted to provide a cottage on the lower floor and a shop, booking office and waiting room above (TNA RAIL 667/298). The dedicated passenger station came into use in November 1833 with the dwelling house and shop being let to Mary Simpson at £5.p.a. in return for which she was to ‘keep the coach office clean and afford every necessary accommodation to coach passengers’ (ibid). Mary Simpson is the first instance of having a woman named as an employee of the S&DR.

5.         Not something to celebrate, but one of the earliest casualties of rail travel was a blind beggar woman at Yarm. Her death wasn’t the first (or indeed the second) railway fatality (see Brendan Boyle’s article in the Globe July 2018 for a list or earlier railway fatalities). However, on March 5, 1827, the rector of Egglescliffe, John Brewster, recorded that he had buried “a female: name unknown” whose age was “passed 40” and who had been “killed by the steam machine on the railway”. The inquest recorded a verdict of “accidental death” but “fined the engine 10s as a deodand” – a “deodand” was an ancient punishment whereby an item which had caused a human death was fined in an attempt to make amends; in effect the owner would pay the fine. This unfortunate female was an American. She was blind, and she was a beggar. Quite how she came to tumble under a locomotive on the S&DR in Egglescliffe in 1827 is also not recorded (see Chris Lloyd’s article in the April 2018 Globe).

6. The creation of the railway undoubtedly created opportunities for businesses and one of the areas that were to thrive were the taverns and inns of Shildon, Darlington, Yarm and Stockton. In the early years of the developing railway, the company decided to concentrate on goods traffic and permitted local businesses to run passenger travel for a fee. With no template for railway passenger travel to copy, the obvious source of inspiration was the stage coach which normally departed and collected from inns. Therefore a number of innkeepers offered a passenger coach service whereby the specially adapted coach left the inn with its passengers and joined the railway, with the journey terminating at another inn. One female inkeeper mentioned in those early days of rail travel was Martha Howson of Stockton, widow of George who died in 1820 after a long illness. Martha had the Black Lion in Stockton and her property ran from the High Street down to the riverside where the Stockton & Darlington Railway had their warehouses. Martha teamed up with Richard Scott of the King’s Head in Darlington to provide a service running the Defence coach twice a day from at least September 1826 to her inn (and when Richard died, his widow Jane Scott took over the service). Martha will have taken a share of the receipts for booking passengers, receiving parcels, caring for horses, etc. Then on 16 October 1826 her inn was the starting point (at ‘which passengers and parcels are booked’) for the heavily promoted ‘Elegant New Railway Coach’ the Union on its journey ‘on the Stockton and Darlington Railway’ calling at Yarm.

Away from the railway, in September 1827 Martha received fulsome praise for her exuberant welcome to the Duke of Wellington on his visit to Stockton. The town was filled with flags, banners and bunting for the still-feted hero of Waterloo and:

‘the most tasteful display was that made by Mrs Howson, in the front of the Black Lion Inn. Along the parapet at the top of the house, bunches of laurel were placed, and immediately below appeared the word ‘Waterloo’, painted in yellow letters on a crimson ground (the colours of the Duke), under which hung a large flag of the same colours, bearing a motto, ‘See the conquering Hero comes’. The top of the sign board, which extends along nearly the whole front of the house, was decorated with bunches of laurel and flowers intermixed. The whole had a striking appearance and excellent effect’.

Another visitor to Martha’s Black Lion – of far more interest to railway historians was the ‘father of the railways’ Edward Pease. His great-grandson, Alfred, told of how, when going through Edward’s papers he had come across:

‘what we should now consider shocking … a voucher of his for £2 paid for ‘Punch’ at the Black Lion at Stockton’. (later Quakers were often tee-total).

You can read more about Martha in an article by Brendan Boyle in The Globe for April 2021 (from which this information on Martha has been derived). This is provided to members of The Friends of the Stockton & Darlington Railway and is usually available some months after publication on their web site to buy or download.

 7. Ann Adamson

Many of us will have heard of Dan Adamson whose name has survived nearly 200 years through his associations with his coach house and Grey Horse Inn at Shildon Lodge and his passenger service between Shildon and Darlington. His son with the same name, a nationally renowned engineer Daniel Adamson has also survived into the annals of history. But in the last few days, a glimmer of light has shone into this corner of Old Shildon to reveal Ann Adamson, wife to Dan Adamson and mother to Daniel. She got her hands dirty on the railways and worked hard as an innkeeper until she died at the age of 80.

So, here’s what we have so far…..

In 1830, Shildon Lodge Colliery was sunk directly behind the Grey Horse Inn by the Surtees family, and the following year, a little branch line – the Surtees Railway – connected the pit to the S&DR. This branch ran through what is now the Hackworth recreational park – in fact a path follows the line. The pub, therefore, found itself lineside so Daniel could run his coach directly from his own home on track rather than by road to the Mason’s Arms which he had been doing since 1826/7.

Old Dan Adamson died in February 1832. At a time with no state pension or support for widows, Ann had to take over some of Dan’s work, but just how much did she take on?

A newspaper advert dated August 1832, referred to an auction to be held at “the house of Mrs Adamson, the sign of the Grey Horse, in Old Shildon” (Durham Chronicle, 3 Aug 1832). This suggests that she had taken over the licence from Old Dan Adamson. She was still listed as the landlady of the Grey Horse in 1834 (Pigot’s Directory 1834).

Ann Addamson is referred to in a notebook by S&DR engineer John Graham in 1833. It was her job to lead coal laden waggons down the Surtees line to New Shildon on behalf of the Surtees family and this was done by horse. In 1833, the S&DR company instructed all users that horse drawn traffic was no longer acceptable, and locomotives were to be used instead. Ann resisted this move and was supported by Mr Surtees much to the annoyance of the railway company including John Graham (GRA 1/3 Book 2 p7).

The 1841 census listed Ann (aged 60-64) as the head of the household at Shildon Lodge living with Wm Adamson (35-39), Daniel Adamson (20-24), Mary Adamson (20-24), Hannah Adamson (15-19), Ann Adamson (7) and Mary Blackett (15-19).

Moving forward in time, Ann was listed as the owner of the Grey Mare in Shildon (Slater’s 1848 (intro June). Is this a different inn or did it go through a subtle name change in the light of the owner being a woman?

The 1851 census recorded more information than the previous 1841 one, and this suggests that Ann had been born in Bowbanks, Yorkshire c.1782. If anyone could check this I’d be grateful.

Hagar’s Trade Directory of 1851 placed Ann as the victualler at the Surtees Arms. This is not necessarily another pub – the Grey Horse had at one time been called the Surtees Arms and it is shown as such on later 19th century Ordnanace Survey maps. However, another directory of 1858 (PO 1858 (intro Sep)) placed Ann at the Grey Horse. The Ward’s Directory 1859-60 (intro March 1859) listed Ann as running the Surtees Arms at Shildon Lodge. The two names seemed inter-changeable for a while.

Ann died in February 1860 aged 80 years old. The notice in the Durham Chronicle, 9 March 1860 recorded that she had been ‘for many years landlady of the Surtees’ Arms Inn, of that place’ [Old Shildon]. Adverts in the local press (Durham Chronicle, 16, & Durham County Advertiser 23, March 1860) announced the sale of her lease:


TO BE LET, And entered upon on the day of May next,

ALL that Old-established and Well-accustomed PUBLIC-HOUSE, known by the name Surtees Arms, together with 27 Acres of GRASS LAND, more or less, situate at Old Shildon, new Bishop Auckland, late the occupation of Mrs Ann Adamson, deceased. Proposals in writing will be received for the same Mr John Robson, of Red worth, till Friday, 30th day March next …

There is still much to learn about Ann. Did she have any role in continuing the passenger service that left from her inn and where the coach house was located? Was she able to continue her leading job on the Surtees line after 1833? Was the Surtees, Grey Horse and Grey Mare one and the same inn or was the Surtees Arms the later inn across the road from the coach house and was the old building, still surviving next to the coach house, actually the original Grey Horse inn?

8. Two un-named women in 1835 surely avoided serious injury or death to coach passengers on the Brusselton Incline. They were mentioned in John Graham’s notebook entry for 27th November 1835:

“On Tuesday Night 24th Int Some Evel disposed person or Persons wantingly or maliceously Laid some large Stones upon the Rail in Brusselton West Bank for the purpose I have no doubt of Throwing the Coach off the way, but fortunetly were seen and Removed by 2 young Woman.” (Notebook 3, p 58)

9. Rachel Pease. See our blog on Rachel Pease (1771-1833) here.

There were surely many more women involved in the running and funding of the railway, perhaps support for their employed husbands, perhaps offering community services to railway families; the task to uncover their history continues.