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Heritage Site Asbestos Survey on the World’s First Passenger Railway Station

Environmental Inspection at Heighington and Aycliffe Lane Railway Station on Stockton and Darlington Railway

It has been our pleasure recently to work on a site that has international historical significance and is a major part of the UK’s economic and industrial heritage.

We recently surveyed the world’s first passenger railway station. It was most recently named Locomotion No.1 public house, in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham but has been empty since 2017. The site is the former Heighington and Aycliffe Lane Railway Station; part of the famous Stockton and Darlington Railway (S&DR ) line, opened in 1825.

The site has always been a pub (built in 1826-1827 and acquiring its alcohol licence in 1829), adjacent to the railway platform. The Friends of the Stockton & Darlington Railway, a local charity, are in the process of fundraising to acquire and restore the building which is currently unoccupied (

Environmental Inspection has previously completed asbestos surveys on the Weardale Railway, including signal boxes, a depot at Wolsingham, and Frosterley Station and Stanhope Station.

What is it like to perform an asbestos survey on a heritage site?

An artist's image of what the Heighington and Aycliffe Lane Railway Station looked like when it was in its original use.
A steam locomotion arriving at Heighington and Aycliffe Lane Railway Station. Painting by John Wigston, copyright (c) Friends of the S&DR

This was a unique project. It’s not every day we get to survey such a special historic building.

It’s one of the reasons I enjoy my job. I get to go inside places not accessible to the public. I’ve been behind the scenes of some extremely interesting buildings. But, this likely tops the list because of its historic importance.

What are the plans for the building?

The Friends of the S&DR have an ambitious plan to fully restore the building. This involves conservation and repairs to bring it into use for events and education, with a target date of completion by 2025. Funding is being raised by donations and grant applications.

As a rare Georgian station, it will become an attraction for visitors from around the world.

So, our survey had to take account of this context.

Risks of surveying an unoccupied building

Any unoccupied building presents additional risks. These include:

  • It has not necessarily been inspected recently, so, some aspects of the condition of the building are unknown.
  • There is an ever-present danger of intruders – in both human and animal pest forms. There had indeed been some instances of vandalism on this site.

For the above reasons, we always involve at least a two-person survey team.

In this case, we needed to arrange temporary lighting for the boarded-up and unused building.

Risks when carrying out asbestos surveys on a historical and grade II* listed building

We have previously worked on a few grade I and grade II listed buildings. So, we brought that experience of how to avoid any impact on the fabric of the building.

The regulations and the current condition of the building are, of course, foremost in our minds when we are on such a site. Grade II*, as with any listing, means all internal and external fabric is legally protected unless it is specifically excluded in the descriptive text from Historic England. Even enabling works and surveys must not damage original features. Such original features may have been upgraded, for example, to provide fire protection. Many of these upgrades can be from the time that asbestos was widely used. So, coatings and new surfaces can often contain asbestos. They require careful sampling.

So, any issues that we encountered were managed. We already had plans for such a sensitive asbestos survey and it helps to have a minimum of a two-person survey team.

Challenges that we overcame with this disused historical building

The vandalism had left potential hazards. This included damaged electricity boxes and even live cables. They were cordoned off and we were of course careful not to disturb them or approach them.

There was a flood in the basement that will need to be pumped out, so, that will require a temporary power supply at a later date. The client was happy for us to exclude this area from the survey.

There were other basic physical dangers, including missing floorboards, missing bannisters, gaps in surfaces, and potentially unsafe walls.

What we did

We ensured that we had safe access and visibility of the interior.

We proceeded very cautiously with a sensitive survey in respect of the grade II* listed status of the building.

We completed all of the work comprehensively and safely despite all of the challenges.

An electrician had already been in attendance and identified that the mains electricity was still live. When we attended, we were told about this and the client was just awaiting the power board to isolate from the road. We stayed clear of this cable during the survey.

There was no access to the basement because of the flooding, so we worked safely outside of that and surveyed all other parts of the building. As is protocol, all areas that are not accessible are presumed to contain asbestos. No intrusive or destructive refurbishments will be carried out in such areas until proven safe by a future survey. This is documented in our report and noted in our accompanying advice.

Did we find any asbestos?

We took 21 samples – mainly of textured coatings on ceilings, walls, and features and possible cement roof tiles. Our approach is to take one sample per pattern to cover each time period in which previous refurbishments were done. And, we are sure to include each material type.

We identified asbestos paper backed vinyl floor coverings in the bathroom. The giveaway was the paper backing on the tiles. It indicates that these tiles were from another era because modern tiles have foam or plastic backing. We strongly suspected it was chrysotile paper when located during the survey. It’s one of those materials that we just know at first glance from experience. The sample and analysis of course confirmed it is Chrysotile asbestos paper.

We also identified textured coating containing Chrysotile Asbestos. This can only be done in the laboratory because the fibres are not visible to the naked eye. So, it’s a 50:50 chance it contains asbestos.

What were the results and implications?

Firstly, nothing that we sampled needs to be restored because the coatings that were sampled are all being taken out. So, no original features were affected by any of our work.

We provided initial advice and further detail once the sample results were returned from the UKAS-accredited laboratory. For example, the type of asbestos products that were present determined that these were not ‘notifiable’ (to the HSE). If they were, we would have helped with the necessary reporting.

The main implication is the client must have the asbestos-containing materials (that were to be removed anyway) removed and disposed of in a specific way by reputable, trained, specialised contractors. We wrote a detailed and appropriate tender specification and will select and manage contractors. This has formed an essential part of the business plan being developed by the prospective owners. They can hopefully soon proceed with the planned refurbishment safely, with the knowledge that nothing else will be identified within the scope of the survey.


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