Restoration of the ornamental railings and stonework, High Row (1992-1996)
Up until the end of the 19th-century the carriageway of High Row consisted of a cobbled surface sloping down to Prebend Row and the Market building. In 1897 Darlington Council held a competition to improve the area. The approved scheme involved removing the cobbles, levelling the High Row roadway and erecting a length of ornamental railings and stonework along the eastern side where a new, stepped, change of level was created. The project was completed in 1901.
From its inception the scheme became a focal point for the town, featuring on countless Edwardian views. The main features were four sections of ornamental grey-granite, classical-style, balustrading topped with stone urns and resting on large granite coping stones and blocks. The latter ran for a full 170 metres and were topped elsewhere along their length with distinctive iron railings, interspersed with several flights of massive pink granite steps linking High Row with the lower level.
Over the years the ornamental elements suffered gradual degradation through vandalism, damage by vehicles, general wear and tear and through being adapted as supports for bus shelters and a noticeboard. The accumulation of other ad hoc items of street furniture such as a bus company hut further detracted from the appearance of this prominent part of the town centre conservation area.
By 1992 parts of the stonework constituted a potential hazard and Durham County Council (as the highway authority) allocated funding for the Borough Council (as agent) to carry out essential remedial work such as re-bedding dislodged base blocks. The Borough Council added some further funding to enable a comprehensive restoration of the iron railings. Modern accretions such as the remnants of former bus shelter stanchions and the advertising board were removed. Missing boss posts and intermediate uprights were salvaged from elsewhere, replica rails were provided and the whole ironwork was repainted. This phase of the work was completed in 1993. The restoration coincided with the pedestrianisation of High Row from 10.30 - 4 each day by the two Councils, and the introduction of seating and planting.
The dominant features of the 1901 scheme - the sections of stonework - were, however, still in a severely dilapidated condition. Only the longest section, which surmounts underground public toilets, was anything like intact, missing only three of its four granite urns. The other sections needed almost 60 new balusters or half-balusters and seven (out of an original ten) urns, plus numerous other items such as die blocks and capping pieces. Reference to old photographs enabled the original designs to be established, an application for grant was successfully submitted to English Heritage and the Borough Council made available the necessary additional finance with the aid of European regional development funding. Work on the stonework (and the removal of remaining later features such as the bus company hut) commenced in April 1995 and was completed at the turn of the year.
It is therefore the case that almost all the stone balustrading and all the urns currently seen on High Row were made in the 1990s, and are features that had not been present for some time before then. The urns are not stone, but are concrete and resin moulds. A large proportion of the uprights in the iron railings were brought onto High Row in the 1990s from other parts of the town. All of the horizontal rails are not original cast iron, but are 1990s steel.
Appendix Ten - Cabinet report 16 November 2004 Darlington Town Centre Pedestrian Heart