MONDAY marks the 196th anniversary of the opening of the Stockton & Darlington Railway, so it seems appropriate to tell the story of an item recently donated to Darlington’s Head of Steam museum by the Pease family.

It is an extremely rare First Class travel pass from 1859 that allowed 22-year-old Sophia Pease, of East Mount in Darlington, to 12 months of free travel to all stations across the Stockton & Darlington Railway network, which then covered much of the North East.

Sophia was the daughter of John Pease, and so Edward “Father of the Railways” Pease was her grandfather. Her sister, Mary Anna, was also entitled to a free pass.

A couple of years after the 1859 pass expired, Sophia married Theodore Fry from the Bristol family of Quaker chocolatiers. He became Darlington’s mayor in 1877, and was elected as the town’s second MP in 1880. Towards the end of the 19th Century, he was one of the great industrialists of County Durham, and in 1894, he was made a baronet – Sophia, therefore, became Lady Fry.

Sophia Pease, who was allowed to ride on the trains for free

Sophia Pease, who was allowed to ride on the trains for free

Their Darlington home was Woodburn, which was the companion mansion to Elm Ridge, where her sister Mary Anna lived with her husband, Jonathan Backhouse Hodgkin.

Sophia was a political pioneer. From Woodburn, she formed the Women’s Liberal Federation, which is regarded as the country’s first female party political grouping, and it became one of the leading voices calling for women to get the vote.

Perhaps Sophia used her pass to travel the region on her political activities.

Her son, Sir John Pease Fry, of Cleveland Lodge in Great Ayton, wrote a note before his death in 1957 which gives a little background information on the pass.

Sophia Peases free railway pass on the Stockton & Darlington Railway

Sophia Pease's free railway pass on the Stockton & Darlington Railway

“When the S&DR was swallowed up by the new and larger North Eastern Railway (in 1863), these passes were continued over the whole of the railway,” he wrote. “Later, the NER made strong efforts to get the owners of these passes to give them up voluntarily and Sophia Fry was persuaded to give hers up.

“I never heard of any compensation.”

He continued: “Mrs Mary Anna Hodgkin declined and I believe she stuck to her pass to the end. She went to the monthly Quaker ‘meeting for sufferings’ in London for years and made frequent small journeys to quarterly and monthly meetings at Ayton, so it was quite useful and, you may say, a lucky perk.”

The pass, along with new pictures of Sophia and her father John, are on display at the Head of Steam, and online, throughout September.

  • The Friends of the Stockton & Darlington Railway are holding a railway-themed market on Stockton High Street full of railway stalls and exhibitions on Saturday from 10am to 4pm.