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Port unveils mural to celebrate birthplace of modern Middlesbrough

AV Dawson, owner and operator of Port of Middlesbrough has unveiled a 200-metre square mural to celebrate the birthplace of modern Middlesbrough and to showcase its 190-year history and its rich rail heritage.

The mural, entitled ‘Hidden Hero’, features Timothy Hackworth, the rail pioneer who designed the original coal export staiths at Port Darlington - now known as Port of Middlesbrough - as well as designing the first locomotive to deliver cargo to the port – which was named “Globe.” Hackworth was pivotal to the original development of Port of Middlesbrough, the growth of Middlesbrough town and the evolution of the railway across the world.  

The commemorative mural, which was unveiled by Jane Hackworth-Young, the great-great granddaughter of Hackworth, has been painted onto an external, gable end wall, adjacent to The Staiths - AV Dawson’s new head office at Port of Middlesbrough.

Jane Hackworth-Young said: “I am delighted my great-great grandfather, Timothy Hackworth, is being recognised in Middlesbrough.

“As Superintendent Engineer of the Stockton & Darlington Railway, (S&DR) he designed and built the Middlesbrough staiths, which extended the railway by 4 miles. 

“His locomotive 'Globe', built to carry passengers, ran on that day and during its working life attained a speed of 50 miles per hour.

“This is the first of the celebrations leading up to the bi-centenary of the S&DR in 2025, and I would like to thank AV Dawson for organising this event, reminding us of the history of the town and for its contribution to the work of the local area.”

The unveiling was also attended by AV Dawson’s managing director, Gary Dawson and Lewis Hobson, of Durham Spray Paints - the local artist that AV Dawson had commissioned to paint the mural.

The event was watched by rail, history and art enthusiasts, local press and AV Dawson colleagues.

Andy Preston, Shahda Khan, Jane Hackworth-Young, Gary Dawson, and Lewis Hobson

Gary Dawson, managing director of AV Dawson said: “We wanted to commemorate this great story and showcase the history and rail heritage of Port of Middlesbrough.

“This site underpinned the economic development of the new industrial town and can therefore lay claim as the birthplace of modern Middlesbrough.

“We also wanted to celebrate a hidden hero of the story – Hackworth was a modest man and was often overshadowed by better known characters in the region’s industrial history.

“Producing this mural was also a fantastic opportunity to celebrate our region’s art community. We engaged with the Northern School of Art and also Arts Council England’s Borderlands Creative People & Places, who provided some funding towards the project which enabled us to undertake some school engagement work we were keen to do. We conducted an extensive tender process to find a local artist for the project and were inundated with some incredible ideas – which illustrated the strength of the art sector in region.

Lewis Hobson, the artist who was commissioned to design and paint the mural said: “This mural is dedicated to a true northern genius. It follows the thread of imagination through his technical drawings to the stories sparking the beginnings of the Middlesbrough we know today.

“By collaborating with researchers, AV Dawson has traced Port of Middlesbrough’s place at the forefront of innovation in the rail and shipping industry, right through to today. We want to use this story to inform, inspire and spark the imagination of the potential geniuses of tomorrow.”

Port of Middlesbrough’s history can be traced back to 1830, when an extension of the Stockton & Darlington Railway, the Middlesbrough Branch Line, was opened to deliver coal from the Durham coalfields to the new coal export staiths located on the River Tees in Middlesbrough. At the time, the site was named Port Darlington, but from this point onwards, the town and local industry grew rapidly. The area became known as Middlesbrough and the port as Port of Middlesbrough.

Alongside a 10.7 metre portrait of Hackworth, the mural illustrates the 1830 opening of the port, when the first train bound for Port Darlington left Darlington at 10am on 27 December 1830, pulled by The Globe locomotive. Local dignitaries and special guests sat in converted cargo wagons and wore specially struck medals on blue ribbons around their necks, although the most precious passenger was a 3.5 tonne lump of coal. As Hackworth's staiths dropped the coal into the ‘Sunniside’ ship, Francis Mewburn, the railway solicitor, toasted the success of the enterprise, along with 600 banqueters on the quayside.

The mural is just one of the many projects that AV Dawson has embarked on to showcase the port’s history. The business has worked closely with local historians and researchers to develop the first detailed historical timeline of Port of Middlesbrough, which is displayed within The Staiths.