Port unveils mural to celebrate birthplace of modern Middlesbrough and its rail heritage

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.

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.

Port prioritises education to ignite a spark in the next generation

AV Dawson, owner and operator of Port of Middlesbrough has welcomed over 1600 local primary school children through its doors, as part of an initiative led by local education provider, SPARK Tees Valley, to educate children about the career opportunities and range of businesses based around the River Tees.

Split over 30 sessions, the 12-week programme welcomed children between the ages of 9 and 11 from 39 primary schools across the Tees Valley, to participate in the educational workshop named ‘World of Work.’

The interactive workshops include working with iPads, maps and interactive robots, allowing the children to learn about future careers around the River Tees and wider Tees Valley. Other activities include ‘behind the scenes’ exercises, whereby the children understand more about a range of Teesside businesses, through a variety of different tasks and video interviews with real employees of the companies.

Andrew Stogdale, founder of SPARK Tees Valley has been supporting schools for over 20 years – delivering engaging, real-world curriculum to inspire and develop young people in the region.

The company has been using Port of Middlesbrough’s conferencing facilities within The Staiths – its new state-of-the-art head office building to support the children’s learning by allowing them to witness firsthand the port operations in action.

Mr Stogdale said:

“Our programmes are built on years of experience and research to widen children’s skills to help them understanding of what future opportunities lie ahead of them and how they can make the most of them. This programme at AV Dawson, which was funded by Tees Valley Combined Authority, has been a great example of that.

“It is a high impact, highly scalable project but what made it extra special was the opportunity to run it right in the heart of Port of Middlesbrough.

“We built additional activity around the fact that the building is in such an inspirational location with views across so many of the businesses that we featured in the activities.

“The team at AV Dawson has been brilliant in working with us to enable us to deliver this worthwhile programme. The facilities at Port of Middlesbrough are also exceptional – from the high quality Wi-Fi and space available to having an events team on hand to make every visitor feel really welcome. When we get the opportunity, we will definitely be looking to deliver this programme here with AV Dawson again because the impact on nearly 2000 local children this year has been immense.”

The port is perfectly placed on the River Tees along with neighbours, Wilton Engineering, PD Ports and a host of many other maritime companies, allowing the children to witness firsthand the type of day-to-day activities that go on along the river.

Bankfields Primary School located in Middlesbrough, were one of many schools taking part in the programme at Port of Middlesbrough.

Megan Kelly, STEM, careers and enterprise lead at Bankfields Primary School said:

“The children had a fantastic day and many of them said it was the best trip they have ever been on. The children were able to explore a range of skills across a range of curriculum lessons. They explored the importance of the Tees Valley area and discovered the many amazing opportunities that are available to them in their local area.

It is vital for children to have career driven days because it is important to raise the aspirations of children and give them the opportunity to see what they can do in the future and not limit their expectations and potential.”

Anthony Suddes, AV Dawson’s group marketing manager said:

“We were delighted to support SPARK Tees Valley with this exciting project and to welcome all these young people to Port of Middlesbrough. It’s vitally important to showcase to the next generation the opportunities we have in our area and for the children to actually see these opportunities for themselves, is fantastic.”

Port establishes new company for road transport operations

AV Dawson, owner and operator of Port of Middlesbrough has created a new company to support the growth of its transport division.

AV Dawson Transport Limited, which will incorporate all of the company’s road haulage services, is the latest business to become part of the AV Dawson Group.

As part of a wider company restructure to support the long-term business strategy, AV Dawson Transport Limited, is the third company to join the group structure and will begin trading from the beginning of October.

The Middlesbrough based firm has already launched two subsidiary businesses. This includes AVD Industrial & Port Services Limited, the business responsible for logistics and port services on its customers’ sites and the company’s ships agency subsidiary, Cockfield, Knight & Company Limited.

Within this new structure, AV Dawson Limited – which owns the Port of Middlesbrough estate – has become the parent company of the group.

Charlie Nettle, commercial and marketing director at AV Dawson said:

“The launch of AV Dawson Transport illustrates our growth and development as a business.

“Not only will this help us maintain strong relationships with our customers, but it will also give each subsidiary business more autonomy to invest and develop to better support them.

“We envisage this will also provide more development opportunities for our colleagues and keep talent within the business.”

The new subsidiary will be taken forward under the leadership of existing transport department managers Paul Scott and Alex Hugill, who have been promoted to AV Dawson Transport’s head of operations and head of commercial respectively.

Paul Scott, AV Dawson Transport operations manager said:

“We are excited the transport arm of the business has become an entity in its own right.

“This will strengthen the business in delivering the existing efficiencies of our current multimodal freight logistics operations and will also ensure greater resilience, so we can continue to support existing and potential customers in the long term.

“However, it won’t change the overall ethos of the company – we will continue to be the values-led, supportive, customer-focused business we have always been.”

This restructure comes on the back of a recent multi-million-pound investment to increase its vehicle fleet by 25% as part of a group wide diversification and expansion strategy.

Port acquires dry bulk facility as part of expansion

AV Dawson, owner and operator of Port of Middlesbrough has acquired the dry bulk business, Cobra Middlesbrough, as part of its strategic investment and expansion plans.

The acquisition will see Port of Middlesbrough’s footprint grow by eight acres, unlocking further opportunities on what was previously a 100-acre site.

Cobra, based on North Road in Middlesbrough, operates a dry bulk handling terminal with processing and packing facilities. The company’s main area of focus and expertise is in the salt market, handling and distributing thousands of tonnes of salt every year.

Much of the salt stored at the facility has been mined locally. Some of the salt is used in animal feeds, but the majority is distributed to councils across the country for gritting roads during the winter.

Cobra also provides a range of services for the farming industry. The business receives, screens and bags polyhalite – which, like salt, is mined. This is then used as a fertiliser in the agriculture sector in the UK and overseas.

The Cobra site, which is directly adjacent to Port of Middlesbrough, boasts extensive rail infrastructure and has direct access to the East Coast Mainline – this provides additional rail capacity for the port to support existing and new customers.

Gary Dawson, AV Dawson managing director said:

“We’re excited to acquire Cobra Middlesbrough. We have worked closely with the business for many years, handling the import and export of salt through our port facility and supporting their rail logistics. Bringing both ours and their operations together, within one business, enables us to provide job security to existing staff while delivering greater efficiencies for our customers.

“We recognise that the site requires some significant investment, but this actually fits perfectly with our strengths and our strategy to invest, develop and expand our site.

“This acquisition is also strategically important for our wider business because of its excellent rail connectivity. We are working with more and more of our customers to help them identify opportunities to transition from road to rail, so we need to ensure we have the capacity to accommodate their requirements. This is particularly important as we look to put our net zero strategy into action with the ultimate aim to become carbon neutral – we see rail as a big opportunity to help us and our customers to achieve this.”

This acquisition is not the first time AV Dawson has made a strategic investment to improve its rail infrastructure. In 2015, the business struck a deal with Network Rail to take full control of the seven-acre neighbouring Middlesbrough Goods Yard.

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