Robert Watson Boyd – Champion Skuller of England

At a time when the ‘Boro’ were yet to turn professional, Middlesbrough already had a sporting superstar capable of drawing crowds of thousands to watch him compete. Yet today the name of the champion rower Robert Watson Boyd is virtually forgotten.

Robert Watson Boyd was born in Gateshead on the 20th September 1854, the son of a wherryman (a coal carrying tug on the Tyne) he was already known as a talented rower by his teenage years.

Robert Watson Boyd

The World Sculling Championship had existed since 1831 with the champion taking on a challenger. This continued on the Thames and Tyne until 1876 when Australian born Edward Trickett returned home and took his title with him, leaving much confusion as to who was the English Champion. The Newcastle Daily Chronicle held an open regatta in March 1877 on the Tyne to decide, the event was won by Robert Watson Boyd who was crowned ‘Champion Sculler of England’

Ex – Champion Sculler of England

In May 1877 Boyd defended his title and defeated John Higgins on the Thames by nearly a quarter of a mile. Higgins however took the title away from him just a few months later in October 1877.

Boyd moved to Middlesbrough in 1878 when he married Hannah Bell, whose parents ran the Alexandra Hotel. Boyd became the landlord when her parents retired.

In February 1880, Boyd raced William Elliott on the Tyne for £400 a-side and won easily. This would later emerge to be Boyd’s final win, but at the time his good form allowed him to challenge the world champion Edward ‘Ned’ Hanlan. This match happened in June 1880 in Providence, Rhode Island, USA. He was unfortunately defeated, however this must still have been a huge event for a man from Middlesbrough in 1880.

A further match against Hanlan was arranged on the Tyne in April 1882. Press coverage was intense, with the Evening Gazette recording a crowd of 2000 at Newport in February just to watch him train, then giving daily updates on his progress in the paper. Despite the months of training Boyd was again defeated and announced his retirement.

Race of the Tees

However he seems to have had a change of heart and the ‘Race of the Tees’ is arranged for July 1882 against Australian Elias C Laycock for £400 (this is something like £40,000 today). The event drew thousands of spectators with excursion trains running to Middlesbrough from Sheffield, Whitby and Newcastle. Sadly Boyd lost again in front of the home crowd and this was his final race.

Boyd became landlord of the Shakespeare Hotel on Linthorpe Road, but his intense training which involved rapid weight loss seem to have taken a heavy toll on his body. He died on 1st July 1887 aged just 33, his cause of death was said to be ‘Brights Disease’ an old term which implies kidney failure. His grave can be found in Linthorpe cemetery carrying a pair of oars and his champions title.

Robert’s widow Hannah stayed on at the Shakespeare Hotel and remarried Samuel Suffell in 1889. So she lost two husbands within three years. Perhaps a little unusual that they are buried together without her !

Cleveland Salt Company – Vulcan Street

In 1859 a borehole was started at Bolkow and Vaughans’ Middlesbrough Ironworks in search of a clean water supply for use in their boilers, instead of dirty water from the Tees. By 1862 at a depth of 1200ft a bed of rock salt was discovered that was almost 100ft thick.

Local geology

The Cleveland Salt Company was formed in 1887 to exploit this resource for the
fledgling chemical industry, Carl Bolckow nephew of Henry was one of the first
board members, fresh water was pumped down into the salt bed which it dissolved,
brine was then pumped out and evaporated in large pans to drive off the water and
extract the salt.


The six original pans were initially fired by waste hot gas from the Middlesbrough Ironworks blast furnaces, this was expanded to thirteen pans in 1889. In 1920 the blast furnaces were blown out and the pans had to be converted to run on coal.

Brine Pans

A total of four wells existed in the companies’ lifetime, The original No.1 was
abandoned in 1893 due to a roof fall, No.2 and No.3 from 1888 and 1893 respectively
operated until around 1938 when they started to become choked. So No.4 which had
been an incomplete well started in 1896 was re-started, but was not completed until
1941 due to drilling problems and the outbreak of the Second World War.

Well section

In 1945 and 1946 there were roof falls in the remaining No.4 well after which the evaporation pans were never restarted. The company wound up in 1947 having produced 879,972 ton of salt in 59 years.

Well section after collapse

Making a few calculations, that suggests a volume of over 400,000 cubic meters, or
165 Olympic Swimming Pools. It’s an interesting thought that there must now remain
a huge water-filled void under the area, most likely under the river and Transporter
Bridge !

Vulcan Street

Today all that remains is the impressive red brick boundary wall on Vulcan Street
dating from 1887. This became a listed building in 1988, however it’s not totally
original as it was rebuilt from other interesting sections of the original building by the
Cleveland Community Task Force, Middlesbrough Council and the Davy Corporation
in 1982.


Athina Livanos at Coatham 1937

The rocks and beach at Redcar have witnessed hundreds of shipwrecks and groundings over the years. So I took a gamble when I purchased an unlabelled photo album at a local auction, hoping that what I was looking at were previously unpublished photographs of one such incident.

Athina Livanos at Coatham 1937

With just the sea in the background, the only clue was some Greek writing visible on the back of the ship. “AΘHNA ΛIBANOY  XIOΣ” which after a little research I was able to translate as “Athina Livanos Chios”

Chios is the fifth largest Greek island and was the birthplace of Greek shipping magnate Stavros Livanos. The ship was named after Athina, his second daughter. Despite the Greek name and ownership, the Athina Livanos was a 4824 ton steamer built by Grays of Hartlepool with a yard number of 1065. The engines came from the Central Marine Engine Works which was also part of Grays. She was launched on 3rd September 1936 and completed during October 1936 at a cost of £75,000.

The beaching at Redcar which was near Tod Point took very soon afterwards on 28th February 1937. It was a major story at the time as a Pathe News clip exists of the incident at

Athina Livanos at Coatham 1937

Athina Livanos was just one of a series of ships built by Grays for the Livanos Maritime Company. There were ships named Eugenie Livanos, Evi Livanos, G.S. Livanos, George M. Livanos, Mary Livanos, Michael Livanos and Theofano Livanos after other family members.

The Athina Livanos was lost on 29th November 1943 while carry coal from Lourenco Marques in Mozambique (now known as Maputo) to Beirut and Tripoli. She was torpedoed in the Gulf of Aden by the Japanese submarine I-27, nine sailors and two passengers lost the lives. Submarine I-27 was itself sunk in the Indian Ocean on 12th February 1944 by HMS Paladin and HMS Petard but not before it had attacked and sunk the SS Khedive Ismail killing 1,297 people.

The real-life Athina Livanos went on to be the first wife of shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis who later married Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy. Her second husband was John Spencer-Churchill, 11th Duke of Marlborough, cousin of Sir Winston Churchill. Her final husband, before her death in 1974, was another Greek shipping magnate Stavros Niarchos.

I originally wrote this article for the Evening Gazette back in July 2013.