Saltwell Harriers was founded in September 1890 and is Gateshead’s longest established running club.
The Club annually hosts England’s oldest road race which, in 2010, was renamed The Ronnie Walker Saltwell Harriers Road Race in honour of the man who had devoted most of his life to the Club and was its President for more than 30 years.
The Club’s most successful era was during the 1950s and 1960s, when Saltwell was the leading distance running club in the region. Prominent Saltwell men included England and GB internationals John Anderson, John Hillen and Bill Wilkinson, junior international, Bill Robinson, Miles Atkinson, Pat Hollywood and the squad of Billy Anderson, Winston Churchill, Reg Dixon, Brian Carrick, Danny Heron and Bill McGuirk which won the North East, Northern and National Youths Cross-Country titles in 1959.
Saltwell Ladies also led the way during that era, being the top ladies club in the North-East in the 1950s. Records of its successes are not as prevalent as those for its male counterpart but it is known that Saltwell Ladies won 15 medals in the 1951-52 season and Club Captain, Mary Joyce was 7th in the Women’s National Cross-Country Championship.
In addition to those mentioned above, Saltwell’s international athletes have included England and Great Britain international and 1936 Olympian, Jack Potts, Frank Milligan (1924 Irish Games), George Harrison (1940 International Junior Cross-Country), Billy Cain (GB Marathon and Half Marathon teams 1982 & ‘83) and Daniel Henderson (1992 World Cross Cup, Under-21s, Belgium). In the prestigious Morpeth to Newcastle Road Race in 1983, Billy Cain was a member of the victorious Saltwell team, with club mate and future international Kevin Forster winning the race, Billy in second place and third counter David Kelly not far behind.
Of course, Saltwell Harriers has survived so long not only because it has members who enjoy running. Its existence and continuity relies on those elected officials who voluntarily give their time and efforts to managing the Club, captaining the teams, coaching the athletes and looking after their safety and well-being.
Ronnie Walker’s contribution in that respect has already been mentioned but in the records of Saltwell Harriers Officers, since 1920 it is striking how many times the surname Cleghorn appears. Bob Cleghorn DCM was elected as Chairman in 1920 and both as President and Chairman in 1922. He held the position of President no less than 31 times and Chairman 29 times between 1920 and 1965. Prior to his roles with Saltwell, Bob was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, an extremely high level military award, for bravery in WW1 at Paschendale. He was also the Headmaster of Rose Street School.
His nephew, Bill Cleghorn, became a Saltwell Harrier in 1923, was Club Captain in 1934 and 1935 and served his first period as President in 1938 and 1939. He took the initiative in bringing the Club back together after the Second World War, acting in the role of Secretary for the first 3 years. As a runner, Bill could be relied on as a counter in the Saltwell team even into his veteran years. A night shift worker at Vickers, Bill was also President nine further times between 1973 and 1983 and Chairman 3 further times during that period.
Another remarkable fact about Bill Cleghorn is that from the start of the 1932-33 season till the end of the 1935-36 season, he never missed a Club run. It is highly unlikely that anyone has ever matched or ever will match that achievement. Anyone up for the challenge?
Other extraordinarily long-serving Club officers, include, Billy Noble, Fred Smith and Keith Wood.
Although a return to the standards set in the glory years has since been elusive to Saltwell, membership of this friendly club has never been as high, with more than 200 members in April 2020. Moreover, there have been impressive individual achievements in recent years, including those of Gemma Bradley, Abraham Tewelde, Alex Roberts, Rob Brooks, Fred Smith, Keith Wood and Scott Garrett. Among other things, Gemma won the 2015 Kielder Marathon, the 2016 Chevy Chase and the 2019 Simonside Cairns Race. She also completed the gruelling Bob Graham Round, a fell running challenge over a 66 miles, 27,000 feet circuit of the highest peaks in the English Lake District within 24 hours. Gemma is one of ten Saltwell Harriers have successfully completed the challenge within the time limit. Their fascinating accounts can be found on The Bob Graham Round page.
- A fuller history of the Club is given in Fraser, W. (2015) Saltwell Harriers AC: Its Founding And Some Of Its Prominent Characters, Limited Edition.
- The History Of The Ronnie Walker Saltwell Road Race by Walter Fraser (2011) and updated list of winners.
- The Historical Record of Major Club Officials (xls).