THE first gold medallist with deep County Durham and North Yorkshire connections is probably Blair Onslow Cochrane, whom the record books say was "born near Darlington" in 1853 and who triumphed in a sailing competition in the 1908 games.

Blair was actually born in Monkend at Croft-on-Tees into a family of sailors who had become mineowners.

The Northern Echo: Monkend Hall, Croft, where Blair Cochrane was probably born

His great-grandfather, the 9th Earl of Dundonald, a Scottish aristocrat, lost nearly all the family fortune by ploughing it into his invention of coal tar which, he said, would waterproof ships to prevent rotting timbers – the British navy, though, preferred copper bottomed ships.

The 9th Earl’s two sons, Thomas and Archibald, fought so heroically in the Mediterranean during the Napoleonic Wars that Napoleon nicknamed the oldest “Le Loup des Mers” – the Sea Wolf. The younger brother, Archibald, married Jane Mowbray of Sunderland, and they took up residence at Hetton Hall, at Hetton-le-Hole.

The Northern Echo: 1908 Olympic Games

Jane was the daughter of Arthur Mowbray, who had been one of the most powerful men in the coalfield: he had been manager of Sir Henry Vane-Tempest’s collieries and the Receiver-General of the Bishop of Durham’s rents. But he had been declared bankrupt in 1815 when his bank had collapsed, but made a second fortune by forming the Hetton Coal Company in 1819. His new son-in-law, Captain Archibald Cochrane was a fellow investor, and the captain’s mother, Lady Cochrane, ceremonially cut the first sod of the mine and its pioneering railway.

One of the captain’s sons, Robert, lived at Monkend Hall, three miles south of Darlington, which was where Blair was born. How long he lived there, we don’t know – perhaps young Blair had his first sailing experience on the Tees.

Blair went to top schools in London, and married Mary Sutton, the daughter of Sir Richard Sutton, the 4th Baronet (if you are really following closely, Sir Richard the 9th Baronet and, worth £301m, one of the wealthiest men in the country was murdered in April in his stately home in Dorset).

The Suttons had interests on the Isle of Wight, where Blair settled. He invented the first racing boat in the 1890s and became Rear Commodore of the Royal Victoria Yacht Club at Ryde. This club hosted the 1908 Olympic sailing events, which Blair organised and entered his own yacht, Cobweb, in the eight-metre class.

Aged 55, he was Cobweb’s helmsman, and he steered his four-man crew to gold. He even received a gilt commemorative gold medal as he owned the winning boat.

We believe Blair, who received an OBE for his work with the Royal Horse Artillery during the First World War, is the first gold medallist from North Yorkshire or County Durham. He died in 1928.