Monkey-hanging legend adds character to Hartlepool
PUBLISHED: 17:29 16 May 2011 | UPDATED: 19:23 20 February 2013
Far from making it a laughing stock, the Monkey Legend is a sign of the strength and real character of Hartlepool, as Tom Fennelly discovers
It is a sign of true character and a great indicator of the spirit of a place when its inhabitants can laugh at themselves, and nowhere is this more evident than in Hartlepool and its handling of the monkey hanging legend which has brought the town worldwide fame.
Local people speak with genuine pride of the story of the hanging of the monkey, which took place during the Napoleonic Wars when a French ship was wrecked in a storm off the Hartlepool coast. There was much talk of invasion and real concern about the possibility of French infiltrators
Fishermen watched the French vessel struggle against the storm until it eventually sank. Among the wreckage washed ashore they found only one survivor, the ships pet monkey dressed in a military-style uniform.
Legend has it that the fishermen, not knowing what a Frenchman looked like, apparently questioned the monkey as a spy and it was sentenced to death by hanging from the mast of a fishing boat.
The resilience of the folk of Hartlepool had stood it in good stead as the town has grown and declined and risen again. For a town which has three times elected a Mayor who was previously a larger-than-life costumed football mascot for the towns football club, celebrating the monkey legend is a distinctly Hartlepudlian trait.
Stuart Drummond may have swapped his Hangus the Monkey costume for the office as of Mayor but there is no doubting that his pride in the town reflects the fact that far from literally getting the monkey off his back, he, like most locals, has made it work for the town.
Hartlepool was originally two towns - the old town of Hartlepool on the Headland, and the more recent West Hartlepool merged in 1967 to form a single borough. The site of a natural harbour and a small fishing town for hundreds of years, Hartlepool was granted a Royal Charter by King John in 1201
Some parts of old Hartlepools still surviving town wall are over eight feet thick and date from the 14th century, including the historic Sandwell Gate. Hartlepool needed to be well defended as it was the main sea port of the powerful Prince Bishops of Durham and was a regular target for Scottish attacks from the sea.
During the Middle Ages Hartlepool was one of the busiest ports on the east coast but by the 18th century its importance declined considerably and the harbour fell into disrepair. It almost disappeared entirely as the area was used for agriculture before a petition in 1813 saved it.
With the coming of the railways in the 1830s, Hartlepool was connected to the collieries of the South Durham coalfield and the port was once again thriving, with new docks built for the exporting of coal and importing of timber. An Act of Parliament in 1844 allowed the building of rival docks at West Hartlepool which expanded rapidly.
By 1881 Old Hartlepools population had grown from 993 to 12,361, but the fledgling West Hartlepool boomed to 28,000. By 1900 the two Hartlepools were one of the four busiest ports in the country and West Hartlepool alone had a population of 63,000.
The large docks complex was also home to Hartlepools renowned shipbuilding industry and associated marine works and a steel works. As heavy manufacturing industry declined and unemployment rose during the1970s and 1980s Hartlepools economic future looked bleak.
As in centuries past, Hartlepool responded to the challenge and from the dereliction and decay reinvented itself centred on the building of an impressive new marina complex built on the site of the old docks. The regeneration continued through the 1990s and into the new millennium to create a new optimism in Hartlepool culminating in the highly successful Tall Ships event in 2010.
Combining the shipbuilding and engineering skills of the past, new jobs have been found in service industries, light manufacturing and tourism. New shops have been built and the port now has a thriving trade which includes importing new cars from their manufacturing bases abroad.
Hartlepools excellent Maritime Experience epitomises the bringing together of things old and new. A deserved reputation for the restoration of historic ships has created a major tourist attraction with Europes oldest warship afloat, the 1817 HMS Trincomalee, as its centrepiece.
The recreated Historic Quayside has a range of period shops including a ships chandler, naval gunsmith, printer, swordsmith and even an admirals house.
Regular musketry and cannon displays by authentic costumed characters give visitors a real taste and sound of naval life in the days of Nelson.
There is a Meet the Georgians special event on Saturday, June 25, and Sunday, June 26.
The magnificent Hartlepool-built paddle steam ship Wingfield Castle is the largest exhibit at the adjacent award-winning Museum of Hartlepool.
First attack of the Great War The Headland is home to the Heugh Battery, which has occupied a unique place in British history since, shortly after the outbreak of World War One, becoming the first place on mainland Britain to be bombarded by the German Navy.
A total of 114 people died as more than 1,000 shells rained down on the town for about 40 minutes from the three heavy cruisers which emerged from the mist shortly after 8am on December 16, 1914. Among the casualties was Theo Jones, the first soldier to die on British soil in the Great War. Nine German sailors died aboard the Blucher.
The previous evening a large German fleet set sail to bombard Hartlepool and Scarborough. Both were fortified towns and considered legitimate targets. The intention was to lure the Royal Navy out into the North Sea but bad weather scuppered the plan and only the battlecruisers Seydlitz , Moltke and heavy cruiser Blucher sailed into Hartlepool Bay to wreak death and destruction.
The Hartlepool guns returned fire and scored several hits, many shells bouncing off the warships armour.
In World War Two the shipbuilding yards at Hartlepool were a regular target for German bombing. The battery was modified and enlarged to serve as a combined coastal and air defence station. It saw little further action following the Battle of Britain and briefly became a post-war training facility before becoming obsolete with the Cold War.
The guns were finally removed in 1956 and the site became derelict. In 2003 the Heugh Battery Trust was founded to save the battery. With a major grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, substantial parts have been restored, including two gun emplacements, an underground magazine, the Battery Command Post and the barrack building.
It also has a fine collection of field artillery, armoured vehicles and a Chieftain tank. It is one of the most intact coastal defence sites in Britain, but no other coastal battery can claim to have fired guns in anger. It is well worth a visit. Opening times 10am-4pm Thursday-Sunday.
Sense of belonging
Hartlepool has "a hard shell but a soft heart" according to Margaret Faint, one of the team of welcomers who greet visitors to the historic church of St Hildas.
The medieval church, which dates from around 1190, dominates the seafront around the famous Headland area of Hartlepool and it stands on the site of a former monastery dating back to the 7th century. The Venerable Bede mentions the place in his famous book "The History of the English People" and St Hilda (614-680) was Abbess there for seven years before going on to found her more famous Abbey at Whitby.
Margaret Faint and husband Keith welcome visitors from near and far to the impressive church and visitor centre. With a 13th century vaulted tower, the east end of the church was demolished about 1724 and rebuilt between 1926 and 1932. Its striking architecture and collection of artefacts and adornments trace its origins through the centuries. The altar rails are carved from oak taken from the tower during an earlier restoration and thought to be over 1,000 years old.
The story of St Hildas is brought to life and into the 21st century date through the clever use of modern technology with interactive display panels. It is greatly enriched with the knowledgeable words of volunteer guides like Margaret and Keith and their colleague Tony Metcalfe, a retired head teacher and adopted Hartlepudlian.
He describes the attractiveness and appeal of Hartlepool as "a place of character and full of characters with a distinct kind of ruggedness but with a warm heart. It is a place full of hidden gems of architecture, history and heritage."
Everyone in and around the Headland and elsewhere in Hartlepool speaks with a real sense of belonging to a place which boasts some of the areas best beaches, great for
shoreline walks, expansive seascapes and an abundance of wildlife which attract many artists and
photographers as well as those who simply want to enjoy the bracing
sea air which whips in from the North Sea. n
Andy epitomises gritty humour
The Hartlepool sense of humour has lived on through the ages and it is again on the Headland that you can find a statue of another legend that has also brought further worldwide fame to the town in the shape of the famous cartoon character Andy Capp and his creator, local cartoonist Reg Smythe.
The Andy Capp cartoon strip first appeared in the northern edition of the Daily Mirror and was eventually syndicated to more than 50 countries and translated into 14 languages. In 1957 Andy became the star of a British stage musical and a TV series. Unlike the cartoon strip, both were major flops.
Andy Capp, with his trademark cloth cap and cigarette hanging from his bottom lip, is the classic anti-hero, most often depicted supping beer in the pub, in the betting shop, drinking endless cups of tea or asleep on the sofa, berated by his long-suffering wife Flo, who frequently uses her Northern wiles and occasionally a rolling pin to outwit her chauvinist husband.
His statue stands proudly in typical pose, but noticeably in these more health conscious times without cigarette, next to the Harbour Of Refuge pub (known locally as The Pot) above the Fish Sands on the Headland. The 5ft bronze figure by Shropshire artist Jane Robbins gazes out over Hartlepool Bay having been unveiled in June 2007 by Regs widow Jean.
Its easy to find positive things to say about Hartlepool but the most meaningful commendations come from the people themselves.
If youre a Hartlepudlian, tell us, in your own words, what is special about your home town in the comments section below