Hartlepool, North-East England.

Hartlepool is a town on the North Sea coast of North-East England, located about 7 miles north of Middlesbrough and 17 miles south of Sunderland. Historically a part of County Durham and later Cleveland, the town is now its own unitary authority, the Borough of Hartlepool, which embraces the outlying suburban villages of Seaton Carew, Greatham and Elwick. Ceremonially the town remains a part of County Durham. However, it has strong cultural and economic links with Teesside and the Tees Valley area, with which it shares a number of provisions including the TS postcode, Cleveland Fire Brigade and Cleveland Police.

The town was founded in the 7th century CE around the Northumbrian monastery of Hartlepool Abbey. The village grew during the middle ages and developed a harbour which served as the official port of the County Palatine of Durham. A railway from the north led from the South Durham coalfields to the town. An additional railway from the south, in 1835, together with a new port, resulted in further expansion, and the establishment of the new town of West Hartlepool. Heavy industry, which included shipbuilding (shipbuilding dated from the late 19th century), caused Hartlepool to be a target for the German navy at the beginning of the first world war. A bombardment of 1,150 shells on 16th December 1914 resulted in the death of 117 people. A severe decline in heavy industry, shipbuilding included, followed the second world war and caused periods of high unemployment until the 1990s, when major investment projects and the redevelopment of the docks’ area into a marina have seen an improvement in the town’s prospects.

The monkey-hanging legend is the most famous story associated with Hartlepool.

During the Napoleonic Wars, a French ship was badly damaged off the Hartlepool coast. At the time the damaged ship was spotted there was fear of a French invasion of Britain and much public concern was expressed about the possibility of French infiltrators and spies.

Fearing an invasion, the fishermen of Hartlepool kept a close watch on the French ship as it struggled against the storm, but, when the vessel was severely battered and sank, they turned their attention to the wreckage washed ashore. Among the wreckage lay one wet and sorrowful survivor, the ship’s pet monkey dressed to amuse in a military-style uniform.

We are led to believe that the fishermen questioned the monkey and put it on trial on the beach. Unfamiliar with what a Frenchman looked like, they came to the conclusion that the monkey was a French spy and should be sentenced to death. The unfortunate monkey died by hanging, with the mast of a fishing boat (a coble) providing a convenient gallows.

Hodgson’s the Fishmongers is perhaps the best surviving fishmongers in the North-East. The pub at the railway station is a CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) award-winning pub. The old town (on and south of Church Street), the Headland, the streets north and south of Park Road to West Park, and the Osborne Road and Murray Street areas are also interesting.  Note Kiwi Trading on Osborne Road, an antique and bric-a-brac shop in an old garage. Also note the restaurant in Hartlepool FE College called The Flagship. Very good three-course meals cost about £14. Bottles of wine are sold at a reasonable price (by UK restaurant standards, at least).

Elwick Road leads to the pretty village of Elwick where a 12th century church, some attractive houses and two pubs make the detour worthwhile. Dalton Percy is also quite interesting, but Greatham much more so.

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