Although Hartlepool is a port with a rich industrial past, its hinterland is dominated by the rolling magnesian limestone in unspoilt countryside that is little developed as it lies outside the Durham coalfield that dominated the scenery of other parts of County Durham to the north.
Of these villages Hart village just outside the town to the north west has the closest and most ancient ties to Hartlepool itself. It is a small and beautiful village with wonderful views out to see and surrounded by lovely the rolling limestone magnesian limestone countryside. Hart was the heartland and capital of the manor called Hartness (Heortnesse) from the seventh century onwards, The diestrict stretched from the River Tees to Castle Eden and included Billingham to the west.
Hart has has beautiful Saxon church dedicated to St Mary Magdalene with Norman and later medieval additions. The church dates to the 8th century – built in stone in the Anglo-Saxon/Viking period and probably replacing and earlier Saxon church of wood of the seventh century.
There is a sculpture of dragon slayer and patron saint of England St George on the east end of the church and from a more recent age are ‘Arts and Crafts’ style beautiful stained glass windows commemorating the Hart villagers who fell in the First World War.
Given its Anglo-Saxon credentials it is tempting to associate the village and district of Hart with (Heorot) the hall of Hart that features in the famed Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf, the oldest long poem in the Old English language of the Anglo-Saxons, however the poem is set in Scandinavia.
The Brus wall outside near the church is the remains of a huge medieval house of the De Brus family and stands on the site of an earlier Saxon hall. Associated with the De Brus family who owned the manor of Hart. It is thought – or at least claims – to be the birthplace of Robert the Bruce, the King of Scotland.
In the village is a pleasing front street with some surrounding developments of newer houses but on a small and subtle scale and the villages retains a modest scale. A cottage called Voltigeur recalls a famous horse of Hart village that was bred in stables on this site. Voltigeur was bred by a Robert Stephenson in the village and in 1850 was the winner of both the Epsom Derby and the St Leger.
The village is home to the Raby Arms and White Hart Inn pubs. The second of these is noted for the ship’s figurehead on its exterior. The original (this is a replica) was salvaged from a barque called the Rising Sun that was shipwrecked in Hartlepool during a great storm in 1861.
There is a windmill in the village on a site where the has been a mill since 1315. The present mill has not produced flour since 1915. Nearby, for contrast is a more modern wind turbine of which there are now many dotted around the coasts of East Durham and Cleveland.
Elwick and Dalton Piercy
Elwick village just off the A19 to the west of Hartlepool is a good-looking village centred around a green and a main street. Its little church, dedicated to St Peter and dating to around 1200 lies close to a wooded dene along a secluded lane just south west of the village. The Anglo-Saxon village-name means the ‘wick’ a trading-place settlement or a dairy farm belonging to someone called Aella.
Elwick’s neighbour in the same dene to the south is Dalton Piercy, another village centred on a green and main street. Dalton means the settlement in the dene (dale-tun). The second part of the name comes from the famous Percy family who owned Dalton up until 1370.
Greatham (pronounced Greetum) situated near the southern outskirts of Hartlepool is another neat-looking village within Hartlepool’s environs and has an interesting history.
Situated just to the north of the Greatham Creek which enters the Tees at Seal Sands between Hartlepool and Billingham, its name derives from ‘Greot-Ham’ possibly meaning ‘gravelly homestead’ which accurately describes the subsoil hereabouts.
Greatham was famous for its salt making in medieval times the ‘Salt De Greatham ‘ but its industry was overtaken by salt making at South Shields in the 1500s. George Weddell ensured its return to Greatham with the establishment of the Greatham Salt and Brine Company here in 1894, though it was later purchased by Cerebos in 1903.
The most striking and surprising historic feature of Greatham is the Hospital of God, St Mary and St Cuthbert. This was first founded by Robert Stichill, the Bishop of Durham in 1272 and was refounded in 1610. The present building dates to the 18th century (including the chapel of 1788) with 19th and 20th century additions .
Stranton, Owton and Foggy Furze
As with many of the larger towns in North East England, Hartlepool’s suburbs were originally rural villages, scattered farms or simply open country. When West Hartlepool grew in the nineteenth century one of the first settlements to be absorbed was the coastal village of Stranton.
The 12th century church of Stranton can still be seen, raised and walled off, in amongst modern retail developments and light industrial units. Stranton literally means ‘strand farm’ – the settlement near the shore. It is now part of the town centre.
To the south of the town towards Greatham is the suburb of Owton Manor with a name comes from Owfa-ton, ‘the farm belonging to Owfa’ but perhaps the most intriguing place-name in Hartlepool is the suburb of Foggy Furze to the south east of the town centre.
At first sight you might attribute this strange name to gorse bushes as furze is an old name for gorse, but in Victorian times the place was called Foggy Furrows. Foggy is an old word used to describe an area where coarse grass grows and derives from Fogg an Old Norse word for grass. It is from this word that we get the name of the grass called Yorkshire Fog. The name of this part of Hartlepool therefore seems to be derived from an old field name – the ploughed fields where coarse grass grew.
Seaton Carew to the south of Hartlepool near the mouth of the River Tees is the site of the Hartlepool Nuclear Power Station but this and the neighbouring chemical industries of Seal Sands do not seem to harm the sea-side resort atmosphere of the town. Seaton Carew is a popular coastal resort for Stockton and Hartlepool and is named after a Norman French family called Carou.
Like many coastal places on the neighbouring coast it was a small fishing town but grew in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries with the rising popularity of health resorts. Seaton was especially popular in the bathing season with members of the Quaker fraternity from Darlington though Dalrington Quakers were later instrumental in developing the resort town of Saltburn on the Cleveland coast to the south of the Tees.