Old Hartlepool : Headland
Surrounded on three sides by the sea, the magnesian limestone headland or peninsula called ‘the Heugh’ at Hartlepool is more familiarly known as Old Hartlepool or ‘The Headland’.
The Headland is the older of two places called Hartlepool, the other being the former West Hartlepool but both places merged together under an Act of Parliament as one Hartlepool in 1966. Present day Hartlepool is a fascinating place with numerous buildings of interest, many within a short distance of the sea.
A forest at Hartlepool is still recorded in existence in the thirteenth century. In fact the ancient Anglo-Saxon name for Hartlepool was Herut eu meaning ‘Stag Island’ which is a reference to either the stag’s head shape of the headland or perhaps an indication that the area may have been inhabited by forest deer.
The first record of the name was in 750 AD when the Venerable Bede described the place as ‘Heruteu, id est insula cerui’ meaning ‘Stag Island’.
Heruteu was later known as Hart and was part of Hartness, the name of a whole district that included the Heugh headland and the villages of Hart and Billingham to the west. At an early stage the coastal headland was distinguished from Hart village by the addition of the word ‘pool’, which is a reference to the sheltered coastal bay adjacent to the headland.
The Norman French element ‘le’ in the name Hartlepool is the same as that in names like Chester-le-Street or Hetton-le-Hole and is used to distinguish places with similar names, in this case to distinguish the coastal town in the ancient district of Hart from Hart, the inland village. However, there is of course no hyphen in the name of ‘Hart-le-Pool’. An Old Norse saga of the 1100s gives the name ‘Hiartar Poll’ (stag pool) but this version of the name does not include the element ‘le’. The pool of Hart was the bay formed by the hook-shaped headland of the Hartlepool peninsula.
St. Hilda of Hartlepool
Hartlepool’s headland is of course the site of the original Hartlepool and was to form the natural harbour for the old fishing town for many centuries. In Anglo-Saxon times this area may have been the site of a monastery associated with St Hilda.
The Anglo-Saxon monastery at Hartlepool was founded in 640 AD by St Aidan for both men and women and its first abbess was an Irish princess by the name of Hieu. Some say that Hieu gave her name to Heugh, the name of the headland. The word ‘Heugh’ is in fact derived from Anglo-Saxon and signifies a hill spur or spur-shaped promontory. For example, Tynemouth Castle and Priory are located on a promontory site called ‘the Heugh’. In 649 AD Hieu was succeeded by St Hilda who was here until 657 AD when she founded the monastery at Whitby.
In its later days the monastery at Hartlepool seems to have declined in importance until it was finally destroyed by the Danes in the ninth century. Later, some Scandinavian invaders probably settled here or in the neighbouring area. Some local farm and village names such as Throston (Thori) or Swainston (Sweyn) contain Scandinavian personal names.
However, Vikings may have continued to be a problem for Hartlepool in the following centuries as there is a record of an attack upon the place by Norwegian pirates under King Eystein in 1153 when ships and goods were carried off from the port. Interestingly this was the last known Viking raid on England.
The main focus of Old Hartlepool’s history today is the beautiful church of St Hilda. In 1833 a cemetery thought to be associated with the old monastery was discovered nearby but the present church of St Hilda dates from the thirteenth century and was built as a burial place for the Norman De Brus (Bruce) family who owned much land hereabouts.
In the thirteenth century the coastal port and fishing town of Hartlepool became a fortified place with defensive walls constructed around the Headland though they were initially a defensive ditch and embankment. As a place that attracted wealth and trade Hartlepool was a likely place to be attacked by the Scots. The walled defences were instigated by Robert Bruce the first, who was grandfather of the famous King of Scotland of that name and the inhabitants helped pay for the wall through a murage tax.
Constructed of local magnesian limestone, the walls were originally topped with towers and a parapet. This was supplemented by iron chains that were strewn across the harbour entrance between two towers. Access to the town via land was from the north via a gate situated within the wall across the street of Northgate.
The Bruces had acquired Hartlepool, along with Hart village and the district of Hartness after the Norman Conquest, although their period of ownership was characterised by disputes with the Prince Bishops of Durham over who exactly owned the place. It had been crown land that formed an outlying part of Northumberland as part of the Wapentake of Sadberge, the Viking settled district north of the Tees. Sadberge was a district purchased by Bishop Pudsey of Durham in 1189.
Some parts of Hartlepool’s town wall date from the fourteenth century including the historic Sandwell Gate which can still be seen. It would have enabled fishermen to gain access to the sea. Here the wall is eight feet three inches thick. Hartlepool needed to be well defended as it was the chief sea port of the powerful Prince Bishops of Durham and was a target for Scottish raids or sea-borne attacks.
One notable Scottish raid on Hartlepool occurred in 1315 under the Earl Douglas, in the year after King Edward I had been defeated by King Robert the Bruce at the Battle of Bannockburn. Robert the Bruce may have had a particular grudge against Hartlepool as it was the place to which the English King Edward II had fled following the battle. Furthermore, Robert the Bruce had once been the owner of Hartlepool, but it was confiscated from him by the English, when he was enthroned as King of the Scots.
Throughout the Middle Ages Hartlepool virtually monopolised the shipping of the Durham Bishopric and was one of the busiest places on the eastern coast. Such was its importance that it regularly attracted pirates who hampered the trade here and at neighbouring ports like Whitby. Through its connection to Durham, Hartlepool was also the port where criminals who had sought sanctuary at Durham Cathedral were deported should they have decided not to face trial.
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries Hartlepool was recognised for its strategic importance during rebellions and in times of religious conflict. In the conflicts of the sixteenth century for example its significance was recognised by all sides as a potential landing place for the enemy.
At the Siege of Dunbar in 1650 it was said that the French had come into the possession of a detailed map of Hartlepool and hoped to set men ashore to fortify the place as a base for seizing the whole of northern England.
In August 1561 Hartlepool was again asked to remain vigilant when the activities of Mary Queen of Scots came under close scrutiny. The Hartlepudlians were advised to keep a watch out for foreign ships entering the town. Eight years later during the Rising of the North in 1569 the Spanish ambassador had instructed northern rebels to capture Hartlepool in order that the Duke of Alva might land troops from the Netherlands to lend their support.
In response to this plan the Earl of Sussex ordered that Hartlepool be garrisoned by 200 men to prevent the landing. The order was not obeyed and Lord Neville, leader of the northern rebels seized the town instead.
The foreign support for the rebels at Hartlepool never materialized and on the seventeenth of December 1569 a Royal ship sailing from Scarborough to Tynemouth fired upon the rebels in the town. The rebels returned fire but the ship managed to capture a Hartlepool fishing coble with three poor, half naked men on board.
In the seventeenth century Hartlepool was occupied by the Scots in the Civil War. During the Dutch Wars (1644-67) a report and map of the place was drawn up because vessels pursued by the Dutch frequently took refuge here.
Despite the industrial developments of the nineteenth century you can still get a feel for the old fishing town of Hartlepool on the Headland. One interesting building of note on the Headland is the old Manor House incorporating the remains of St Hilda’s Hospital which dates from around 1600 and built on the site of a medieval monastic house.
In the eighteenth century Hartlepool’s importance as a port had fallen into considerable decline and its harbour was in disrepair. As Hartlepool entered the nineteenth century it was redundant as a port and was known primarily as a health resort and not a particularly successful one.
A final nail seemed to have been hammered into the coffin of Hartlepool as a port when the natural harbour was enclosed for agricultural purposes and corn was grown on the slake. Fortunately in 1813 a petition was made that came out in favour of the town. The enclosure was reversed and the harbour was saved. If the enclosure had been given a few more years to take effect, irreversible damage may have been done to the harbour.
The best known tradition and legend associated with the fishermen of Hartlepool is the story of the hanging of the monkey. Tradition attributes this legend to the Napoleonic wars at the beginning of the nineteenth century. It was a December day and the coast at Hartlepool was subject to a heavy battering of gales and snow, through which a French vessel called the Chasse Maree could be vaguely seen just off the Hartlepool headland.
The fisherfolk of Hartlepool, fearing an invasion, kept a close watch on the French vessel as it struggled against the storm but when the vessel was severely battered and sunk they turned their attention to the wreckage washed ashore. Among the wreckage lay one wet and sorrowful looking survivor, the ship’s pet monkey dressed to amuse in a military style uniform.
The fishermen seemingly questioned the monkey and held a beach-based trial. Apparently unfamiliar with what a Frenchman looked like they came to the conclusion that this monkey was a French spy and should be sentenced to death. The unfortunate creature was to die by hanging, with the mast of a fishing boat (a coble) providing a convenient gallows.
In former times, when war and strife
The French invasion threaten’d life
An’ all was armed to the knife
The Fisherman hung the monkey O !
The Fishermen with courage high,
Siezed on the monkey for a French spy;
“Hang him !” says one; “he’s to die”
They did and they hung the monkey Oh!
They tried every means to make him speak
And tortured the monkey till loud he did speak;
Says yen “that’s french” says another “its Greek”
For the fishermen had got druncky oh!
Bombardment of the Hartlepools
War and strife for Hartlepool did not of course end with the Napoleonic Wars. The two Hartlepools were heavily bombarded during the Second World War and suffered directly in the First World War when the Hartlepools became the site of the only First World War battlefield in the UK when they were bombarded by the German navy.
On Wednesday 16th December 1914, the guns of the Hartlepool Battery on the Headland engaged in battle with German warships, an event remembered on information boards overlooking the sea and a story recalled at the Heugh Battery Museum.
German battle cruisers supported by destroyers approached the North East coast and for nearly an hour both the Hartlepools were bombarded. The Heugh battery was defended by the 18th Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry (DLI) and a further battery dating back to the 1890s was also manned on the South Gare over on the south side of the River Tees.
The bombardment of the Hartlepools by the German ships commenced at 8.10am and lasted for just under an hour. SMS Seydlitz; SMS Blucher and SMS Molke were the three principal German ships engaged in the bombardment and manoeuvrings but there were other ships in support. The main aim was to cause destruction to the shipbuilding and engineering of the two Hartlepools but many residential areas were hit.
Principal amongst the British ships engaged in defence along with the battery were HMS Doon; HMS Hardy; HMS Wavering (a Hawthorn Leslie vessel) and HMS Patrol. The third of these ran aground on the South Gare where she was saved from further wreckage. In charge of HMS Patrol was Captain Alan Bruce, a curious coincidence that he should have a surname so closely linked to Hartlepool’s history.
A buoy used by the Germans as a guide was relatively close to the shore which drew the ships in close to a point where the trajectory of their bombardment was less effective than it might have been. The effectiveness of the German bombardment was further restricted by the erection of a camouflage by Lt. Colonel Lancelot Robson which gave the impression that Hartlepool was protected by a much higher wall and this further reduced the impact of the bombardment.
There have been military installations on the Heugh Battery site at Hartlepool Headland since the 1600s so it is certainly an appropriate setting for a military museum. The museum features military artefacts from various invasions including tanks and heavy artillery.
From a quite different war, just outside the Heugh Battery Museum near the Heugh lighthouse is a cannon described as ‘A Trophy from Sebastopol’ captured by the Royal Navy from the Russian navy during the Crimean War and offered to Hartlepool for display.
The Heugh Lighthouse near the Battery dates from 1927 and replaced an earlier one built in 1847 that was temporarily dismantled following the German bombardment as it was realised that it obstructed the line of fire from the Heugh battery.
Projecting out into the sea near the lighthouse is the Heugh Breakwater of 1853, a pier which assisted in the development and accessibility of the natural harbour of the Hartlepool Headland.
A few hundred yards along the sea front from the breakwater is a small statue by artist Jane Robbins featuring Andy Capp, the famed working class cartoon character created by the Hartlepool artist Reg Smythe (1917-1998). At the time of our visit, Andy who faces out to sea, was showing his support for the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution.
The peninsula of the Hartlepool Headland is linked to the Durham coast along the long stretch of Crimdon Beach to the north west which is broken only by the Steetley Pier breakwater that cuts through into the sand. To the west and south west of the Headland is Cleveland Street and West View Road which skirt the dockland area of Middleton to link Old Hartlepool to Hartlepool town centre – the historic heart of West Hartlepool.
Here, at the western end of the Headland is preserved the former Throston engine house which was once home to a hauling engine that drew coal wagons up an incline to nearby coal staiths. The old engine house dates to 1830. Throston is an area to the west of the headland with a name that dates back to Viking times when it was likely the estate of a Norseman called Thori.
West Hartlepool : Jackson’s Town
At the beginning of the nineteenth century it was hard to believe that Old Hartlepool, with its small population of only 993, consisting almost entirely of fishermen, had once been one of the busiest ports on the eastern coast.
Old Hartlepool’s time seemed to have passed and it was realised that trade had to be brought into the town in order to save it from oblivion. In 1823 it was suggested railways could be built to connect with local collieries, so that Hartlepool could develop as a coal port.
One of the main parties involved in the development of railways and docks at Old Hartlepool was Christopher Tennant of Yarm who established the Hartlepool Dock and Railway Company. Mr Tennant had opened the Clarence Railway at Billingham in 1833 and gained permission for a new railway linking Hartlepool to the Durham coalfield but he died before the completion of this new ‘Stockton and Hartlepool Railway’ in 1839.
Tennant’s railway was taken over by a Stockton-on-Tees solicitor called Ralph Ward Jackson but Ward Jackson was increasingly frustrated by restrictions on business at Old Hartlepool’s Victoria Dock and established the West Hartlepool Dock Company to the south west of the old town.
This signified the birth of West Hartlepool, a town that came to overshadow Old Hartlepool in size. The new town of West Hartlepool was built from the 1840s with many streets laid out on empty farmland in a grid iron pattern. Its subsequent rapid growth was comparable to that of Middlesbrough.
By 1881 Old Hartlepool’s population had only grown from 993 to 12,361, but the newly born West Hartlepool now had a population of 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 two Hartlepools remained separate towns until they merged into one, under the Hartepool Order of 1966.
Christ Church : Town Centre
Today the modern town centre of Hartlepool is that of the former Borough of ‘West Hartlepool’ where we find several interesting features and buildings of note. It is a relatively compact town centre with the dual carriageway road of the A689 (Stockton Street) running north to south forming a main thoroughfare with pedestrian crossings linking two sides of the town centre.
At the north end on the eastern side of the A689 and close to the old docks (now Hartlepool Marina) is located the historic core of West Hartlepool town in and around Church Street.
Church Street is named from the beautiful Christ Church, the historic parish church of West Hartlepool which dates from 1854. Situated at the western end of Church Street, it was built by the creative Victorian architect Edward Buckton Lamb working for Ralph Ward Jackson.
Falling out of use as a church in the early 1970s (All Saints at Stranton is now the parish church), Christ Church became Hartlepool Gallery in 1996 after restoration and is a very elegant and charming focal point for the town centre.
Just to the west of the church in what was historically the Church Square area is a statue dedicated to the West Hartlepool shipbuilder William Gray who was the new town’s first mayor.
Gray faces west to the old red brick Municipal Buildings of 1886-9. An inscribed foundation stone records that one of the first stones was laid by Lieutenant Colonel J.W. Cameron in 1887.
On the eastern side of Christ Church, Church Street begins and heads east in the direction of the coast with the railway station and former dock area to the north. The eastern terminus of the street once ended at a mass of railway sidings associated with the docks.
Close to the church, a statue of Ralph Ward Jackson mirrors that of William Gray on the opposite side but Ward Jackson looks east along the course of Church Street from an elevated island location at the centre of the street.
Church Street has lost much of its earlier importance with shopping now focused on the Middleton Grange shopping centre to the south west but there are still several hints of its historic importance.
Buildings in Church Street include the Royal Hotel; Exchange Buildings; Athenaeum; Bank Chambers and a Masonic Lodge. Attractive iron arches of a more recent age mark off the entrances to the adjoining streets of Whitby Street; Scarborough Street; Lynn Street and Station Approach.
Docks and Marina
At the eastern terminus of Church Street Victoria Terrace veers off to the north and hosts the Old Dock Offices of 1846 and customs house. Much of the open land on the west side of Victoria Terrace was once the site of the now filled in Swainson Dock.
The clear blue waters of the Jackson Dock, just north of the Dock Offices can still be seen with the National Museum of the Royal Navy and nearby Museum of Hartlepool at the dock’s western end.
Modern eating establishments on the ‘Old West Quay’ at the east end of this dock occupy a quay that separates the Jackson Dock from Hartlepool Marina just to the east in what was once the old Coal Dock. The Marina extends north into the former Union Dock.
The stone column beacon on the quay that separates Jackson Dock and Union Dock is the old Seaton Carew lighthouse, a beacon that guided ships entering the River Tees to the south. Dating from 1838 it was one of two guiding lights (the other being a ‘low light’) that guided ships into harbour.
The lighthouse was removed from Seaton Carew in 1995 and relocated to Jackson Dock as part of the redevelopment of the area where it has become a memorial to lives lost at sea.
The Union Dock extended north into the Central Dock, now filled in, and this was linked to the North Basin and Victoria Dock that still form the active harbour at Old Hartlepool Headland.
Returning to the West Hartlepool dock, the entrance to the marina is protected by a harbour, the ‘West Harbour’ created by four pier breakwaters, the most northerly of which is Middleton Pier.
It was at the neighbouring Middleton Sands where the residents of Old Hartlepool are said to have ‘hung the monkey’. Situated within the water near the northern side of the marina harbour entrance is a sculpture of a monkey holding a bowl and inscribed with the words “make a wish for the monkey”.
The Museum of Hartlepool at the western end of Jackson Dock is an excellent place to discover the eventful history of the town and is as much worth a visit as the neighbouring National Museum of the Royal Navy at Hartlepool.
This end of Jackson Dock was once home to a timber dock and a neighbouring shipbuilding yard. Here, within the Royal Navy museum, a wonderful complete eighteenth century seaport has been created in part of the dock.
The experience recreates life aboard a British naval frigate and features the story of press gangs along with a recreated eighteenth century quay that incudes period shops and houses.
The star attraction berthed in the museum quay is, however, the beautiful HMS Trincomalee, the oldest surviving British eighteenth century warship which you can get on board and explore.
Nearby, just outside the Museum of Hartlepool and dating from 1934 is the PS Wigfield, a paddle steamer ship built by William Gray & Co of Hartlepool that once served as a ferry across the River Humber estuary.
Around the Town
Hartlepool’s town centre stretches from the Christ Church and Church Street area in the north to Stranton at the south end with the A689 (Stockton Street) forming the main thoroughfare through the town.
At the north end of the town centre near the Royal Navy Museum are retail outlets, including supermarkets with ample car parking, that you might more typically find in ‘out of town areas’ but conveniently placed close to the town centre. Also close by is the football ground of Hartlepool United FC (historically called Victoria Park) which has been the home to the football club since its foundation as ‘Hartlepools United’ in 1908.
To the south, opposite the Christ Church area, Stockton Street (A689) is joined on its west side by Wesley Square and Victoria Road. The first of these leads into Raby Road where a short way in we find a large red brick masonic hall and hidden away behind the arch of a former girls’ school, an electric tram office of 1900.
Also in this area of Raby Road is the old Hartlepool Town Hall of 1897 which served as the town hall for West Hartlepool and then both Hartlepools from 1966 until superseded by the current Hartlepool Borough Offices in Victoria Road. Featuring an assembly hall with a proscenium arch it had long hosted concerts and entertainment and was appropriately adapted as a theatre.
Wesley Square is dominated by the large former Methodist church (currently gutted) of 1871-73. A short street called Swainson Street links Wesley Square and Raby Road to Victoria Road. On the corner of Swainson Street and Victoria Road is the impressive Grand Hotel, of red brick and yellow terracotta and still an active hotel, dating from 1899. It was built to the designs of architect J. Garry.
Close by, the main features of Victoria Road on opposite sides of the street are the modern red brick building of the 1970s Hartlepool Borough Council offices and the impressive war memorial of 1923. The memorial was built by Aberdeen architect George G. Coombs who used Aberdeen granite in its construction.
South of Victoria Road on the west side of Stockton Street (A689) is the Middleton Grange shopping centre while over on the east side is the Hartlepool College of Further Education, built 2009-2011. An eye-catching feature of the college is the RAF JET Provost T5 jet plane in the car park. The plane, which dates from the 1950s was delivered to the college in parts, stripped, rebuilt and painted by students and staff as a project in 2012.
South of the college, the east side of the A689 is home to residential, light industry and business premises while over on the west side, Park Road joins the A689 from the west on the southern edge of the Middleton Grange shopping centre. This road leads out to the western suburbs towards Ward Jackson Park which is just under a mile away.
Still on the west side of the A689, the very south end of Hartlepool’s town centre is called Stranton and here the most prominent building facing the main thoroughfare is the imposing former Co-operative store building of 1915 by the CWS architect Lionel G Ekins.
Next door to the old co-op building is the Camerons Lion Brewery, a famed Hartlepool business. Brewing has taken place on this site since the 1570s, utilising an artesian well in Stranton village.
In 1852 a Gainford farmer called William Waldon (1805-1854) established a brewery here which he called the Lion Brewery and in 1865 it came under the management of the Kirkby Stephen-born John William Cameron (1841-1896).
Since 1955 Camerons has been particularly noted for brewing the famous Strongarm Bitter, ‘the steelworkers beer’, that quenched the thirsts of workers in neighbouring Teesside. Although the brewery has retained its Camerons name, it has been under the ownership of a number of different brewing companies since the 1970s and was acquired by the Castle Eden Brewery in 2002, relocating their premises here from Castle Eden.
Next to the brewery and set back from the A689 is the Blacksmiths Arms pub and the old church of All Saints at the heart of what was once the village of Stranton. There was significant nineteenth century rebuilding of the church but parts date back to the twelfth and fourteenth centuries.
Raised, walled off and set back in Church Row, the church sits quite comfortably amongst modern developments. Though it was historically the parish church for Stranton village it would replace Christ Church as the parish church for the whole town centre after that church fell out of use from the 1970s.
Close to the church off Elwick Row and near a pub called the Causeway is a late nineteenth century house called Greenbank that backs onto the brewery buildings to the west of the church. It was built as the home to the brewery owner.
The name Stranton literally means ‘strand farm’ meaning the place situated near the shore, however the part of Hartlepool that we perhaps most closely associate with the sea in this southerly area of Hartlepool is the resort town of Seaton Carew which we feature on our page covering Hartlepool villages and suburbs along with Hart, Elwick, Dalton Piercy, Foggy Furze, Owton Manor and Greatham.
YouTube : Viking history of the River Tees