Friday, 28 October 2011

Hospital of God (NZ491275)

Copyright of Peter Robinson Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

The modestly named ‘Hospital of God’ in Greatham village a little to the south of Hartlepool has origins stretching back many a century.  It was founded in 1273 by Robert de Stichell, the then Bishop of Durham, as a refuge for the poor and elderly. 

However, by the 16th century it was being used more as a “house of entertainment for gentlemen”, and, though it was ‘reformed’ in 1610, it eventually fell into a state of considerable disrepair by 1724.  It seems to have then revived briefly – including a move to allow women access to the facilities from 1761 – before declining again by the end of the 18th century.

At the turn of the 19th century the site was cleared and the present structure built during 1803-04.  It is likely that the original buildings occupied the lawned area in front of the present, and rather pleasant, affair – though no traces remain.  For the last two centuries it seems to have been in continuous use and added to from time to time.

The institution still cares for the infirm today, with 63 almshouses maintained on the site and around the village.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

‘Seaton Carew’ (NZ525296)

Always considered something of an odd title for a town, the name ‘Seaton Carew’ has puzzled historians and students of place-name meanings for decades.  And I’m not at all sure that we’re all yet agreed on the definitive answer.

There can be no doubt about the first two syllables.  ‘Sea-ton’ is from the Old English sae-tun, meaning ‘sea settlement’.  The ‘Carew’ element undoubtedly comes from a personal name – an early surname – which most seem to agree on as having come from one Petrus Carou, who held land in the vicinity in 1189.  So we have “the settlement by the sea belonging to Peter Carou.”  Sorted?  Not quite.

The thing is: where does ‘Carou’ come from?  And the jury is still out on this one.  Search far and wide on the Web and across several trusty tomes of reference, and you will get no further than either Norman French or Welsh or even Cornish.  Peter Carou’s nationality (or, perhaps, that of his ancestors) cannot, it seems, be pinned down, and experts old and new seem divided about whether ‘carou’ comes from the very old Celtic root word car (love) or the Welsh caerau (forts) or caer-rhiw (fort-hill).  So the old ‘Carou’ family were either of Norman stock, or were well-to-do Welsh seafaring sort.  Take your pick.

Interesting, though.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Hartlepool’s Submerged Forest (NZ520315 & thereabouts)

On the foreshore at Hartlepool, and a little to the south towards Seaton Carew, lies an expanse of ancient submerged forest dating to around 6-8,000 years ago.  It isn’t always submerged: the occasional harsh winter scouring brings it to the surface once every decade or so, when it then makes the news for a short period before disappearing from view.

In Mesolithic times, this little corner of the North-East was covered with woodland and peat bog – and extended a good way out to sea, too, with Britain, at the time, still connected to mainland Europe via a chunky land-bridge.  When the sea level rose, the forest was flooded, and the present-day coastline slowly developed. 

Several archaeological investigations have taken place in the area in recent decades, during which time worked flints and lines of stakes, etc., have been discovered, including a two-metre stretch of wattle hurdling dated to 3,600BC.  In 1971, the remains of a Neolithic man were found in nearby peat deposits.

But ancient remains have always been coming to the surface, ever since the 18th and 19th century development work in and around the town.  And records show, in fact, that a ‘wood of Hartlepool’ still existed as recently as the 13th century.

It is now a Site of Special Scientific Interest. 

More info here, and a picture of one of the famous stumps can be found here.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Heugh Battery (NZ532338)

Heugh Gun Battery was built on Hartlepool Headland from 1859, when fears of a French attack on the British mainland were rife.  Nine guns were placed in three locations, though not all emplacements remain.  The original guns had a range of about a mile and a half, but were never fired in anger.

In the 1880s and 1890s the weapons were upgraded, then at the turn of the century a major overhaul of the whole site took place with substantial restructuring in concrete – most of which remains today.  The new guns which were fitted at this time had a range of over seven miles and, thanks to the uncertainties of 20th century international relations, were kept primed until the mid 1950s.

In 1914, they became the only British mainland guns to engage a 20th century enemy when they exchanged blows with German warships who were having a pop at the nearby town.  During WWII, the guns were upgraded again, doubling their range, but were never used.  Eventually, the defences were, of course, rendered useless by the development of long-range nuclear missiles, and the battery was closed in 1956.

[Information taken from the Heugh Battery Museum website]

Friday, 14 October 2011

Harvest Time at the Harbour (NZ522338)

Such was the decline in the fortunes of Hartlepool’s once renowned harbour, that by the dawn of the nineteenth century it was out of commission entirely.

Incredibly, in 1808, a ‘grant of the harbour’ was made to an individual, who immediately enclosed the silted expanse for the purpose of agriculture.  The enterprising maritime farmer successfully grew corn on the huge slake for some time, whilst arguments raged about the state of the once great port and its protective, but crumbling, pier – the storms of 1810 further heightening tensions.

In 1813, local citizen and burgess, William Vollum, indicted the enclosure as a nuisance by way of a petition.  The case went to court in Durham and a verdict delivered in his and the town’s favour – and the harbour was saved.  In time, and after many more years of debate, the area was returned to its watery state thanks to the demands of the industrial revolution.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Fish-waste and Tatties (NZ528338)

Despite being a thriving port of some importance for many centuries, Hartlepool was in general decline during the eighteenth century.  Before its dramatic recovery during the Victorian era, its population numbered no more than a thousand or so, all of whom were crammed into what we now know as The Headland.  During the sleepy 1700s, the town tried, not altogether successfully, to tempt folk to its bracing climes by way of medicinal springs, particularly the iron-salt spa near the Westgate.  For some reason, Thomas Gray, the famous poet, visited in July 1765 to take the waters, and wrote to his friend Dr Wharton:

I have been for two days to taste the water, and do assure you that nothing could be salter (sic) and bitterer and nastier and better for you... I am delighted with the place; there are the finest walks and rocks and caverns.

Some weeks later, he wrote again:

The rocks, the sea and the weather there more than made up to me the want of bread and the want of water, two capital defects, but of which I learned from the inhabitants not to be sensible. They live on the refuse of their own fish-market, with a few potatoes, and a reasonable quantity of Geneva [gin] six days in the week, and I have nowhere seen a taller, more robust or healthy race: every house full of ruddy broad-faced children. Nobody dies but of drowning or old-age: nobody poor but from drunkenness or mere laziness.

He wasn’t the only one impressed with the locals.  Isambard Kingdom Brunel remarked in 1831, on the eve of the settlement’s industrialisation:

A curiously isolated old fishing town – a remarkably fine race of men. Went to the top of the church tower for a view.

If only he were able to climb the steps of St.Hilda’s tower now and see the difference.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Monkey News (NZ528338)

With apologies to natives of Hartlepool, who must be heartily sick of the tale…

The Fishermen Hung the Monkey, Oh!

During the Napoleonic Wars the sole survivor of a wrecked French ship – an innocent monkey – was supposedly washed ashore at Hartlepool.  He was promptly hung by the local fishermen for fear of him being a spy.  The story was captured in song by Tyneside artist Ned Corvan in the 1860s.  Many versions of the song prevail – here is one.

In former times ‘mid war an’ strife,
When French invasion threaten’d life,
An’ all was arm’d up te the knife,
The fishermen hung the monkey, Oh!
The fishermen wi’ courage high,
They seiz’d the monkey for a spy,
Hang him, says yen; says another, he’ll die,
They did, an’ they hung the monkey, oh!

They tried ivery means to myek him speak,
They tortured the monkey tiv he loud did squeak,
Say yen that’s French, another it’s Greek,
For the fishermen they got drunkey, oh!
He’s all ower hair sum cheps did cry,
E’en up te summic cut and sly,
Wiv a cod’s head then they closed an eye,
Afore they hung the monkey, oh!

Some the monkey’s fate they did bewail,
For all the speechless pug had his tail (tale),
He’d be better off i’ Durham jail,
For the monkey wis tornin’ funkey, oh!
They said he myed sum curose mugs,
When they shaved his heed an’ cut off his lugs,
Sayin’ that’s the game for French humbugs,
Afore they hung the monkey, oh!

Hammer his ribs the thunnerin’ thief,
Pummel his pyet weel wi’ yor neef,
He’s landed there for nobbit grief,
He’s aud Napoleon’s unkey, oh!
Thus to the monkey all hands behaved,
Cut off his whiskers one chep raved,
Another bawled oot he’s niver been shaved,
So they commenc’d to scrape the monkey, oh!

They put him on a gridiron hot,
The monkey then quite lively got,
He rowl’d his eyes tiv a’ the lot,
For the monkey agyen turned funkey, oh!
Then a fisherman up te monkey goes,
Saying hang him at yence, an’ end his woes,
But the monkey flew at him and bit off his nose,
An’ that raised the poor man’s monkey, oh!

Now let us hope that iver at sea,
We’ll still maintain sovereignty,
May France and England lang agree,
An’ niver at each other git funkey, oh!
As regards poor Pug, aa’ve had me say,
His times they’ve past for mony a day,
But in Hartlepool noo, thoo’ll hear them say:
Whe hung the monkey, oh?

[Note:   Nobbit - nothing but;   funkey - in a passion]

The fame of the Hartlepool monkey was spread nationwide by Hartlepool Rovers’ rugby team who, during the 1890s, adopted a stuffed monkey as a mascot and hung it from the crossbar before each match.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Andy Capp (NZ514345)

Andy Capp, that fag-bearing, beer-swilling – and hen-pecked – stereotypical northern bloke, was born in Hartlepool – or rather his creator was, namely one Reginald Smyth, in July 1917, at 52 Union Road.

Reg was a very ordinary sort, born to working class, often bickering, parents, who had been forced together by a shot-gun wedding.  His father liked his drink, and his mother never tired of reminding him of it – sound familiar?  Well, although Andy Capp’s long-suffering wife, Flo, was based on Reg’s mum, Andy himself was an amalgam of much that was evident by way of male role models in the days of his creator’s youth – and not specifically his own father.

The family wandered between Hartlepool and Sunderland as the marriage ebbed and flowed, young Reg leaving school at 14 to become a butcher’s boy.  He later saw action during WWII in Africa and the Middle East – a time during which he honed his cartooning skills with his ‘pals’.  After the war, he joined the GPO and married.

Encouraged by his friends and family, he embarked on a little cartooning work for the Northern Daily Mail, then got his break with The Daily Mirror in 1954 when he was taken on full-time – and added an ‘e’ to his surname so that he may seem ever-so-slightly posher to southern readers. His famous layabout creation finally appeared on 5th August 1957 when Reg was prompted by his boss to devise a new character – and Andy Capp, the man who was a ‘handicap’ to his wife, was born.

Andy – and Reg – went onto international stardom, of course; but the artist soon tired of life in London and moved back to Hartlepool for the final two decades of his life, dying in 1998 aged 80.

[the above is based on an interview given by Smyth’s cousin, Ian Smyth Herdman, to the Sunderland Echo on 10th August 2007 – see here]