The Hartlepool Monkey (Hartlepool Marina)

Ok, so locals will know this tale like the backs of their hands but it’s too good not to recount again. And if you’ve not heard this story before, buckle up because it gets *wild*.

We’re in the 19th Century, the Napoleonic Wars are raging, and Britain is fearful of a French invasion. Off the coast of Hartlepool a French ship is spotted, sinking. The locals head out towards the wrecked vessel in search of survivors and find only one.

The “Frenchman” is small and unusually hairy, but the locals have never seen a Frenchman before, so for all they know this could be what French sailors look like. He speaks no English and is dressed in a miniature military uniform. The captive is unwilling to state his name or rank, leading to one inescapable conclusion – a spy!

The doomed simian is hauled off to town for an impromptu trial, convicted, and hanged in the square.

A Reg Carter postcard depicting the hanging. (Early 20th Century)

Whether the good folks of Hartlepool ever hanged a monkey is debatable at best. Some believe that it was not a monkey that was hanged, but a “powder-monkey” – a small boy charged with priming the ship’s cannon. More likely the story is an apocryphal stick to beat the people of Hartlepool with. We all know how fast misinformation can spread.

In 2017, local historian and author Keith Gregson told the BBC that there was, “no evidence whatsoever that the people of Hartlepool hanged a monkey”, in an article that pinned the blame for the myth on Victorian entertainer Edward “Ned” Corvan. Corvan was known for his comic songs lampooning the towns he visited. Hartlepool got a song about a monkey (which may have been used in other towns before).

Either way, the moniker has stuck, and Hartlepudlians are known as Monkey-Hangers to this day. You can buy postcards, visit the monkey statue in Hartlepool, and read a French graphic novel about the event. There’s even been a stage show based on the legend.

The statue can be found at the Marina, and holds a bowl with a sign reading “Make a wish for the monkey”. The money that’s collected in there is donated to Alice House Hospice. I have no idea who made it. If you do, leave me a comment.

There are also more monkeys on the headland. The stylised metal figures shown (above right) sit atop informational columns on the Headland Story Trail: a circular walking route with tales from Hartlepool history and legend.

There’s a postscript to all this. Local football team Hartlepool United have a mascot called H’Angus the Monkey (yes, I know…). The fella inside the costume – Stuart Drummond – decided to run for mayor. His only promise was to provide free bananas to schoolchildren.

He won. And was then re-elected twice.

Recently – in light of the toppling of the inexplicably enduring statue of slaver Edward Colston in Bristol and the Black Lives Matter movement – internal memos were distributed around Hartlepool council worrying that the statue could be “misused by those with differing agendas to portray Hartlepool as unfriendly towards foreigners”, and recommending that a explanatory sign be put up. I’m not sure I have the brain capacity to deal with all the assumptions inherent in this thought process.

As no-one had actually complained about the statue, the idea was nixed.

Thanks to The Tees for the photo of the main statue.

2 thoughts on “The Hartlepool Monkey (Hartlepool Marina)

  1. HarryT July 11, 2022 / 3:55 pm

    Yes im surprised the mob hasnt turned on this as an example of animal cruelty.


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