The Monkey Hanging Story
The monkey-hanging legend is the most famous story connected with Hartlepool. During the Napoleonic Wars a French ship was wrecked off the Hartlepool coast.
During the Napoleonic Wars there was a fear of a French invasion of Britain and much public concern about the possibility of French infiltrators and spies.
The fishermen 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 apparently questioned the monkey and held a beach-based trial. 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.
The Monkey Song
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 “thats french” says another “its Greek”
For the fishermen had got druncky oh!
Hammer his ribs, the thunnerin thief
Pummel his pyet wi yor neef!
He’s landed here for nobbut grief
He’s aud Napoleon’s uncky O!
Thus to the Monkey all hands behaved
“Cut off his whiskers!” yen chap raved
Another bawled out “He’s never been shaved”,
So commenced to scrape the Monkey, O!
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 funky O!.
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 O!
In former times, mid war an’ strife,
The French invasion threatened life,
An’ all was armed to the knife,
The Fishermen hung the Monkey O!
The Fishermen wi’ courage high,
Seized on the Monkey for a spy,
“Hang him” says yen, says another,”He’ll die!”
They did, and they hung the Monkey O!. They tortor’d the Monkey till loud he did
Says yen, “That’s French,” says another “it’s Greek”
For the Fishermen had got drunky, O!
“He’s all ower hair!” sum chap did cry,
E’en up te summic cute an’ sly
Wiv a cod’s head then they closed an eye,
Afore they hung the Monkey O!.
Did it really happen?
So is it true? Did it really happen like that? You won’t find many people in Hartlepool who say it didn’t. They love the story.
The term was originally derogatory and for a long, long time after the event, people from neighbouring towns used the tale to mock Hartlepool and its inhabitants, and Hartlepudlians were often on the receiving end of the jibe: “Who hung the monkey?” , and is often applied to supporters of Hartlepool United Football Club by supporters of their arch rivals Darlington. However it has been embraced by many Hartlepudlians, and only a small minority still consider the term offensive.
Then there are some who point to a much darker interpretation of the yarn. They say that the creature that was hanged might not have been a monkey at all; it could have been a young boy. After all, the term powder-monkey was commonly used in those times for the children employed on warships to prime the cannon with gunpowder.
Whatever the truth the story of the Hartlepool monkey is a legend which has endured over two centuries and now enters its third as strong as ever.
Monkey usage in Hartlepool today
The local Rugby Union team Hartlepool Rovers are known as the Monkeyhangers, Hartlepool United F.C.’s mascot is a monkey called H’Angus the Monkey. A visit to Hartlepool Maria will spring up the odd Monkey – a lifeboat donation Monkey exists close to the harbour entrance of Hartlepool Marina.
The Monkey Mayor
In 2002, Stuart Drummond campaigned for the office of Mayor of Hartlepool in the costume of H’Angus the Monkey and narrowly won; he used the election slogan “free bananas for schoolchildren”, a promise he was unable to keep. He has since been re-elected twice.
Monkey Bone Found
In June 2005 a large bone was found washed ashore on Hartlepool beach by a local resident, which initially was taken as giving credence to the monkey legend. Analysis revealed the bone to be that of a red deer which had died 6,000 years ago. The bone is now in the collections of Hartlepool Museum Service.