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MARKET TOWNS OF DURHAM (from SDUK Penny Cyclopedia)

Hartlepool in 1837

Hartlepool is built on a small peninsula jutting out into the sea few miles from the Tees’ mouth : the peninsula is partly formed by a pool, dry at low water, into which flows a small beck : this pool is called the Slake. In forming drains in it, human bones, trees, the wood of-which was very perfect, stags’ antlers, and teeth supposed to be deers’ teeth, have been found. Hartlepool is in Stockton ward, 253 miles from London through Stockton. The parish comprehends an area of 840 acres, and had, in 1831, 275 inhabited houses and a population of 1,330. The peninsula forms one of the most marked features of the eastern coast ; the town, now much decayed, is on its south-western side near the entrance of the Slake. There appears to have been a monastery early founded here, of which St. Hilda was abbess : it is mentioned by Bede. It took its name from the island which Bede calls Hart’s Water or Pool. Henry of Huntingdon calls it Insula Cervi, ‘Hart’s Isle.’ This monastery was destroyed in the invasion of the Northmen, or Danes. The Normans, when they came into possession of the place, called it Hart-le-pol, the pool or slake of Hart, whence the modern designation. It appears to have been early a harbour of some consequence, for in 1171 Hugh, earl of Bar, son or nephew to Hugh Pudsey, then bishop of Durham, brought his fleet with an armament of Flemings (forty knights with their retinues and five hundred foot soldiers), intended to assist William of Scotland in his invasion of England, into the bay of St. Hilda.

In the thirteenth century, the territory of Hartlepool seems to have been in the family of De Brus of Annandale, the Bruces of Scottish history. King .John, by charter A.D. 1200, erected it into a borough, and granted to Robert de Brus a weekly market and a yearly fair. In the course of the thirteenth century the walls were erected, and a small haven of nearly twelve acres formed. The walls inclosed and defended the town and haven on every side, except where the abrupt cliffs on the eastern side of the peninsula rendered defence needless : fifty years ago, these walls exhibited an almost perfect and interesting specimen of the defences of former times : a considerable part of them still remains. The old haven is now quite disused : the present harbour is formed by a pier run out on the south side of the town : it is the only safe harbour between Sunderland and Bridlington, easily accessible in every wind to light vessels or to laden vessels under 100 tons, which ride secure from the storms most frequent and destructive on the eastern coast, and in moderate weather can sail out with all winds. The town rises from the edge of the old haven towards the town moor, which occupies a considerable part of the peninsula, and on which the burgesses have right of common. It consists of one principal and several smaller streets. Its general appearance, when the corporation commissioners visited it, was mean, and little trade was carried on ; but they state in their report, ‘Wet docks are now forming under the provisions of a local act, and railways are proposed to be made from the coal-fields in the neighbourhood of the town. The formation of docks will probably make this port a considerable one. The estimate of the cost of the works commenced is £220,000. Within the last ten months 120 new houses have been built, and others are constantly being erected. Ground for building sells at from 10 shillings to £1 per square yard.’ From the demand for building-land the town moor is estimated to be worth £20,000. There is a town-hall, a mean building, erected about the middle of the last century. The market is on Saturday. The inhabitants are chiefly engaged in fishing ; many tons of fish are salted for exportation. Hartlepool is a place of some resort for sea-bathing.

The church, dedicated to St. Hilda, is on an elevated site at the south-east end of the town. It is a large and curious building, chiefly in the early English style : the south door has some late Norman enrichments. The chancel has been shortened, and various modern alterations made. The tower on the west end is tolerably lofty, with an embattled parapet and crocketed pinnacles : it is supported by very large and bold flying buttresses. The benefice is a perpetual curacy, in the gift of the vicar of Hart (Hart is the mother church of Hartlepool), of the yearly value of £143. There was formerly a monastery of Franciscan or Grey friars. What is now called the Friary is an old house built after the dissolution by those to whom the site was granted ; but some traces of older masonry are visible in the fragments of walls which surround the friary. There are meeting-houses for Wesleyan Methodists and Ranters. The corporation is governed by a charter granted by Elizabeth. It is not enumerated in the schedules of the Municipal Reform Act.

There were, in 1833, two endowed day schools and three unendowed, containing in all about 230 children ; and three Sunday-schools, with 380 or 390 children. One Sunday-school has a lending library attached.

The shore of the peninsula is marked by rocks or cliffs which do not exceed 40 feet in height, and by several caverns or excavations. One cavern may be explored for nearly 50 yards : there is a tradition that it communicated with the church. There are the remains of a breast-work on the town moor and of some batteries along the shore. There are two chalybeate springs near the town.

When De Brus declared his pretensions to the Scottish crown, his English possessions were forfeited, and the borough of Hartlepool was granted to the Clifford family, by which it was long held. It was plundered by the Scots in 1312, and again taken by them in 1315, a year after the battle of Bannockburn : on the latter occasion the inhabitants saved part of their property on board some vessels then in the harbour. Hartlepool furnished five ships and 145 seamen to the fleet of Edward III before Calais. In the northern rebellion under the earls of Northumberland and Westmoreland, in the time of Elizabeth, Hartlepool was taken by the rebels. The Scottish army, which came to the aid of the parliamentarians in the civil war of Charles I, took Hartlepool in 1644 : it was retained by them till 1647, when they evacuated it, and it was occupied by a garrison of parliamentarians. Mr. Romaine, a well-known theological writer, was born at Hartlepool.