Friday, 2 May 2014

Writing - A local legend

Not many people in England are familiar with the town of Hartlepool on the north east coast and there is no particular reason why they should be but in fact it is famous for two incidents. During the first world war it was one of three towns on the east coast of England that was shelled by German warships.

The second event was the legend, or is it a true story, about hanging a monkey! In short a French ship was supposedly landing at Hartlepool and the locals had never seen  Frenchman before, saw a monkey and hung it thinking it was an invader from foreign lands.
That is the colloquial version so let's delve a little deeper.

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.

There is even a song as you would expect in those days as it was often a method for telling news. But there is no proof as to whether it is fact or legend, however, there have been consequences much to the chagrin of local people. For many years the term 'monkey hangers' was used as a slur on those who lived or were born in the area. As time has passed it has become more a term of affection being adopted by the local rugby (Monkey hangers) and football team whose mascot is H'Angus the Monkey.

A powder monkey

A darker side to the story is that children were often used to prime the cannons on board warships and were known as 'powder monkeys' so did the local people hang some poor french child? I doubt that we'll ever know for sure.

On VG today.

God Bless