The Ronseal of the North East, Hartlepool is so named because it’s an area where hart (stags) were known to drink from a pool. The initial settlement grew around an Abbey which was founded in 640 by Hieu. The first of the saintly recluses of Northumbria, neighbours would presumably describe Hieu as a quiet woman who kept herself to herself.
Though these days a sizable town, Hartlepool’s population was under 1,000 until the middle of the 19th century. Indeed when Isambard Kingdom Brunel visited in 1831 he wrote of Hartlepool, ‘A curiously isolated old fishing town – a remarkably fine race of men. Went to the top of the church tower for a view.’ Unfortunately he doesn’t say who won that fine race, despite his impressive vantage point.
In the second half of the 19th century, the arrival of the railway helped to spur a rapid growth in the town as it became a major coal port, and also a prominent ship building centre. However the shipyards also made Hartlepool a key target for Germany during the First World War. On 16 December 1914, the town was hit by 1,150 shells, whilst two coastal defence batteries returned fire. It is said that this hartlepool engagement lasted roughly 50 minutes, the shortest and most intense engagement ever reported… until that of Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson.
In the latter part of the 20th century the shipyards closed, and this coupled with the closure of the town’s steel mills, and the coalfields of County Durham caused a severe decline for the town. Nothing funny about that, but then just down the coast from Hartlepool is the coastal town of Seaton Carew, which, from this sentence onwards until the day you die, you will only ever be able to hear said in the style of Sade’s hit ‘Sweetest Taboo’.
What’s it famous for?
Sorry, I just can’t ignore the simian in the room. But in case you’re not aware of the tale… During the Napoleonic Wars a French chasse-marée (like a long sofa with only one armrest) was wrecked in a storm off the Hartlepool coast. The only survivor of the wreck was a monkey who, for the crew’s amusement, had been dressed in a French Army uniform. Finding the monkey on the beach, a group of locals saw fit to put it on trial (as in a courtroom, not for United).
As the monkey was unable to answer any questions, and because none of the locals present had ever seen a monkey, nor a Frenchman before, they concluded he must be a French spy. Having been found guilty the monkey was duly sentenced to death, and a rope was duly erected on the beach; a sad end for the monkey as he presumably spent his last moments excited, wondering when they were going to attach the tire to it.
Beyond the tragic demise of sea-fairing primates, Hartlepool is also well known these days as the hometown of Jeff Stelling. In 2010 Stelling was granted the title of honorary freeman of Hartlepool, an ancient title which allows him to drive sheep through the town, commandeer any municipal vehicle for personal travel, and add non-Meal Deal items into a Meal Deal at any Sainsbury’s Local within a five mile radius of the town hall.
How to blend in
Spend the afternoon excitedly yelling football scores and goal updates, pausing only to lament the loss of industry, and to tell anyone who hasn’t buggered off by that point “you know, the team’s nickname is actually Pools, not Pool”. Oh, and avoid using words like déjà-vu, faux-pas, laissez-faire and rendez-vous, you know, just in case.
What’s the stadium like?
First established in the late 1800s, Victoria Park was originally the home of West Hartlepool RFC, before the football club moved in, in 1908. The ground is named after Queen Vic, a remarkable piece of foresight given Eastenders didn’t air for almost a century after the ground was built. During the first World War the original Main Stand was bombed by a German Zeppelin – Darlington are apparently massive in Hamburg – forcing the club to build a small temporary wooden replacement, which remained in place for a mere 70 years, until the mid 1980s. A record firmly in the sights of Gillingham and their scaffold away end.
Hartlepool United was one of the last two Football League clubs to install floodlights, doing so in the late 1960s, a move which vastly improved the quality of evening matches, or, perhaps didn’t. No-one could really tell to be honest. In the 1990s the ground was given a much needed revamp, with two new stands built in a modernisation programme that took the ground bang up to the 1970s.
These days away fans are housed in the Rink End, presumably so called because it’s cold as ice pretty much all year round. According to The Football Ground Guide ‘the acoustics of the stand are good even for small numbers,’ so if you were planning to perform an intimate unplugged set for your fellow fans at some point this season, this could well be the ground to do it.