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Hartlepool, Durham

Historical Description

Hartlepool, a seaport, market, and union town, and a municipal and parliamentary borough in the county of Durham. The town stands on a headland called the Heugh, forming the horn of a bay, and is nearly surrounded by the sea, the bay forming a small harbour of refuge. It is 4 miles N by W of the mouth of the river Tees, 12 NE by N of Stockton, and 20 ESE of Durham. A small bay or pool of its own name is on the S side, and an inlet from this strikes westward up the course of a brook, separates it from West Hartlepool, forms the entrance to the harbour, and is crossed near the month by a ferry approached on the S by subways for foot passengers. A branch of the N.E.R. extends both north-west and south-west from Hartlepool, giving railway communication with all important parts of both the coast and the interior.

The name seems properly to be or formerly was Hart-le-pol, and originated with the Normans. Bede calls the place Heart-ea, signifying " Hart-water," and Henry of Hunting-ton calls it Hart's Isle; and both these names, as well as Hart-le-pol, appear to allude to the headland as originally a forest abounding in deer and washed by the contiguous pool or small bay. The town's seal represents a stag in a pool. Huge antlers and enormous fossil trees have frequently been found in the adjacent sands, and at the forming of drains in the Slake, near the docks, in 1848, stags' antlers, deers' teeth, human bones, and portions of trees were discovered. An abbey was founded here in 640 under the auspices of Aidan, Bishop of Lindisfarne, by St Hieu, identified by some as Bega, was presided over by St Hilda, and was destroyed in 800 by the Danes. A town adjacent to the abbey was founded or rebuilt between 830 and 845 by one of the bishops of Lindisfarne, and was designed to belong for ever to the bishops. Robert de Brns, son of Robert who came over with the Conqueror, and ancestor of the royal Bruces of Scotland, obtained the town and the circumjacent manor. The harbour seems to have been then regarded as important, and in 1171, when the name of Hartlepool first occurs, it was the landing-place of a fleet under the Earl of Bar, with a contingent of Flemings, to assist William the Lion in invading England. It was the only, ancient port of the palatinate of Durham, and here Bishop Pudsey prepared the splendid galley in which he purposed to accompany Richard I. to the Crusades. The town was made a borough by King John in 1200, and it was strongly fortified and provided with a haven of 12 acres in 1245-95. The wall around it was strengthened by bastions, a breastwork, and a parapet; the haven was defended by ten towers; the chief land-gate was probably protected by moat and drawbridge; and the other gates were constructed in the strong manner usual in the military architecture of the period, and defended by turrets. Some remains of the walls still exist. The manor with the town passed from the Brnces to the Cliffords when the former claimed the crown of Scotland, and it went by sale first in the 16th century to the Lum-leys, next in 1770 to the Pococks. The town was plundered in 1312 by Sir James Douglas; and again in 1315 by the Scots; was taken in 1569 by the rebel Earls in the rising of the North; was seized in 1644 by the Scots, and held by them till 1647; and was relieved in the latter year by a Parliamentarian garrison. The port in 1680 was made subordinate to Stockton, and from 1725 till 1832 it declined to the condition of little better than a fishing village; but about the latter year it underwent a sudden resuscitation mainly in consequence of the discovery of coal of excellent quality to the NW of the town, and thence till now it has progressed rapidly to the prominence and prosperity of a great seat of commerce.

The headland on which the town stands is one of the most prominent features on the coast of Durham. The rock is magnesian limestone, hard, buff-coloured, and crystalline.. The nexus of the headland with the mainland is a narrow isthmus on the NW. The shore side, to the N of the town, has cliffs about 40 feet high, and extends thence in shoals and spits of sand. The cliffs have been abraded by the action of the sea, and are formed into caverns, piazzas, and grotesque arches, called " the fairy coves," and affording romantic and pleasant retreats at low water. The town moor, inward from the cliffs, is a favourite resort of the townspeople, and commands a fine sea-view, northward to Souter Point, and southward to the hills of Yorkshire. Remains of a breastwork, demi-bastions, walls, and a tower gateway existed on the moor and the shore side until recently, when a massive sea-wall was built for the protection of the town, forming & promenade about two-thirds of a mile in length. The south wall, 9 feet thick, forms a walk 18 feet high, and is pierced with an arch 8 feet wide communicating between High Street and the beach, and strengthened by an angular bastion. Two chalybeate springs are near the Water gate.

The town comprises a principal street, a parallel street, and several transverse streets, and it has necessarily undergone a change of appearance corresponding with the great increase in its commercial prosperity. Many of the private houses are handsome. St Hilda's Church stands on a height at th& SE of the town, commanding an extensive sea-view; was founded before the time of Richard I.; retains a grand Norman doorway, now covered in by a porch; is mainly Early English of the latter part of the 13th century; lost the-greater part of its chancel in 1724; consists now chiefly of nave and aisles, the nave 85 feet long and 44 wide, with clerestory of arcade triplets; has a massive western tower 78 feet high, with very large and bold flying buttresses; had formerly three chantries; presents a rugged, storm-beaten, and highly-imposing appearance. It contains two ancient stone effigies, and a brass of the time of Elizabeth, and had in the centre of its chancel a huge altar-tomb, now several feet outside of the E wall, bearing the lion of the Bruce. Holy Trinity Church was built in 1851; measures 84 feet by 24 in the nave, 36 by 22 in the chancel, and has carved stalls and a Caen stone pulpit. There are Baptist, Congregational, Presbyterian, Wesleyan, Free, New Connexion and Primitive Methodist chapels, and one for Roman Catholics; the latter was built in 1851 in similar style to St Hilda's Church. A very ancient cemetery, containing crosses with Saxon or Runic inscriptions, and supposed to have been. The cemetery of St Bega's Abbey of 640, was discovered on Cross Close some years ago. A monastery of Greyfriars, probably founded about 1258 by Robert de Bruce, stood on a site now occupied by a building called the Friarage. That building was erected after the dissolution of monasteries, is of Tudor character, was used for some time as a workhouse, and in 1867 converted into an hospital, to which a new wing was added in 1871, and it was further enlarged in 1889. The town-hall and market buildings were erected in 1866, and are in the Italian style, surmounted by a spire 100 feet high. They include offices for the county court, the urban sanitary authority, the overseers, and the clerk to the justices, &c., also a police station. The market is in the rear of the building. There are Liberal and Conservative clubs, two endowed schools, public baths, a temperance hall, and a cemetery under the control of the council. A new drill-hall was opened in 1894.

The town has a head post office, a station on the N.E.R., two banks, is a bonding port, and a coastguard station. A weekly market is held on Saturday. Industry is carried on in iron shipbuilding, corn and steam saw mills, breweries, iron and brass foundries, glass-bottle and cement works, rope manufactory, and in extensive fisheries; some support also is drawn from the presence of summer visitors for seabathing; but the main trade has connection with shipbuilding, shipping of coal in large quantities, and the ordinary business of a port. A breakwater, 1320 feet in length, has been formed to protect the entrance to the east and west harbours. The docks now join those of West Hartlepool, and have a total area of 200 acres. An old pier is 150 feet long; a new pier, constructed in 1889, runs out from the Heugh, a point on the E of the town, to the length of three-quarters of a mile; a lighthouse was erected on the Heugh in 1847 at a cost of £3200, and has a light on Fresnel's principle at a height of 84 feet, and a walling of the cliff adjacent to it was done at a cost of £2550. There are other two lighthouses, one on the north pierhead, West Harbour, erected 1855, and another on the old harbour pierhead, erected 1836. Shelter in any weather, together with harbour accommodation, now exists for 500 vessels. The chief commerce is in iron, coal, and timber. The town was incorporated under the Municipal Acts in 1851, and is governed by a mayor, a recorder, 6 aldermen, and 18 councillors, and was extended by the Hartlepool Borough Extension Act of 1883. It was, conjointly with West Hartlepool, empowered by the Reform Act of 1867 to send a member to parliament, the parliamentary district being known as the Hartlepools. Eomaine was a native.

The population of the municipal borough is 21, 271. The area of the parliamentary borough is 7267 acres; population, 64, 882. The area of township, 137 acres; population, 14, 585. Population of the ecclesiastical* parish of St Hilda, 6774. The living of St Hilda is a rectory in the diocese of Durham; net value,, £320 with residence. The ecclesiastical parish of Holy Trinity was constituted in 1852; population, 13, 661. The living is a vicarage in the diocese of Durham; gross value, c£300 with residence.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England & Wales, 1894-5


The following is a list of the administrative units in which this place was either wholly or partly included.

Ancient CountyCounty Durham 
Ecclesiastical parishHartlepool St. Hilda 
Poor Law unionStockton 

Any dates in this table should be used as a guide only.

Directories & Gazetteers

We have transcribed the entry for Hartlepool from the following:

Land and Property

The Return of Owners of Land in 1873 for County Durham is available to browse.


Online maps of Hartlepool are available from a number of sites:

Newspapers and Periodicals

The British Newspaper Archive have fully searchable digitised copies of the following newspapers covering county Durham online:

RegionNorth East
Postal districtTS24
Post TownHartlepool