Hartlepool (St. Hilda)

HARTLEPOOL (St. Hilda), a sea-port, incorporated market-town, and parochial chapelry, in the union of Stockton, N. E. division of Stockton ward, S. division of the county of Durham, 19 miles (E. S. E.) from Durham, and 257 (N. by W.) from London; containing 5201 inhabitants. This place, which is situated on the eastern coast, most probably derived its name from its finely sheltered haven, surrounded on all sides, except at the entrance on the south, by the peninsular promontory on which the town is built; and from the numerous herds of deer that formerly frequented the immediate vicinity. A monastery was founded near the site of the present town soon after the conversion of the Northumbrians to Christianity, by Hieu, a religious sister, by some writers identified with St. Bega, about the year 640; and after her decease, St. Hilda became abbess. The establishment was destroyed by the Danes, who in the year 800 made a descent upon this part of the coast, and burned the town, then called Hartness, which was rebuilt by Egfrid, Bishop of Lindisfarne, about the middle of the ninth century, and annexed to that see. After the Norman Conquest the manor became the property of Robert de Brus or Bruce, ancestor of the Scottish kings of that name, and whose grandson, William, obtained from King John a charter conferring upon the inhabitants the rights of free burgesses, and the privilege of a weekly market. This grant, with the addition of an annual fair, was confirmed by the same monarch to William's son, Robert de Brus, whose successor constructed a haven capable of receiving 100 vessels, and surrounded the town with a wall defended by ten towers, of which some vestiges may still be traced.

On the accession of Bruce to the throne of Scotland, in 1306, the manor became forfeited to the crown; and being given by Edward I. to Robert Clifford, who was killed in the battle of Bannockburn, in 1314, it continued for many generations to be the property of his descendants. In the reign of Edward III., when the Scots under Malcolm laid waste the country on the banks of the river Tees, the inhabitants of this place sought refuge in their ships, and placing on board all their moveable property, put to sea for security. In 1346, the town had become a port of considerable trade, and furnished five ships and 145 men towards the armament for the invasion of France. In the time of Bishop Hatfield, the place was the grand emporium of the see of Durham, whose bishops, as earls of Sadberge, exercising a temporal jurisdiction, issued mandates for rais ing ships and men to attend the king's high admiral, and appointed an officer of customs at the port to collect the duties on wines and other merchandise landed here. In the war in the reign of Charles I., the town was garrisoned for the royalists, and in 1644, when the Scots sent an army to assist the parliamentarians, was besieged and taken by the Earl of Callendar, who placed a garrison in the fortress, and retained possession of the place till 1647, when, with other northern towns, it was transferred to the parliament. The manor passed from the Cliffords to the Lumleys, with whom it remained till near the close of the last century, when it was purchased by Sir George Pocock, who sold it to the late Duke of Cleveland, from whom it has descended to his grandson, Frederick Aclam Milbanke, Esq. The remains of the fortifications convey a tolerable idea of the strength of this important town, and of the ancient method of fortification. Within the walls was the old haven, about 12 acres in extent, guarded by a range of bastions on each side, and having at the entrance two circular towers, from which a chain was thrown across its mouth; and all vessels entering the harbour had to proceed along the range of the southern wall within reach of the cannon of the fort, and to pass a half-moon battery at its entrance: the hooks were visible twenty years ago.

The town is about two miles to the north of the mouth of the Tees, and consists of numerous spacious and well-formed streets, whereof the principal are Northgate, Middlegate, and Southgate streets; and of several others intersecting these at right angles, and leading to the North-terrace, Darlington-place, and other ranges of building. To the south-east are Victoria-place, William-street, and Prissick-street, from which diverging at right angles, are George, Henry, and St. Hilda streets, leading to the South-terrace. The surrounding scenery is pleasingly diversified, and the aspect of the coast of truly romantic character, the shelving and precipitous rocks by which it is guarded having been worn by the action of the waves into caverns and recesses of fantastic and picturesque appearance. Within the last few years the town has been greatly extended and improved, and has become the resort of visiters during the season for bathing; handsome houses have been built for their accommodation, and several new lines of approach afford facilities of excursion in every direction. Near the Water-gate is a celebrated chalybeate spring called the Spa well, which at high water is covered by the tide; and near the South battery is another, containing iron and sulphur. An act for supplying the town with gas and water was passed in 1846.

The trade of the port appears to have retained its wonted prosperity till the close of the seventeenth century, though the custom-house establishment had been removed to Stockton in the year 1680; and in 1718 not less than 19 vessels cleared out of the port for London, while the port of Sunderland sent only two. But from that period it gradually declined, till the year 1832, when by the enterprise of the Hartlepool Dock and Railway Company new sources of trade were developed, and the abundant mineral produce of a wide district rendered available to the revival of its commerce, and to its establishment as one of the most flourishing ports on the eastern coast. The company was incorporated by act of parliament in 1832, for the improvement of the harbour, for constructing docks, and making a railway connecting the port with the most valuable coalmines in the county, with branches to Littletown, Thornley, and Cassop; thus opening out a coal-field nearly 50 square miles in extent. The whole line, from Hartlepool to Haswell, together with the branches, is upwards of 15 miles in length; it was completed at an expense of £250,000, and opened to the public 9th of July, 1835. The Stockton and Hartlepool railway diverges from the Clarence line at the township of Billingham, and, taking a north-eastern direction, winds along the coast, and terminates on the west side of the tide harbour at Hartlepool: the line is 8¼ miles in length, cost £190,000, and was opened to the public for the conveyance of coal in 1840, and for passengers and general merchandise in 1841.

The present harbour, which is distinct from the ancient haven, is formed by a pier 154 yards in length, extending from east to west, with a lighthouse at the extremity; and affords secure shelter as a harbour of refuge for ships navigating this part of the North Sea. The docks constructed by the company with a capital of more than £250,000, are extensive and commodious. The Victoria dock is more than 20 acres in extent, with a depth of 25 feet of water at spring tides, and communicates by an entrance lock 145 feet in width, with a tide harbour of the same area and similar depth of water; on the line of quay, which is very extensive, are placed 16 drops for lowering waggons containing coal for shipment. In 1835, three sloops only were registered as belonging to the port; but so greatly has the trade increased since the improvement of the harbour and formation of the two railways, that there are now 90 vessels of the aggregate burthen of 20,181 tons registered as belonging to Hartlepool. In the year 1842, not less than 2678 ships, with 559,766 tons of coal, cleared out coastwise from the harbour, and 41,994 tons of shipping entered inwards for refuge; and from the passing of the new tariff to the end of the last-mentioned year, 67 British and 141 foreign vessels cleared out for foreign ports. A considerable importation of timber from Canada and the Baltic has taken place; not less than twenty cargoes are landed annually, producing duties averaging £5000 a year. In 1840 the duties on timber amounted to £9000. Ship-building is carried on, and in one yard during the last three years, vessels of the aggregate burthen of upwards of 2000 tons have been launched. The turbot-fishery forms a lucrative branch of trade; the turbot taken off this coast are equal in quality to those found on the Dutch coast, and great numbers are sent to the London market. A pilot establishment is stationed here, consisting of a master and 40 experienced and skilful men; and two life-boats with crews, always in readiness, are maintained by subscription. The market, which is abundantly supplied with provisions of all kinds, is on Saturday: the fairs held on the 14th of May, 21st of August, 9th of October, and 27th of November, and to which courts of pie-poudre were attached, have nearly fallen into disuse. The market-place is in Southgate-street.

The inhabitants received a charter of incorporation from King John in 1200, and in 1593 another from Queen Elizabeth; but owing to irregularities and other causes the corporation latterly fell into decay, and there being no resident magistrate, the petty-sessions of the district were held at Stockton. To remedy this inconvenience Her present Majesty granted a new charter in 1841, re-constituting the burgesses a body corporate, under the style of "the Mayor and Burgesses," and appointing a mayor and twelve capital burgesses to be a common-council, with a recorder, town-clerk, two serjeants-at-mace, and other officers. The mayor is a justice of the peace, and continues such for one year after his mayoralty. Among the privileges of the freemen is the right of pasturage for a horse and a cow on the town moor, and of exemption from tolls. Courts leet and baron are held twice in the year before the recorder or his deputy, and at the latter, pleas are determined, and debts not exceeding 40s. are recoverable. The powers of the county debt-court of Hartlepool, established in 1847, extend over part of the two registration-districts of Easington, and Stockton and Sedgefield. The townhall is situated in Southgate, and is a neat building, erected in 1750.

The living is a perpetual curacy, in the patronage of the Vicar of Hart; impropriator, Mr. Milbanke. The church is an ancient and spacious structure in the early English style, with a lofty embattled tower strengthened with flying buttresses and crowned by crocketed pinnacles, and contains some portions in the later Norman style; the chancel, which had sustained much injury from high winds, was rebuilt in 1724: among the monuments is one said to be of a member of the royal family of Bruce. There are places of worship for Presbyterians, Primitive Methodists, Wesleyans, and Roman Catholics. A school was founded in 1742, by Mr. John Crooks, who endowed it with land, now producing £20 per annum; and there is another school, endowed by Mr. John Wells. Various bequests have been made for the benefit of the poor, among which is one of £500, by Henry Smith, alderman of London, in 1620, which was vested in the purchase of 19 acres of land let for £110 per annum. A convent of Franciscan friars was founded here prior to the year 1275, the site of which is said to have been near a house now called the Friary, where the foundations of some ancient buildings have been discovered. In forming a new street upon the moor, the cemetery of the monastery of St. Hilda was discovered, with several monumental inscriptions in Saxon and Runic characters. William Romaine, a learned divine and Hebrew scholar, was born here in 1714.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, 7th edition, published in 1848.

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