Who Hung the Monkey?

The Lord Mayor Nowadays the "Lord" Mayor of Hartlepool is himself a monkey. Click to find out how come. of Hartlepool was walking on the shore

When he came upon a funny sight he'd never seen before

He came upon a little chap a-walking in the sand

Holding a banana in his tiny hairy hand

Local song Click to hear the song in full sung by local man Billy Reed.

It's a wild December day and a throng of fishermen and their wives, braving the cold wind, stand gossiping on the Fish Sands A small strip of rocky beach nestling in Hartlepool harbour below the Town Wall. Click to see a map.. The cobles A kind of boat only found on the north east coast of England and still used as a fishing boat today. Click to see one., the large rugged boats the men prefer to use on their fishing excursions, lie hauled up on the beach where they have lain all day. Weather like this, that can break a French warship in two, is no weather for fishing.

In and amongst the grown-ups, excited children, full of the dramatic events of the day, chase each other, playing at "Catch Boney". To these children it's all a game, and Boney just a figure of fun. But to the crofter fisherfolk of Hartlepool it means much more. Even here in the far north of England they have heard of Napoleon Bonaparte and of the invasion which must surely come soon. Not many this day have been sorry to see the Chasse Maree Old accounts insist the wrecked ship was called the Chasse Maree, but this is actually the name of a type of ship, also called a lugger, commonly used by the French for smuggling and privateering. Click to see more. founder and go down with all hands.

But not all hands were lost in the wreck of the French ship, and legend tells of how a monkey, a sailor's pet no doubt, was washed up on the Fish Sands to the amazement of the Hartlepudlians The collective noun for natives of Hartlepool. gathered there.

The legend also tells of how the crofters, never having seen either a monkey or a Frenchman before, took the poor creature for a spy. They interrogated it, but could make no sense of the replies it gave; obviously not, since it must be speaking French. But the people of Hartlepool are decent folk - they allowed the spy a fair trial, right there on the beach. The accused mounted a poor defence for himself and was duly found guilty of treason. A makeshift scaffold was erected using the mast of a coble.

What happened next was to make this otherwise unremarkable north-eastern town famous around the world. The people of Hartlepool "hung the monkey".

So is it true? Did it really happen like that? You won't find many people in Hartlepool who say it didn't. They love the story. Even the local rugby team bears the proud nickname, the Monkeyhangers The local Rugby Union team Hartlepool Rovers are known as the Monkeyhangers. Click to see their site.. Which is strange, because, for a long, long time after the event, people from neighbouring towns used the tale to mock Hartlepool and its inhabitants, and Hartlepudlians were often on the receiving end of the jibe: "Who hung the monkey?"

Then there are some who point to a much darker interpretation of the yarn. They say that the creature that was hanged might not have been a monkey at all; it could have been a young boy. After all, the term powder-monkey was commonly used in those times for the children employed on warships to prime the cannon with gunpowder. You can decide for yourself whether you want to believe that dark version.

Whatever the truth the story of the Hartlepool monkey is a legend which has endured over two centuries and now enters its third as strong as ever.

Old folks, young folks, everyone and each

Come and see the Frenchie that's landed on the beach

He's got long arms a great long tail and he's covered all in hair

We think that he's a spy so we'll hang him in the square

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