It was founded in the 7th century AD, around the Northumbrian monastery of Hartlepool Abbey. The village grew during the Middle Ages and developed a harbour which served as the official port of the County Palatine of Durham. A railway link from the north was established from the South Durham coal fields to the historic town. An additional link from the south, in 1835, together with a new port, resulted in further expansion, with the establishing of the new town of West Hartlepool. Industrialisation and the establishing of a shipbuilding industry during the later part of the 19th century caused Hartlepool to be a target for the German Navy at the beginning of the First World War. A bombardment of 1150 shells on 16 December 1914 resulted in the death of 117 people. A severe decline in heavy industries and shipbuilding following the Second World War caused periods of high unemployment until the 1990s when major investment projects and the redevelopment of the docks area into a marina have seen a rise in the town's prospects.
After the Romans left England, the east coast began to be raided by Anglo-Saxons. They then settled in the area, creating what is today Northumbria. Hartlepool began as an Anglian settlement, but was founded as a village in the 7th century AD, springing up around Hartlepool Abbey, founded in 640 on a headland overlooking a natural harbour. Founded by St Aidan, the monastery became famous under St Hilda, who served as its abbess from 649-657. But it fell into decline and was probably destroyed by the Vikings in the 9th century. In March 2000, the Time Team archaeological investigation television programme located a lost Anglo-Saxon monastery in the grounds of St Hilda's Church.
After Norman conquest of 1066, the De Brus family gained ownership of the lands surrounding Hartlepool. William the Conqueror built Durham Castle and brought stability to the area, and the villages were first mentioned in records in 1153 when Robert de Brus, 1st Lord of Annandale became Lord of Hartness. The town's first charter was received before 1185, for which it gained its first mayor, an annual two-week fair and a weekly market. By the time of the Middle Ages, Hartlepool had grown into an important (though still small) town, gaining a market. A major part of the reason for growth was that its harbour was improved to serve as the official port of the County palatine of Durham. The main trade developed as fishing, making Hartlepool one of the major ports in the east of the UK. In 1306, Robert the Bruce was crowned King of Scotland, and became the last Lord of Hartness. Angered, King Edward I confiscated the title to Hartlepool, and began to improve the towns defences. But in 1315, before they were completed, the Scots under Sir James Douglas attacked and sacked the town. The town recovered, with a pier built in the late 15th century. Occupied by Scots who supported the roundheads during the English Civil War, they were replaced by English troops after 18months.
Hartlepool established gun emplacements and defences in 1795 to repel a possible French invasion. The later Crimean War revived the idea of protection from seaborne attack, and two batteries were built close together, the lighthouse battery in 1855 and the Heugh Battery in 1859. The town had medicinal springs, particularly the chalybeate spa near the Westgate. Thomas Gray the famous poet ('Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard') visited in July 1765 to take the waters, and wrote to his friend Dr Wharton:
A few weeks later, he wrote in greater detail:
By the early nineteenth century, Hartlepool was still a small town of around 900 people, with a declining port. In 1823 the council and Board of Trade decided that the town needed new industry, so the decision was made to propose a new railway to make Hartlepool a coal port, shipping out minerals from the Durham coalfield. It was in this endeavour that Isambard Kingdom Brunel visited the town in December 1831, and wrote: "A curiously isolated old fishing town - a remarkably fine race of men. Went to the top of the church tower for a view."
But the plan was faced by local competition from new docks. to the north, the Marquis of Londonderry had approved the creation of the new Seaham Harbour (opened July 31, 1831), while to the south the Clarence Railway connected Stockton-on-Tees and Billingham to a new port at Port Clarence (opened 1833). Further south again, in 1831 the Stockton and Darlington Railway had extended into the new port of Middlesbrough.
The council agreed the formation of the Hartlepool Dock and Railway Company to extend the existing port by developing new docks, and link to both local collieries and the developing railway network in the south. In 1833, it was agreed that Christopher Tennant of Yarm establish the HD&RCo, having previously opened the Clarence Railway. Tennant's plan was that the HD&RCo would fund the creation of a new railway, the Stockton and Hartlepool Railway, which would take over the loss-making CR and extended it north to the new dock, thereby linking to the Durham coalfield.
But after Tennant died in 1839, the running of the HD&RCo was taken over by Stockton on Tees solicitor, Ralph Ward Jackson. But Jackson became frustrated at the planning restrictions placed on the old Hartlepool dock and surrounding area for access, so bought land which was mainly sand dunes to the southwest, and established West Hartlepool. Jackson was so successful in the century at shipping coal from West Hartlepool through his West Hartlepool Dock and Railway Company, and the fact that as technology developed ships grew in size and scale, that the new town would eventually dwarf the old town.
The West Hartlepool Harbour and Dock opened on June 1, 1847. On June 1, 1852 the Jackson dock opened on the same day that a railway opened connecting West Hartlepool to Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool. This allowed the shipping of coal and wool products east, and the shipping of fresh fish and raw fleeces west, enabling another growth spurt in the town. This resulted in the opening of the Swainson Dock on June 3, 1856, named after Ward Jackson’s father-in-law. In 1878 the William Gray & Co ship yard in West Hartlepool achieved the distinction of launching the largest tonnage of any shipyard in the world, a feat to be repeated on a number of occasions. By 1881, old Hartlepool's population had grown from 993 to 12,361, but West Hartlepool had a population of 28,000.
Ward Jackson helped to plan the layout of West Hartlepool, and was responsible for the first public buildings. He was also involved in the education and the welfare of the inhabitants. In the end, he was a victim of his own ambition to promote the town. Accusations of shady financial dealings, and years of legal battles, left him in near-poverty. He spent the last few years of his life in London, far away from the town he had created.
In 1891 the two towns had a combined population of 64,000. By 1900 the two Hartlepools were one of the three busiest ports in England.
The modern town represents a joining together of "Old Hartlepool", locally known as the "Headland", and West Hartlepool. What was West Hartlepool became the larger town and both were formally unified in 1967. Today the term "West Hartlepool" is rarely heard outside the context of sport, but one of the town's Rugby Union teams still proudly retain the name (See Sports below)
The name of the town's professional football club reflected both boroughs; when it was formed in 1908, following the success of West Hartlepool in winning the FA Amateur Cup in 1905, it was called "Hartlepools United" in the hope of attracting support from both towns. When the boroughs combined in 1967 the club renamed itself "Hartlepool" before renaming itself Hartlepool United in the 1970s. Many fans of the club still refer to the team as "Pools".
First World War
The area became heavily industrialised with an ironworks (established 1838) and shipyards in the docks (established in the 1870s). By 1913, no fewer than 43 ship-owning companies were located in the town, with responsibility for 236 ships. This made it a key target for Germany in the First World War. One of the first German offensives against Britain was the Raid on Scarborough, Hartlepool and Whitby on the morning of 16 December 1914, when units of the Imperial German Navy bombarded Hartlepool, West Hartlepool, Whitby and Scarborough. Hartlepool was hit with a total of 1150 shells, killing 117 people.
Two coastal defence batteries at Hartlepool returned fire, firing 143 shells, damaging three German ships: SMS Seydlitz, SMS Moltke and SMS Blücher. The Hartlepool engagement lasted roughly 50 minutes, and the coastal artillery defence was supported by the Royal Navy in the form of four destroyers, two light cruisers and a submarine, none of which had any significant impact on the German attackers. Private Theophilus Jones of the 18th Battalion Durham Light Infantry, who fell as a result of this bombardment, is sometimes described as the first military casualty on British soil by enemy fire. This event (the death of the first soldiers on British soil) is commemorated by the 1921 Redheugh Gardens War Memorial together with a plaque unveiled on the same day (seven years and one day after the East Coast Raid) at the spot on the Headland (the memorial by Philip Bennison illustrates four soldiers on one of four cartouches and the plaque, donated by a member of the public, refers to the 'first soldier' but gives no name). A living history group, the Hartlepool Military Heritage Memorial Society, portray men of that unit for educational and memorial purposes.
An attempt by the German High Command to repeat the attack a month later led to the Battle of Dogger Bank on 24 January 1915 at which the Blücher was sunk. During World War II, RAF Greatham (also known as RAF West Hartlepool) was located on the current South British Steel Works. Hartlepudlians voluntarily subscribed more money per head to the war effort than any other town in Britain.
Second World War
Hartlepool suffered badly in the Great Depression of the 1930s and suffered high unemployment until the start of the Second World War, during which its shipbuilding and steel-making industries enjoyed a renaissance. Most of its output for the war effort were "Empire Ships". German bombers raided the town 43 times.
Post war decline
After the war, both industries went into a severe decline. Blanchland, the last ship to be constructed in Hartlepool, left the slips in 1961. In 1967 Betty James wrote how "if I had the luck to live anywhere in the North East [of England]...I would live near Hartlepool. If I had the luck". There was a boost to the retail sector in 1969 when Middleton Grange Shopping Centre was opened by Princess Anne, with over 130 new shops including Marks & Spencer and Woolworths.
Before the shopping centre was opened, the old town centre was located around Lynn Street, but most of the shops and the market had moved to a new shopping centre by 1974. Most of Lynn Street had by then been demolished to make way for a new housing estate. Only the north end of the street remains, now called Lynn Street North. This is where the Hartlepool Borough Council depot was based (alongside the Focus DIY store) until it moved to the marina in August 2006. In 1977 British Steel announced the closure of its Hartlepool steelworks with the loss of 1500 jobs. By the 1980s the area was affected by unemployment figures of over 30 per cent, the highest in the country. 630 jobs at British Steel were lost in 1983 and a total of 10,000 jobs were lost during the Margaret Thatcher premiership. Between 1983 and 1999 the town lacked a cinema. A series of major investment projects in the 1990s revived the town centre with a new marina, rehabilitation of derelict land, the indoor conversion to modernise Middleton Grange Shopping Centre from the 1960s brutalist architecture, the Historic Quay regeneration, and the construction of much new housing.