TV show to feature Elephant Rock attraction

Elephant Rock, painted in 1850 by J.S. Holmes
Elephant Rock, painted in 1850 by J.S. Holmes

HARTLEPOOL will appear on national TV when the town’s top tourist attractions of past and present feature in a new BBC series.

TV journalist turned presenter John Sergeant visited the Hartlepool Maritime Experience and site of the former Elephant Rock for the new BBC series Britain’s First Photo Album.

The ten-part series travelled the length and breadth of the country to find locations captured by Francis Frith, the pioneering Victorian photographer.

Frith embarked upon a mammoth project to photograph Britain’s cities, towns and villages to make the pictures widely available to the working classes.

In Thursday’s episode, John explores the history of the Elephant Rock, Hartlepool’s top tourist attraction in Victorian times, and visits the Hartlepool Maritime Experience.

Mark Simmons, Hartlepool Borough Council’s museums manager, who was interviewed for the programme, said: “In those days, picture postcards of Frith’s photograph of the Elephant Rock sold in their thousands.

“Unfortunately, I had to explain to John that he couldn’t take a photograph of the rock now because it was washed away in a storm in 1891, but we were able to go down to the foreshore where Frith took his original photograph and see the remains of the elephant’s feet.

“I was also able to tell John that the coastline has altered a lot in the last 150 years and it wasn’t just natural forces which first created the Elephant Rock.

“The limestone cliffs were quarried for building stone, pushing the coastline inwards and leaving rock stacks – including the elephant – standing off the Headland.”

John experienced Hartlepool’s resurgence as a tourist destination by visiting the award-winning Maritime Experience, where he photographed guides Stuart Burke and Nina Cole in costume and a demonstration of cannon-firing.

He said: “This wonderful re-creation of the past gets plenty of tourism awards.

“For a long time it looked as if Hartlepool would never again be a magnet for tourists, but now it really does attract visitors once more.”

The programme is on BBC2 on Thursday at 6.30pm.

The photographs are also featured in a new BBC book to accompany the series.