Historian finds more Hartlepool monkey links - centuries after the legendary tale

A historian has uncovered fascinating stories from Hartlepool’s past ranging from giant squids to a whole host of monkey tales.

Monday, 9th May 2022, 12:27 pm

Author Graeme Harper has rigorously studied the town’s links with all sorts of creatures and has shared the stories with the Hartlepool Mail.

He contends that ‘no other town in the world is more closely associated with an animal than Hartlepool’.

Now is your chance to find out more in a series of articles from Graeme.

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Stock picture c/o christels/Pixabay

Let’s start with the town’s connections to monkeys.

Until its demolition in 1907, the General Jackson Hotel in Hartlepool had an exhibit which held pride of place behind the bar – a stuffed monkey in a glass case, complete with a beer in one hand and a pipe in its mouth.

Interestingly, it was said to have rope marks on its neck.

The monkey was eventually sold to John Mitchell, the licensee of the Cardiff Arms in Lynn Street, and displayed above the dart board. The fate of the monkey is unknown after the Mitchell family left in 1922, and the pub itself closed for good in 1961.

Hartlepool docks where a monkey was found in the water in 1932.

Other monkeys have popped up over the years. They were briefly popular as pets – usually sold in pubs by visiting sailors, prompting the RSPCA in 1958 to issue a warning about dangers of monkey ownership.

One had been handed in to a pet shop who issued it with a woollen jacket and hot water bottle to keep it warm. One was listed for sale in the Mail’s small ads in 1947 for £7 -around £300 in today’s money.

In September 1953, Jacko a three-month-old belonging to the Speer family of Kilwick Street made a bid for freedom and took up vigil on the roof until it was chased back down brave neighbour Mr Higgs.

Over at Hartlepool docks in Jan 1932 a dead specimen was fished out of the water and strung up at the Staith Master’s office.

Hartlepool Docks which had its own links to a monkey tale.

A mummified specimen was discovered by workmen dismantling the tank Egbert in 1938.

And a Hartlepool Mail article in March 1957 relates a story which had been included in ‘Sober Truth; a collection of nineteen century episodes fantastic, grotesque, and mysterious’ by Margaret Barton and Osbert Sitwell published in 1930.

According to The Mail, Sober Truths claimed that the first large ape in Britain was brought over by a travelling menagerie.

The Mail states: ‘The creature had escaped and roamed the country for a few days before its capture in Hartlepool. No one could understand the ape’s grimaces and gibberings and it was consequently tried and hanged’.

A letter in the Hartlepool Mail from 1949.

The fact that Wombwell’s menagerie was touring fairs and probably visited the one at Hartlepool on St Lawrence’s day helps to substantiate this account. ‘

The lost ape story does indeed appear in Sober Truth, but the book actually claims that the ape had arrived during the ‘French wars of Marlborough’ and was re-captured in ‘a remote village ‘- no mention of Hartlepool anywhere.

This also places the incident a hundred years before Wombwell’s menagerie began.

Watch out for more quirky tales from Graeme in the Mail soon.

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