Surely this has to be the most unusual annual event Hartlepool has ever held

We’ve all heard of Hartlepool’s big annual festivals.

Tuesday, 21st June 2022, 12:51 pm

There’s the Headland Carnival, Greatham Feast and the Waterfront Festival and they are firmly established gatherings which are much loved by townsfolk and visitors alike.

But there was one yearly event held between 1920 and 1944 that thankfully has not survived. It was Rat Week.

Once again, we have researcher and historian Graeme Harper to thank for a brilliant look into Hartlepool’s past.

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Hartlepool had a week which was dedicated to rats from 1920 to the outbreak of the Second World War.

“The purpose of Rat Week was not to celebrate the local rodent population but to try and get rid of it.

“Rats and mice were a problem everywhere and not just in Hartlepool.

“The Board of Agriculture and Fisheries decided to pressure local councils into doing something about it. The Rat and Mice Destruction Act of

“1919 set out harsh penalties for those who failed to take action.

Hartlepool in the 1920s.

“It also brought about the idea of a national campaign to encourage people to sort out local vermin.

“In their annual public notice printed in the Northern Daily Mail, the council commanded that ‘owners and occupiers of premises on which there are rats should try during this week by means of ferrets, traps, poisons etc. to exterminate these pests.’

“This was a serious matter and the Mail explained why.

‘One pair of rats and their descendants will in one year produce approximately 900 rats,’ said the paper.

Hartlepool had an annual week which was dedicated to the eradication of rats in the 1920s, 1930s and early 1940s.

“In 1918, an emergency meeting of the council was held to discuss a rat infestation that had developed in Sarah Street. The cause of the problem was never established but it coincided with an air raid.

“The rat problem even reached the headlines in a newspaper in Scotland.

“It printed a report in June 1918 which said Rats Run Riot in West Hartlepool, in which they stated that rats and Zeppelins had something in common. You could expect them to make themselves felt at night.

“Rat Week was eventually halted with the onset of the Second World War but it was brought back for one last hurrah in 1944 before being quietly forgotten.”

Hartlepool's rat problem was so large that the town had a week dedicated to exterminating them.

Our thanks go yet again to Graeme for another great article and we will have more from him in the weeks to come.

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