In the second of a series on the origins of the nicknames of football clubs from around the UK, Notts TV Sport Presenter Owen Shipton looks at a team involved in a scrap for their football league status, something which threatened Notts County for most of this season.
Few people in early nineteenth century Hartlepool had ever seen a Frenchman. Or a monkey.
So when a shipwreck marooned a soaked, sodden ape on the shores of County Durham, it’s said that locals came to a natural conclusion: it was a French spy.
Diplomatic relations in Europe had rarely been lower. Napoleon Bonaparte had dragged the continent into two decades of conflict, pulling in powers from as far afield as Iran.
More than 30,000 Brits were killed in action in the Napoleonic Wars. Estimates put the number dying of wounds, disease, accidents and other causes at closer to 300,000.
And the threat of a French invasion was real.
As Napoleon amassed a 130,000-strong army on the Calais coast in 1803, Britain’s need for soldiers was so dire that the Commander-in-Chief ordered boys be enlisted into the army. There just weren’t enough men.
Parliament passed a law to drum up extra conscripts that same year. Within two, the number of annual recruits had trebled. Between 1807 and 1808, 61,185 men and boys signed up.
In a panicked, invasion-fearing nation, the only Brits Napoleon was popular with were cartoonists.
Caricaturists like James Gillray mocked the French general as a tiny maniac. In exile on the Italian island of Elba, Napoleon admitted that Gillray’s cartoon’s had done him more damage than a dozen generals.
There’d be no warm welcome for shipwrecked French sailors in Hartlepool – or any other town in Britain – regardless of species.
So, when the waves washed a monkey in full French military uniform onto a North Eastern beach, it’s said locals organised a trial. French sailors had outfitted the poor ape in leftover kit as a joke.
But, for French-fearing Hartlepudlians aching from years of conflict, it was no laughing matter. Nor was the monkey’s complete inability to understand English.
Convicted as a spy, the beast was hanged on the beach.
Today, a monkey statue stands on Hartlepool Marina and a monkey mascot entertains fans at Victoria Park. Many Hartlepudians and Hartlepool fans wear the monkey-hangers nickname as a badge of pride.
But H’angus the Monkey’s not just a fixture on the pitch. The man behind the mask ran for mayor in 2002, campaigning under a “free bananas for schoolchildren” slogan.
He won, becoming Hartlepool’s first directly-elected mayor. He led the town for eleven years, winning two more elections, before the role was scrapped.
From hanging a monkey to electing one, Hartlepudlians have a complex relationship with monkeys.
If you missed part 1 of Owen’s blog on the origin of Huddersfield Town’s nickname, be sure to check it out here.