Hartlepool United Football Club have one of the most unusual nicknames in all of English sport, if not the world; the Monkey Hangers. The story of how they got their peculiar name involves a bizarre public execution and French spies dating back to the Napoleonic Wars.
Hartlepool United currently ply their trade in the fourth tier of the English 92 team professional football pyramid. They are mostly known for giving legendary manager Brian Clough his start in management. Hartlepool itself is a small town situated in the North East of England, on the North Sea coast. An industrial town centered around shipbuilding, it was so important strategically that it was the location of one of the first German offensives against Great Britain in World War I. The attack by the German navy in December of 1914 caused the death of the first soldier killed by enemy action on British soil during the Great War.
The town was deemed no less important a target over a hundred years earlier by Napoleon, and town folklore tells of a French ship that was caught in a storm off the coast of Hartlepool and wrecked. The sole survivor who washed ashore was a bedraggled monkey dressed in a French uniform. Local legend has it that an improvised court was held on the beach, and the monkey was accused and convicted of being a spy. The poor monkey was promptly hung on the beach from the stricken French ship’s mast.
A more gruesome version of events is that the monkey was actually a ship’s boy, who held the rank of powder monkey. Whether it was a boy or monkey who was hung is unknown, but it did lead to a popular folk song of the time commemorating the event;
In former times, mid war an’ strife
The French invasion threatened life
An’ all was armed to the knife
The Fishermen hung the Monkey O!
Hartlepool United Football Club fans took on the nickname, Monkey Hangers, proud of their involvement in the Napoleonic Wars. The story became even more unusual when in 2002, the team mascot, “H’Angus the Monkey” ran for, and won the election to become town mayor. The man inside the monkey suit, Stuart Drummond had only one campaign promise; to provide free bananas for all school children. Despite being banned from wearing the monkey suit in office by the local Member of Parliament, Peter Mandelson, H’Angus the Monkey was unanimously re-elected in 2005 and 2009. The Monkey Mayor is currently the only British mayor to have been elected three times.
What truly transpired on the beach over 200 years ago is unknown, but the legend lives on in a local folk song, a statue of a poor monkey on the quayside, and in the nickname of Hartlepool United Football Club, the Monkey Hangers.
Visit England with Atlas Obscura Trips
London Science Weekend: Medicine and Science in the Press
Join New York Times Journeys and Atlas Obscura for three days of scientific learning, special access and exploration in London. Accompanied by Times journalists and scientific experts, meet people contributing to the history of medicine and scientific journalism. This two-track program includes panels, exclusive visits and access to some of the best scientific minds available to concentrate on science reporting or medical history.