A rubber tramp in Hartlepool

5 Feb

Hartlepool, north of the Tees, is my kind of town. Time ravaged and forlorn, the striking and the truly banal rub shoulders as both stagger under the weight of histories ancient and modern. It’s a place of friendly folk whose brogue I barely understand.

(Even in childhood hearing wasn’t my strong suit. Though seldom ill, I had the usuals – measles, chicken pox, mumps – plus bouts of earache for which the sole 50s treatment was the pouring of warmed olive oil. Man, I suffered. Now 70, I wear hearing aids sometimes, though it should be all the time when I bore even myself asking folk to repeat themselves – else play the risky but I suspect widely deployed card of feigning comprehension. (Christ knows what horrors I’ve endorsed in noisy pubs over a beer or two.) My point being that, as with visual info, humans do not process all incoming speech but make educated guesses. These get much harder when – at a railway ticket office in Agra, say, or helping a Hartlepudlian get her drunken man off the floor – the English comes exotically accented.)

Here’s where I berthed up, in the area known as The Headland, on Wednesday. Bertie 1 – last seen on the south bank of the Tees – is off-camera, left of the first bunch of florals.

I’m a stone’s throw from Andy Capp and …

… the site of a Franciscan Friary and home to the Church of St Hilda, whose building began in 1185 when flying buttresses were few and far between. This place mattered.

After parking on the sea front, I stroll The Headland.

Georgian or Regency housing by the sea wall reminds me of Berwick

Stairways into deep water are disquietingly suggestive

The Fisherman’s Arms is dog friendly (for future ref) and does live music but, alas, is closed on Wednesdays

As I pass this sliver of beach, a woman in late middle age and bathing costume emerges from the sea. It’s the first day of February.

I decide on the Royal Navy Museum, in Hartlepool proper. Buses from The Headland are every ten minutes but, on my way to Town Square and terminus, an incident brings out my inner boy scout. On a patch of municipal lawn a thirty-something woman struggles to get a man of hefty build and similar age to rise from the horizontal.

“Can I help?”

She’s embarrassed but at her wits’ end …

“He’s dead drunk and too heavy to lift.

… close to tears in fact. It emerges that she needs to get to work, on pain of losing her job, but can’t leave him in this state. Together we try to lift him but my strength isn’t what it was, while he’s all glassy eyed non cooperation and too many kilograms of dead weight.

“Come on Russell, you’ve got to help us.”

She can no longer hold back the tears. A man passes by. I rope him in but still we require extra muscle. (You try lifting 15 stones of alcohol induced inertia without block and tackle.) He enlists the driver of my bus, newly arrived, who in turn recruits a passenger. I ask Mrs Russell to fetch her car and drive it onto the parkland.

“Am I allowed to do that?”


She brings the car to within a few feet, narrowly missing a flower bed – not that any of us could give a flying fig – and pushes front passenger seat as far forward as it will go. Two of us hold Russell more or less upright as the other two grab his legs as if inanimate objects – which to all practical intent they are – to “walk” him to open door and – without doubt one of the trickiest joint endeavours I’ve ever been a party to – lower him diagonally onto the rear seat. There he slumps onto his own crooked leg, requiring three of us to raise his butt – in these cramped and crippling confines! – sufficiently for the fourth to extricate and straighten the said item. But he’s in the car and the door shuts. The mood is celebratory if not downright self congratulatory. Job’s a good ‘un.

I turn to Russell’s sorely put-upon better half.

“How will you manage at the other end?”

She’s still close to weeping, but now with a mix of relief, gratitude and vicarious apology.

“He’ll have to stop in the car till he sobers up.”

I guide her reversal from park to busy street, by which time the already delayed bus has gone. The next one arrives in minutes.


The Royal Navy Museum I find fascinating. At its heart, in its very own dock, floats the hugely impressive Trincomalee, built in Bombay to an RN spec but named after a Ceylonese port.

The Royal Navy had by now, with the Napoleonic Wars raging, sufficiently set aside its doubts, in respect of “native” shipwrights, to entrust the work to one Jamsetjee Bomanjee Wadia.

You’ve seen Francis Drake’s Golden Hind, right? Located on the south bank of the Thames at St Mary Overie’s Dock, it’s tiny. Now check out the Trincomalee. We’re still in the age of sail but her scale – requiring a crew of 240 souls – and sophistication are light years ahead.

Step aboard, sir. On the toppermost two of her four levels of deck, I count ten cannon on the upper, with twenty more just above the water line on the deck below. Thus did Britannia – or to be precise, the Eton-schooled thugs and corsairs who still run Britain – rule the waves.

Learning the ropes, an even keel, 4 sheets to the wind, ‘sling yer hook’ … English is unsurprisingly rich in maritime metaphor

Dining, officer class

Dining for the less gentrified

Isn’t the Molly House a little passé  for 1820?

Stupid! This is just some newly commissioned naval officer being fitted out while that airhead, Mrs Newly Commissioned, plays with her lapdog.

Lining three sides of the Trincomalee’s dedicated dock, the fourth being the briny, are cobbled quays with period handcarts, kegs and stacked ordinance. And period piece shops. It’s a nice set up. For sure, all who pass through Hartlepool should visit The Royal Naval Museum. It’s a tenner, mind, with only a quid off for those like me, in the evening of our lives, but it gets you entry as often as you like for a year.

I spent two and a half hours there, and still came back in the morning for the stuff I’d missed.

The grog shop bore

 Purveyor of nautical necessities. Quiz item: what word ties such an establishment to the bassist for a Geordie group which once rivalled the Rolling Stones? A man who’d later manage Jimi Hendrix?

The apothecary

Maps and charts

The seditionists …

… and more, much more, besides.

I reckon I’ll lay my head tomorrow night near the docks of Sunderland, on the south bank of the Wear.

* * *

  1. After this post I’ll be speaking no more of ‘Bertie’. Troublesome women in my life insisted my wheels had a name, and Bertie was foisted on me. Well I’ve tried it, and it just doesn’t sit well with me. Call me prosaic. Tell me I’ve no poetry in my soul, but henceforth it’s ‘the van’. End of.

    Or maybe Baz …

12 Replies to “A rubber tramp in Hartlepool

    • Mebbes it did at that. The guy who told me otherwise must’ve been four sheets to the wind. (On a scale where Russell would’ve been ten.)

  1. I don’t know about the phrase ‘learning the ropes’ but it seems reasonable to anticipate that the term ‘powder monkey’ might well have originated in Hartlepool?

    I take you didn’t bump into ‘Angus’ ?

  2. “Troublesome women in my life”. With compliments like that I can foresee more trouble on the way. Best keep going North!

  3. Fantastic post Phil.

    Firstly for finding Hartlepool so welcoming and interesting. My only experience is driving through it on a winter’s night (coming away from the Trincomalee) looking for somewhere to eat and stay the night (never a great idea in the dark). I remember the place as dark, foreboding and largely shuttered up with huge planks of timber criss-crossing many windows. Good to know there’s another side.

    Secondly for your intervention with Russell and his partner. Many would’ve walked on by but the actions of a few strangers got him to a place of safety and avoided the potentially catastrophic loss of a job. Good work!

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