Hartlepool History Then and Now

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Friday, October 2, 2015

The port town of Hartlepool has a long and rich maritime history stretching back to at least Medieval times. The town’s modern history however, really began with the Industrial Revolution, when the huge demand for coal gave rise to the rapid development of the town’s shipbuilding industry and the coast-wise export trade in these valuable “black diamonds”.

The impetus of these demands led, in the mid-19th century, to the creation of an extensive series of new docks and shipbuilding facilities - in fact a new town was born, West Hartlepool. In 1967, old Hartlepool and West Hartlepool were formally amalgamated and today the two communities are together referred to simply as Hartlepool.

While ships and the sea form a major part of the town’s long history, a wide range of other trades, industries, and activities including fishing, farming, and iron & steel-making, have also left indelible marks on the local people.

However, the post-war decline and ultimate collapse of the North-East coal, fishing and shipbuilding industries brought great hardships to the town, which has for many years suffered from high levels of social deprivation with unemployment figures well above the national average. In spite of these hardships, or perhaps because of them, the people of Hartlepool have a fierce pride in their town and local communities.

In February 2012, in partnership with Hartlepool Borough Council’s Library and Museum Services, together with a number of local Groups and Societies, we received Heritage Lottery funding for an 18-month project, “Hartlepool History Then & Now”. The main aim of this project was to create a very personal and truly unique history of the town and the surrounding area, through the images and memories contained in family photograph albums.

Although funding for the project ended in July 2013, our core of volunteers continue to add new material to the project website (www.hhtandn.org), including many of the images held in Hartlepool’s Library and Museum Services collections; there are now over 8,000 images on our site. Many of these photographs contain a wealth of maritime, social and historical information, not only recording changes to the physical fabric of the town, but also the changing lifestyles of residents and visitors alike.

Not surprisingly, given the town’s port status, we have a large maritime section, including some excellent underwater images of a number of Hartlepool-built shipwrecks – but we would like many more! We would also like to have copies of Dive Log entries for any dives on these vessels, so we can build up a picture of how the wreck sites are deteriorating over time. If you have any information you would be willing to share, then please contact Gary at gary.nasnortheast@virginmedia.com