A story is told in Hartlepool, England about an incident during the Napoleonic Wars, of an incident involving a monkey, who came into the custody of the British Army when the ship he was on was wrecked in a storm of the coast of Hartlepool. The sole survivor from the sip was said to be a monkey, who the captain owned, and dressed in the uniform of the ship. That being French, his little uniform was that of the French Army as a form of amusement for the crew. The monkey managed to make it to the shore and was found by a group of locals who apparently also were amused. They decided to hold an impromptu trial, because the monkey was, after all the enemy. Because the monkey was unable to answer their questions, and because they had seen neither a monkey nor a Frenchman before, they concluded that the monkey must be a French spy. With that, they found the monkey guilty and sentenced him to death by hanging, right there on the beach.

Apparently, any enemy soldier was to be dealt with in this manner and a trial wasn’t even really necessary. As the story goes, they proceeded with the “hanging” and found it a seriously difficult task, because the monkey kept climbing up the rope to safety. The whole situation, and the local townspeople because the laughingstock of the area, due to their inability to carry out a simple hanging. Everyone in the area got such a kick out of the whole situation, that they made up a song, and even changed the mascot of the local rugby teams to one or the other version of “The Monkey Hangers.” In fact, it was the decision of the local football club, Hartlepool United FC, who capitalized on their “Monkey Hangers” nickname by creating a mascot called “H’Angus the Monkey” in 1999. Two of the town’s six rugby union clubs also use variations of the hanging monkey. Hartlepool Rovers crest being a beret wearing monkey hanging from a gibbet, while Hartlepool RFC neckties sport a rugby ball kicking monkey suspended from a rope.

A statue of the monkey has been erected on the Headland and another at Hartlepool Marina (formerly in West Hartlepool). The statues serve to collect coins for a local hospice. Although some Hartlepool residents find the term “monkey hanger” insulting, a large number of residents have embraced the term and celebrate it as an important and unique characteristic of the town. Those offended thought it made them look stupid and incapable of sensible thought. I can understand both trains of thought, because no one wants to look stupid. Still, maybe they should have just embraced it as the joke it was. It doesn’t look like it is going away anyway.

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