Hartlepool Remembered: Legacies of the Bombardment

Hartlepool Remembered: Legacies of the Bombardment is a WWI centenary partnership between the University of Leeds Legacies of War project and a range of community groups in Hartlepool, including the Heugh Battery Museum. The purpose of the project is to promote public understanding of the historical and social significance of the German bombardment of the Hartlepools in 1914.

Early publicity for the project explained:

“On December 16th 1914 three German warships sailed to the coast of the twin towns of Hartlepool and West Hartlepool and launched a devastating bombardment. Starting at 8am, the shelling lasted for around 40 minutes, directed at the defensive gun batteries of Hartlepool, including the Heugh Battery, and the strategic industrial targets of West Hartlepool: the new shipyards, marine engine-works, railways and docks. In addition to the military forces killed in action, from the Durham Light Infantry and the Royal Navy, 112 civilians were killed: Hartlepool people going about their everyday lives and preparing for the first Christmas of the Great War. Our project considers the bombardment, its place in history and its legacies for the different communities of the town.”

In phase one of the project we organised a day of commemoration, performances and displays to mark the centenary of the Bombardment. Hosted at Hartlepool College of Further Education, the varied programme ran for 12 hours (10am-10pm) and was made possible by funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the involvement of over 40 community groups, local business and organisations.


The event took the form of an arts festival, aimed at all age groups and representing all geographical areas of the town. The centre-piece was the College’s permanent and massive Tree of Remembrance, forged from British Steel and serving normally as a workers memorial. Year 5 pupils from Throston Primary school had created for the event handmade ‘leaves of remembrance’, each one carrying the names of those killed in the bombardment and hung them from the tree’s branches. This quiet space for reflection proved a marked contrast to the noise and excitement going on around the rest of the event. With community stalls and displays in the central corridor, the live music performances began with a carol concert by St Aidan’s Primary School Choir, continued with the Hartlepool Sea Cadets Brass Band and folk songs from the Young ‘Uns and ended with the 140-strong Hartlepool Male Voice Choir and Ladies Choir, including community singing. A Senior Citizens group wrote, produced and performed their own bombardment play, local film-makers presented their works on WWI, and the main exhibition room featured new works by artists Dieter Löchle and Theresa Easton inspired by Hartlepool’s experiences in WWI. Art workshops ran through the afternoon, allowing visitors to create their own mementos of the centenary.

During 2013-14 we had set up a community writing group at the Heugh Battery and, with funding from the White Rose University Consortium, published their work in a new poetry volume entitled ‘To Cross the Wine-Dark Wave: Poems for the Hartlepool Bombardment Centenary’, edited by poet Martin Malone. The volume was launched at an evening reading at the event. A programme of lectures and talks ran through the day. Legacies of War was represented by both Professor Alison Fell, who spoke on “Women and World War One”, and Dr Peter Liddle, who discussed his early work in the North East where the Liddle Collection was begun. Leeds students Tim McConnell (Classics MA), Rhianna Jackson, Alexandra Tobin and Dominique Triggs (History undergraduates), had undertaken research in the Liddle Archive, locating interviews of survivors of the bombardment recorded in Hartlepool in the 1970s and 1980s by Dr Liddle. This research was presented to the public through the talk “Hartlepool – at the Edge of History” and the sound installation “Voices of the Bombardment”. Hartlepool speakers included Joe Foster, archivist from the Heugh Battery Museum, Mark Simmons, Museums Manager, Hartlepool Borough Council and Steve Robbins, local historian.

Following the Last Post and ‘Lights Out’, a commemorative service included readings in German and English by a group from Hückelhoven, north Germany, whose families had visited Hartlepool regularly through the twin-town pairings begun in the 1970s. To our knowledge this was the first public commemoration of the German sailors who had lost their lives in the raid alongside the Hartlepool victims. A German presence was an important element of the day, with works on show from Dieter’s exhibition “Generations: From Warships to Friendships” and a display by the Annexe Youth Project recording their recent civic visit to Hückelhoven for the centenary.

The second phase of Hartlepool Remembered began in July 2015. A precious artefact in the Hartlepool Museum, loaned to us for the December event, is the West Hartlepool Bombardment Memorial Scrapbook of 1915, a huge leather-bound book filled with newspaper clippings, photographs and other personal items compiled as an informal memorial in the weeks following the bombardment.

Inspired by this communal production, and drawing on the fine art practice of Theresa Easton who specialises in both Mail Art and book-making, Hartlepool Remembered is now creating a Bombardment Centenary Memorial Scrapbook, equally large in scale. Through Theresa’s dedicated art sessions with community groups and her use of Mail Art techniques with our broader contact list, the work of compiling pages of original submissions has begun. Submissions include individual and family memories of both the bombardment and the centenary. The aims of this unique collage are two-fold. First: to trace the continuities between the town in 1914 and now, including those of families, industrial and post-industrial workplaces, and community organisations, using family stories and memories alongside local histories. Second: to capture in images and words a snapshot of how Hartlepool people commemorated the bombardment centenary, recording for posterity up to 100 entries, giving the names, families and groups who participated and recording their reflections.

The pages will be organised by geographical districts to reflect the varied experiences of different communities within the town.


The aim is for the Scrapbook pages to be digitised and made accessible to the public through the Durham at War website: http://www.durhamatwar.org.uk/.

Hartlepool Remembered is supported by the Heritage Lottery fund through the “WWI Then and Now” funding programme.

EEP Oct 2015.