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Hexham, Northumberland

Historical Description

Hexham, a town, a township, and a parish in Northumberland. The town stands on the river Tyne, 1½ mile ESE of the confluence of the N Tyne and the S Tyne, 3½ miles & of the Roman wall, and 21 W of Newcastle-on-Tyne, and has a station on the N.E.R. and North British railway. It was anciently called Hextildesbam and Halgulstadt, and it took these names from two brooks which water it, anciently called the Hextol and the Halgnt, and now called the Cock-shaw and the Cowgarth burns. It possibly was founded by the ancient Britons, and seems certainly to have been occupied by the Romans. It was made a bishop's see by St Wilfrid in 674; it had for prelates Eata, who was removed hence to Lindisfame, St Cuthbert, who also was removed. hence to Lindisfame, St John of Beverley, who was removed hence to York, and Acca, who was the friend of Bede, and died here in 740; it had after these Fridbert, Alcmund, Til-bert, Ethelbert, Eadred, Eadbert, and Tilferth, and it ceased to be a see at the death of Tilferth in 821. The cathedral was originally a monastic church, founded by St Wilfrid, and dedicated to St Andrew, and is said by Prior Richard of Hex-ham, who wrote histories of Hexham, King Stephen, and the War of the Standard, to have been the most beautiful and magnificent ecclesiastical edifice of its time in England. The-Danes assaulted it, ravaged the town, drove away Bishop Tidfrith, and occasioned the cessation of the see, and at length, in 876, they completely destroyed the church, damaged or desolated all the houses of the town, and put all the inhabitants to the sword. A new church, on the site of the-old one, for an Augustinian priory, was founded in 1112 by Thomas II., Archbishop of York. The Scots under King. David pillaged this in 1138, and another body of Scots destroyed its nave in 1296. The Battle of Hexham, which for some time decided the contest between the Yorkists and the Lancastrians, was fought in 1464 partly in the town, partly in the environs, and has bequeathed the name of Battle Hill to a portion of the town's main thoroughfare. The insurrection, called the Pilgrimage of Greece, in 1536 strongly affected Hexham, and led to the execution of its last prior at the gate of the priory. A riot took place in the town in 1761 in consequence of the conscription for militia, and was not quelled till 45 persons were killed and 300 badly wounded. John of Hexham, who wrote a history of England; Richard of Hexham, already noticed; Bate, a learned friar; Hewson, thfr anatomist; and Richardson, author of "the Rolliad," were-natives.

The town is situated mainly on the sloping skirt of a long, broad-based, lofty range of hills, and partly on a belt of alluvial plain. Many portions of it command extensive views of the long, rich, trough-like valley of the Tyne. The environs have diversity of contour, and are studded with villas. The exterior appearance of the town on all sides, from points both near and distant, is picturesque. The interior aspect is a mixture of the modern, the antique, and the quaint The street arrangements, though including some good spaces, and opening into fine outskirts, are prevailingly narrow, irregular, and dense. The Market-place was one of the most picturesque and interesting squares in England, and even now has strong attractions for both the tourist and the antiquary. Cockshaw lies wholly on the plain, and is chiefly a seat of manufacture. A fine park, called the Seal, formerly the airing-ground of the monks, ascends from Cockshaw to Hencotes, terminates on the W in a romantic dell, commands charming views, and is used as a public promenade. A pleasant small suburb, called Quatre Bras, is a quarter of a mile to the W. A complete system of drainage and waterworks in the town was executed in 1864-65. A grand stone bridge of twelve arches, after designs by Mylne, spans the Tyne in the neighbourhood of the railway station. A suspension bridge, constructed in 1826 at a cost of -£5000, is over the South Tyne, 2 miles to the W. The Moot-hall stands a little E of the Market-place, is reached through a Gothic arch called Hallgarth, surmounted by a fine tower seemingly of the time of Edward III., was the court-house and probably also the prison of the priory, is a curious edifice of unknown date, and comprises a large tower with narrow lights, and with a cornice-like range of corbels, which probably once supported a hanging gallery. A large room in a modern building, called the Abbey, to the W of the parish church, is used for county courts and midsummer quarter sessions. A town-hall, a handsome edifice in the Italian style, with the ground floor fitted as a market-house, was built in the newly opened street in 1865. The parish church, on the W side of the Market-place, is the church of the quondam priory, and will be noticed in next paragraph. There formerly were two other churches-St Peter and St Mary, both long extinct, and considerable vestiges of one of them were discovered a few years ago at the rebuilding of some houses. The United Presbyterian Church in Battle Hill was built in 1864, and is a handsome edifice in the Early English style. The Congregational chapel in Hencotes was built in 1869, and is an elegant structure. The Roman Catholic chapel in Battle Hill is a fine modern building in a mixed Pointed style. There are also Wesleyan, Primitive Methodist, and United Free Methodist chapels, and most of them are good structures. The cemetery, about a mile to the W, is beautifully laid out, and has two elegant chapels in the Early English style. There are an endowed grammar school, a public library, a dispensary, a workhouse, and the Tynedale Hydropathic Establishment, erected in 1878, standing in 20 acres of ground, and comprising drawing, dining, and recreation rooms, tennis lawns, and bowling greens. The town is governed by a local board of nine members, formed in 1853. The parish or priory church is much the most prominent feature of the town. It still wants the nave, destroyed in 1296, yet is more imposing than the cathedral of Carlisle or that of Ripon. It consists of a transept 156 feet long, a choir 95 feet by 51, and a tower 100 feet high, and till 1860 it had a Lady chapel 60 feet by 30. A Saxon crypt beneath the site of the nave was discovered in 1726, is part of the original church built by St Wilfrid, consists mainly of Roman stones, and has a Roman inscription built up in its walls. The transept is of four bays, in Early English, of the beginning of the 13th century, and its clerestory is an arcade of triplets. The choir is of six bays in pure Early English, has an Early English triforinm, and was restored and modernised in 1860. The tower is embattled, has an arcade of five lancets with two lights in each face, and is surmounted by a pyramidal roof. The Lady chapel was Decorated English of the latter part of the 14th century, had the form of an E transept, was used by the later monks as a school, and fell eventually into ruin. Remains of the vestibule, in Early English and 30 feet square, are to the S of the transept. Vestiges of the cloisters, in four or five compartments of rich decorated carving, are at .the modern building called the Abbey to the W. The precinct gate still stands to the N. and is of Norman architecture with additions of the time of Edward II. A richly-carved rood screen, some excellent stall work, four richly-ornamented sedilia, a frid-stool or stool of peace, the helmet of Sir John Fenwick, who was killed at Marston Moor, a beautiful oratory called Prior Leschman's Shrine, and several interesting ol! T monuments are in the church. Some restoration was effected in 1869, 1878, and 1887, and the church is now in a satisfactory condition of stability. The frid-stool was a chair of sanctuary which gave protection to any malefactor who could reach it. The privileges of sanctuary were much curtailed in the reign of Henry VIIL, and entirely abolished in that of James I. A custom existed in connection with the Border feuds of hanging up a glove in this church as a challenge. Hence does Bertram say to Edmund in Scott's " Rokeby:"-" Edmund, thy years were scarcely mine, "When challenging the clans of Tyne, To bring their best my brand to prove, O'er Hexham's altar hung my glove; But Tynedale nor in tower nor town Held champion meet to take it down."

Hexham has a head post office, four banks, is a seat of courts, and publishes two weekly newspapers. A weekly market is held on Tuesday, as also a cattle market, and fairs are held on 25 March, 6 Aug., and 9 Nov., and a wool fair on 2 July. Manufactures of gloves, leather, and boots and shoes are carried on. Extensive market gardens and nursery grounds are in the neighbourhood, and supply large quantities. of fruit and vegetables to the Newcastle market. The township comprises 6924 acres; population, 5945. The parish contains also the four townships of Hexhamshire, and comprises 24, 032 acres; population of the civil parish, 6806; of the ecclesiastical, 6190. The manor belonged to the priory, was given at the dissolution to the Fosters, passed to the Fenwicks and the Blacketts, and belongs now to the Beaumont family, who are also the principal landowners. The living is a rectory in the diocese of Durham; gross value, £300.

Hexham Parliamentary Division of Northumberland was formed under the Redistribution of Seats Act of 1885, and returns one member to the House of Commons. Population,. 51, 570. The division includes the following:-Bellingham -Bavington (Great), Bavington (Little), Bellingham, Birt-ley, Carrycoats, Catcberside, Charlton (East Quarter), Charl-ton (West Quarter), Chirdon, Coldwell, Corsenside, Crook-dean, Capheaton, Elsdon Ward, Fawns, Hawick, Kirkharle, Kirkwhelpington, Leemailing, Little Harle, Monkridge Ward, Nook, Otterbum Ward, Plashetts and Tynehead, Ramshope, Rochester Ward, Shitlington (High Quarter), Shitlington. (Low Quarter), Smalesmouth, Sweetbope, Tarretburn, Tarsefc (West), Thomeyburn, Thockrington, Troughend (Ward), Wark, Warksburn, Wellhaugh, West Harle, Whelpington (West); Coquetdale Ward (West Division)-Alwinton, Barrow, Bickerton, Biddlestone, Brinkburn (High Ward), Brink-burn (Low Ward), Burradon, Caistron, Cartington, Clennel, Debdon, Dneshill, Fairhaugh, Farnham, Fairnley, Fallolees, Flotterton, Greenleighton, Harbottle, Hartington, Hartingtoa Hall, Harwood, Hepple, Hepple Demesne, Hesleyhurst, Hol-Imghill, Holystone, Kidland, Lee Ward, Long Framlington, Linbridge, Linsheeles, Mount Healey, Netherton (North Side), Netherton (South Side), Newtown, Pauperhaugh, Peels, Raw, Rothbury, Rothley, Sharperton, Snitter, Thropton, Tosson (Great) and Ryehill, Tosson (Little), Trewhitt (High and Low), Warton, Whitton, Woodside Ward, Wreighill; Halt-whistle-Bellister, Blenkinsopp, Coanwood, Featherstone, Haltwhistle, Hartleyburn, Henshaw, Kirkhaugh, Knaresdale, Lambley, Melkridge, Plenmeller, Ridley, Thirlwall, Thorn-grafton, Wall Town, Whitfield; Tynedale Ward-Acomb, Acomb (East), Allendale, Anick, Anick Grange, Apperley, Aydon, Aydon Castle, Bearle, Bingfield, Bitchfield, Blackcarts and Byal, Black Heddon, Broomhangh, Broomley, Bywell (St Andrew), Bywell (St Peter), Cheesebum Grange, Chol-lerton, Clarewood, Cocklaw, Corbridge, Dilston, Dukershagg, Eitringham, Espershields, Fallowfield, Fenwick, Fotherley (High), Hallington, Halton, Halton Shields, Harlowhill, Haughton, Hawkwell, Haydon, Healey, Hedley, Hedley Wood-side, Heugh, Hexham, Hexhamshire (High Quarter), Hexhamshire (Low Quarter), Hexhamshire (Middle Quarter), Hexhamshire (West Quarter), Humshaugh, Horsley, Ingoe, Kearsley, Kirkheaton, Master's Close, Matfen (East), Matfen (West), Mickley, Nafferton, Nesbitt, Newbiggin, Newbrough, Newlands, Newton, Newton Hall, Ouston, Ovingham, Oving-ton, Portgate, Prudhoe, Prudhoe Castle, Riding, Ryal, Sand-hoe, Shotley (Low Quarter), Simonburn, Slaley, Spittle, Stel-ling, Stocksfield Hall, Styford, Thombrough, Wall, Walbridge, Warden, Welton, Whittle, Whittington (Great), Whittingtoa (Little), Whittonstall.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England & Wales, 1894-5


The following is a list of the administrative units in which this place was either wholly or partly included.

Ancient CountyNorthumberland 
Ecclesiastical parishHexham St. Andrew 
Poor Law unionHexham 

Any dates in this table should be used as a guide only.

Directories & Gazetteers

We have transcribed the entry for Hexham from the following:

Land and Property

The Return of Owners of Land in 1873 for Northumberland is available to browse.


Online maps of Hexham are available from a number of sites:

Newspapers and Periodicals

The British Newspaper Archive have fully searchable digitised copies of the following newspapers related to Northumberland online:

RegionNorth East
Postal districtNE46
Post TownHexham