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Hexham Abbey.jpg
Hexham Abbey
Grid reference: NY937638
Location: 54°58’16"N, 2°6’4"W
Population: 11,139
Post town: Hexham
Postcode: NE46
Dialling code: 01434
Local Government
Council: Northumberland

Hexham is an ancient market town in Northumberland. It stands to the south of the River Tyne.

The centre of town is dominated by Hexham Abbey, whose stones incorporate an early Anglo-Saxon crypt from the monastery founded by Wilfrid in 674. The crypt incorporates many stones taken from nearby Roman ruins, probably Corbridge or Hadrian's Wall. The current Hexham Abbey dates largely from the 11th century onward, but was significantly rebuilt in the 19th century.

Also delighting the town are the Moot Hall, the covered market, and the Old Gaol.

The closest major city to Hexham is Newcastle upon Tyne, about 25 miles to the east, but there are many smaller towns and villages that surround Hexham, such as Corbridge, Riding Mill, Stocksfield, Wylam to the east, Acomb and Bellingham to the north, Allendale to the south and Haydon Bridge, Bardon Mill and Haltwhistle to the west.


Hexham Abbey originated as a monastery founded by Wilfrid in 674. The crypt of the original monastery survives, and incorporates many stones taken from nearby Roman ruins, probably Corbridge or Hadrian's Wall. The current Hexham Abbey dates largely from the 11th century onward, but was significantly rebuilt in the 19th century.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (the Peterborough Chronicle) records the murder of King Ælfwald by Sicga on 23 September 789 and the king's burial in Hexham:

Her wæs Alfwald Norðhymbra cyning ofslægen fram Sigan on .viiii. Kalendas Octobris, 7 heofonlic leoht wæs lome gesewen þær þær he ofslægen wæs, 7 he wæs bebyrged on Hagustaldesee innan þære cyrican. 7 sinoð wæs gegaderod æt Aclea. 7 Osred Alchredes sunu feng to rice æfter him, se wæs his nefa.
This year Alfwald, king of the Northumbrians, was slain by Siga, on the ninth day before the calends of October; and a heavenly light was often seen on the spot where he was slain. He was buried at Hexham in the church.[1]

The name of Hexham derives from the Old English Hagustaldes ea and later Hagustaldes ham. The meaning of those elements is unknown, though one suggestion relates it to the Old High German hagustalt, denoting a younger son who takes land outside the settlement. Ea means "river" and ham is "home" or "homestead".[2][3]

Like many towns in the Middle Shires, Hexham suffered from the border wars between the kingdoms of Scotland and England in the Middle Ages, including attacks from William Wallace who burnt the town in 1297. In 1312, Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland, demanded and received £2,000 from the town and monastery in order for them to be spared a similar fate. In 1346 the monastery was sacked in a later invasion led by King David II of Scotland.

In 1464 during the Wars of the Roses, the Battle of Hexham was fought somewhere to the south of the town; the actual site is disputed. The defeated Lancastrian commander Duke of Somerset was executed in Hexham market place. There is a legend that Queen Margaret of Anjou took refuge after the battle in what is known as The Queen's Cave where she was accosted by a robber; the legend formed the basis for an 18th-century play by George Colman the Younger; but it has been established that Queen Margaret had fled to France by the time the battle took place.

Until 1572, Hexham was the administrative centre of the former Liberty or Peculiar of Hexhamshire, a part of Northumberland under the spiritual and temporal jurisdiction of the Archbishop of York.

In 1715, James Radclyffe, 3rd Earl of Derwentwater, raised the standard for James Edward Stuart the Old Pretender in Hexham Market Place. The rising, however, was unsuccessful, and Derwentwater was captured and beheaded after the Battle of Preston later that year.

In 1761, the Hexham Riot[4] took place in the Market Place when a crowd protesting about changes in the criteria for serving in the militia was fired upon by troops from North Yorkshire Militia. Fifty-one protesters were killed, earning the Militia the soubriquet of The Hexham Butchers.

Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Hexham was a centre of the leather trade, particularly renowned for making gloves known as Hexham Tans.

"Hexham" was used in the Borders as a euphemism for "Hell". Hence the term "To Hexham wi' you an' ye'r whussel!", recorded in 1873, and the popular expression "Gang to Hexham!".[5] "Hexham-birnie" is derived from the term and means "an indefinitely remote place".[5][6]

Notable buildings

Hexham's architectural landscape is dominated by Hexham Abbey. The current church largely dates from c.1170–1250, in the Early English Gothic style of architecture. The choir, north and south transepts and the cloisters, where canons studied and meditated, date from this period. The east end was rebuilt in 1860.

The Abbey stands at the west end of the market place, which is home to the Shambles a Grade II* covered market built in 1766 by Sir Walter Blackett.

East end of Hexham Abbey

At the east end of the market place stands the Moot Hall, a c15 gatehouse that was part of the defences of the town. The Moot Hall is a Grade I listed building, and was used as a courthouse until 1838. The Moot Hall now houses the Council offices of the Museums Department, though not open to the public any relevant enquiries can be made on the first floor. The ground floor is an art gallery open to hire.

The Old Gaol, behind the Moot Hall on Hallgates, was one of the first purpose-built jails in England. It was built between 1330-3 and is a Grade I listed Scheduled Monument. It was ordered to be built by the Archbishop of York for prisoners of his liberty of Hexhamshire. The building is now home to the Old Gaol museum which informs the visitor about the how the prisoners were kept at this time and how they were punished. There is also information concerning the local families of time, such as the Charlton and Fenwick families who still have descendants living in the area. There are many different displays in the museum of interest to the whole family. The museum also contains the Border History Library, where people are free to visit to research their family history.

Local media

Beaumont Street in Hexham with the Courant Offices

The Hexham Courant is the local newspaper, serving Hexham and Tynedale since 1864. It was first launched by J. Catherall & Co., and at that time espoused the Liberal cause. It later absorbed the Hexham Herald.

Hexham also has a town webportal called HexhamNet HexhamNet, first launched in October 2003. It is managed by the Hexham Courant on behalf of the Hexham Community Partnership. The website is part of the North East Regional Webportal project whereby most of the market towns in the North East of England were to have a virtual gateway for attracting both local and external visitors to the website.


Hexham had been long famous for its manufacture of leather. Wright (1823) gives some statistics — 77 men & boys employed as Leather dressers and Glove-cutters, 40 boys employed as Dusters and 1,111 women employed as Sewers. Skins dressed annually were 80,000, and 18,000 skins of dressed leather were imported. From these were made and exported annually 23,504 dozens of pairs of gloves. Dutch Oker was used in the processing, but local fell clay could be used if necessary. Tanning was a necessary allied industry and there were four tanneries, employing a score of men. In a year they dealt with 5,000 hides and 12,000 calf skins. They supplied local saddlers, bootmakers and cobblers.

Hexham also had 16 master hatters, and the trade employed 40 folk. There were two woollen manufactories, worked by steam power and two rope manufactories. There were corn water mills below the bridge. A windmill on the Seal was ruinous, but there was one still working on Tyne Green. It was, and still is a flourishing market, including a mart for cattle and other farm animals.[7]


Hexham has a notably picturesque racecourse at Yarridge Heights in the hills above the town, with National Hunt (steeplechase) races throughout the year

Outside links


  1. Anglo-Saxon Chronicle  (Peterborough Chronicle) (789)
  2. Northumberland Place-Names, by Stan Beckensall, Butler Publishing 2004, ISBN 094692841X
  3. http://www.cambridge.org/catalogue/catalogue.asp?isbn=9780521861076&ss=ind
  4. "Hexham Riot". http://www.ndfhs.org.uk/Articles/HexhamRiot.html. Retrieved 2008-11-10. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 The Roxburghshire word-book: being a record of the special vernacular vocabulary of the county of Roxburgh, with an appendix of specimens by George Watson, The University Press, 1923. p.170
  6. http://www.dsl.ac.uk/snda4frames.php?xref=yes&searchtype=full&dregion=form&dtext=all&sset=1&fset=20&query=Hexham
  7. Rowland, T. H. (1994 (Reprint)). Waters of Tyne. Warkworth, Northumberland, England: Sandhill Press Ltd. ISBN 0-946098-36-0.