1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Hexham

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HEXHAM, a market town in the Hexham parliamentary division of Northumberland, England, 21 m. W. from Newcastle by the Carlisle branch of the North-Eastern railway, served also from Scotland by a branch of the North British railway. Pop. of urban district (1901) 7107. It is pleasantly situated beneath the hills on the S. bank of the Tyne, and its market square and narrow streets bear many marks of antiquity. It is famous for its great abbey church of St Andrew. This building, as renovated in the 12th century, was to consist of nave and transepts, choir and aisles, and massive central tower. The Scots are believed to have destroyed the nave in 1296, but it may be doubted if it was ever completed. In 1536 the last prior was hanged for being concerned in the insurrection called the Pilgrimage of Grace. The church as it stands is a fine monument of Early English work, with Transitional details. Within, although it suffered much loss during a restoration c. 1858, there are several objects of interest. Among these are a Roman slab, carved with figures of a horseman trampling upon an enemy, several fine tombs and stones of the 13th and 14th centuries, the frith or fridstool of stone, believed to be the original bishop’s throne, and the fine Perpendicular roodscreen of oak, retaining its loft. The crypt, discovered in 1726, is part of the Saxon church, and a noteworthy example of architecture of the period. Its material is Roman, some of the stones having Roman inscriptions. These were brought from the Roman settlement at Corbridge, 4 m. E. of Hexham on the N. bank of the Tyne; for Hexham itself was not a Roman station. In 1832 a vessel containing about 8000 Saxon coins was discovered in the churchyard. Fragments of the monastic buildings remain, and west of the churchyard is the monks’ park, known as the Seal, and now a promenade, commanding beautiful views. In the town are two strong castellated towers of the 14th century, known as the Moot Hall and the Manor Office. Their names explain their use, but they were doubtless also intended as defensive works. In the interesting and beautiful neighbourhood of Hexham there should be noticed Aydon castle near Corbridge, a fortified house of the late 13th century; and Dilston or Dyvilston, a typical border fortress dating from Norman times, of which only a tower and small chapel remain. It is replete with memories of the last earl of Derwentwater, who was beheaded in 1716 for his part in the Stuart rising of the previous year, and was buried in the chapel. There is an Elizabethan grammar school. Hexham and Newcastle form a Roman Catholic bishopric, with the cathedral at Newcastle. There are manufactures of leather gloves and other goods, and in the neighbourhood barytes and coal mines and extensive market gardens.

The church and monastery at Hexham (Hextoldesham) were founded about 673 by Wilfrid, archbishop of York, who is said to have received a grant of the whole of Hexhamshire from Æthelhryth, queen of Northumbria, and a grant of sanctuary in his church from the king. The church in 678 became the head of the new see of Bernicia, which was united to that of Lindisfarne about 821, when the bishop of Lindisfarne appears to have taken possession of the lordship which he and his successors held until it was restored to the archbishop of York by Henry II. The archbishops appear to have had almost royal power throughout the liberty, including the rights of trying all pleas of the crown in their court, of taking inquisitions and of taxation. In 1545 the archbishop exchanged Hexhamshire with the king for other property, and in 1572 all the separate privileges which had belonged to him were taken away, and the liberty was annexed to the county of Northumberland. Hexham was a borough by prescription, and governed by a bailiff at least as early as 1276, and the same form of government continued until 1853. In 1343 the men of Hexham were accused of pretending to be Scots and imprisoning many people of Northumberland and Cumberland, killing some and extorting ransoms for others. The Lancastrians were defeated in 1464 near Hexham, and legend says that it was in the woods round the town that Queen Margaret and her son hid until their escape to Flanders. In 1522 the bishop of Carlisle complained to Cardinal Wolsey, then archbishop of York, that the English thieves committed more thefts than “all the Scots of Scotland,” the men of Hexham being worst of all, and appearing 100 strong at the markets held in Hexham, so that the men whom they had robbed dared not complain or “say one word to them.” This state of affairs appears to have continued until the accession of James I., and in 1595 the bailiff and constables of Hexham were removed as being “infected with combination and toleration of thieves.” Hexham was at one time the market town of a large agricultural district. In 1227 a market on Monday and a fair on the vigil and day of St Luke the Evangelist were granted to the archbishop, and in 1320 Archbishop Melton obtained the right of holding two new fairs on the feasts of St James the Apostle lasting five days and of SS. Simon and Jude lasting six days. The market day was altered to Tuesday in 1662, and Sir William Fenwick, then lord of the manor, received a grant of a cattle market on the Tuesday after the feast of St Cuthbert in March and every Tuesday fortnight until the feast of St Martin. The market rights were purchased from Wentworth B. Beaumont, lord of the manor, in 1886. During the 17th and 18th centuries Hexham was noted for the leather trade, especially for the manufacture of gloves, but in the 19th century the trade began to decline. Coal mines which had belonged to the archbishop, were sold to Sir John Fenwick, Kt., in 1628. Hexham has never been represented in parliament, but gives its name to one of the four parliamentary divisions of the county.

See Edward Bateson and A. B. Hinds, A History of Northumberland vol. iii. (1893–1896); A. B. Wright, An Essay towards the History of Hexham (1823); James Hewitt, A Handbook to Hexham and its Antiquities (1879).