Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Hodgson, John (1779-1845)
HODGSON, JOHN (1779–1845), antiquary, son of Isaac Hodgson and Elizabeth, daughter of William Rawes, was born at Swindale, in the parish of Shap, Westmoreland, on 4 Nov. 1779. His father was a stonemason, but the Hodgsons were an old Westmoreland family. The neighbourhood was well supplied with small endowed schools, generally taught by the clergy, and it was the custom in every family for one son to receive a good education with a view to taking holy orders. Accordingly Hodgson studied at the grammar school of Bampton from the age of seven to nineteen. He learned a good deal of classics, mathematics, chemistry, botany, and geology, and acquired an interest in natural history and local antiquities, through his free rambles in the country. His parents were too poor to make a university education possible, and at the age of twenty he had to earn his own livelihood as the master of the village school at Matterdale, near the lake of Ulleswater. There he enjoyed an endowment of 11l. a year, but soon removed to a better school at Stainton, near Penrith. Early in 1801 he was appointed to the school of Sedgefield in the county of Durham, where the endowment was 20l. The rector of Sedgefield, Mr. (afterwards Viscount) Barrington, a nephew of the Bishop of Durham, and his curates showed much kindness to Hodgson, and helped him by the loan of books. He was offered an appointment as director of some ironworks near Newcastle, with a salary of 300l. a year; but he refused this tempting offer on the ground that he wished ‘to pursue a literary rather than a mercantile life.’ In 1802, however, he had the misfortune to fail in an examination for holy orders. This disappointment, combined with ill-health, led him to leave Sedgefield in 1803 for the mastership of the school at Lanchester, near Durham. There in 1804 he succeeded in passing his examination for ordination, and became curate of the chapelries of Esh and Saltley, two hamlets in the parish of Lanchester, where he still kept his school.
A fine Roman camp at Lanchester attracted Hodgson's attention, and led him to make elaborate studies of Roman antiquities. In 1807 he published a little volume, ‘Poems written at Lanchester,’ not without merit; one of them, ‘Langovicum, a Vision,’ is a poetical account of the Roman camp. The volume was accompanied with antiquarian notes, which were used by Surtees (History of Durham, ii. 303–7). In 1806 Hodgson left Lanchester for the curacy of Gateshead, where he so distinguished himself by his parochial work and his learning, that in 1808 he was presented by a private patron, Mr. Ellison, with the living of Jarrow with Heworth. The income barely amounted to 100l. a year, and the duties were arduous; but it was very congenial to one of Hodgson's tastes to serve the church, which had been founded by Bede. In 1810 he married Jane Bridget, daughter of Richard Kell, a stone merchant, resident in his parish, and in the same year was employed to write the account of Northumberland for Brayley and Britton's ‘Beauties of England and Wales.’ This gave him an opportunity for exploring the county, where he made many friends. Next year he did the same for the county of Westmoreland. It is generally admitted that Hodgson's work is the best of that valuable series of short county histories. In 1812 he wrote for a Newcastle publisher ‘The Picture of Newcastle-on-Tyne,’ a guide-book to the town, in which he showed much research, especially about the Roman wall and the early history of the coal trade. In May of that year a colliery explosion at the Felling pit in Hodgson's parish caused the death of ninety-two persons. Hodgson appealed for help for the widows and orphans, and published his funeral sermon, to which he prefixed an account of the accident. This little book, ‘An Account of the Explosion at Felling’ (Newcastle, 1813), is now very rare, but is valuable for its accurate account of the colliery, accompanied by a plan of the workings, and is one of the very few trustworthy records of the old system of coal-mining (the material parts are reprinted in Raine's Life of Hodgson, i. 94–117). Hodgson was also engaged in the foundation of a society of antiquaries in Newcastle, which came into existence in 1813. The first three volumes of the ‘Transactions’ of this society contain many papers by him.
For the next few years Hodgson was employed in making experiments and attending meetings of the Society for the Prevention of Accidents in Coal Mines. He also collected materials for a history of the parish of Jarrow, which he never finished, but his work on the subject is to be found in ‘Archæologia Æliana,’ i. 112, and ‘Collectanea Topographica,’ i. 66, &c. ii. 40, &c. In 1815 he visited the Dudley coal-field, for the purpose of examining into some means of preventing colliery accidents. These were not satisfactory, but later in the year Sir Humphry Davy [q. v.] visited Newcastle, and began an acquaintance with Hodgson, whose help he acknowledged in enabling him to complete his invention of the safety lamp (Royal Society's Philosophical Transactions, ‘New Researches on Flame,’ 1817). Hodgson himself was one of the first to venture into a mine with the new lamp and explain its principle to the colliers.
In 1817 Hodgson set himself to his great work in life, the ‘History of Northumberland.’ In 1819 he visited London for the purpose of working in the British Museum, and on his return announced his book to appear in six volumes, published by subscription, limited to three hundred copies. The design of the work was that the first volume should contain the general history of the county, the next three volumes a detailed account of the towns and villages, and the last two records and papers relating to border history. After many difficulties with printers and engravers the fifth volume of this series appeared in 1820. Hodgson laid a sure foundation by publishing first the most important records, that he might refer to them afterwards. In 1821 he again visited London, and made an expedition to Oxford for the purposes of his researches. He was also busy in raising money for a new church at Heworth, which he designed himself. Simple as was the building, it did much to revive a taste for ecclesiastical architecture in the north of England. It was consecrated in May 1822.
In 1823 Bishop Barrington presented Hodgson to the vicarage of Kirk Whelpington, a country parish in the centre of Northumberland. His obligations in regard to the new church at Heworth, which had not yet been paid for, made it desirable that he should continue to hold the living of Jarrow until the parish of Heworth had been separated from it. This he continued to do, appointing two curates, till 1833, and had many troubles in consequence. At Kirk Whelpington he was near two gentlemen who were both students of local antiquities, Sir John Edward Swinburne, of Capheaton, and Mr. (afterwards Sir) Walter C. Trevelyan of Wallington, who gave him much help and encouragement in his work. It was not till 1827 that he was able to publish the second volume of his original prospectus, dealing with the parochial history of Northumberland, towards which he was largely helped by a subscription of 200l. from Bishop Barrington. In 1828 was published the sixth volume, containing fresh documents and records. In 1832 another volume of the parochial history followed. But in spite of the remarkable thoroughness of Hodgson's book it met with little immediate success; the number of subscribers was not large, many of them forgot their subscriptions, and few copies of the book were sold. Hodgson suffered considerable loss on each volume, his health was failing, and the loss of three children gave him melancholy associations with Kirk Whelpington. In 1833 he was appointed to the vicarage of the neighbouring parish of Hartburn, where he enjoyed a larger income. This enabled him in 1835 to publish an extra volume of his history, containing the Pipe Rolls for the county of Northumberland. In 1839 the third volume of the parochial history appeared, containing an account of the Roman wall; in it Hodgson first clearly established the claim of Hadrian to be considered as its builder. His health, however, gave way while this volume was passing through the press, and he was unable to carry his work any further. After much suffering from many ailments, he died on 12 June 1845, and was buried at Hartburn. Besides the works already mentioned Hodgson published ‘The Nativity of Jesus Christ,’ &c. (Newcastle, 1810), and contributed papers to the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ from 1821 onwards, under the signature ‘Archæus.’ His great work, however, was his ‘History of Northumberland,’ which for excellence of design and completeness of execution is a model of what a county history ought to be. Its learning, its large scale, and the slowness with which it appeared prevented it from selling at first, and Hodgson's work was continued among many hindrances and embarrassments. He left a hundred volumes of manuscript collectanea for the completion of his work, but so little interest was taken in the matter that a proposal to buy them for 500l. met with no response. Later, the Antiquarian Society of Newcastle-on-Tyne commissioned Mr. John Hodgson-Hinde to write an additional volume containing an introductory sketch of the history of the county, which was published in 1858. But the parochial history, as Hodgson designed it, still remains unfinished; proposals have recently (1891) been issued for securing its completion.
A portrait of Hodgson, from a miniature by Miss Mackreth, was prefixed to vol. ii. part ii. of his ‘History,’ and is reproduced in Raine's ‘Memoir.’
[Raine's Memoir of the Rev. John Hodgson; Atkinson's Worthies of Westmoreland, ii. 133–148; personal information.]