No. 91 Autumn 2021

No. 91 Autumn 2021

Newsletter 91


Editor: Mark Benjamin

Tel: 07879263848

Autumn 2021


Thoughts from a Chair    Mark Runnacles-Goodridge

It is my pleasure to welcome you once again to our autumn newsletter. Well, this has been another interesting year hasn’t it? I hope I shall last long enough to read some of the articles written reflecting on this period in a future edition of our Hexham Historian many years down to road.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you all for still sticking with us during this time and of course to welcome those new to the society who have taken the opportunity to find out more about their local history. By way of an additional thank you to you all this year you should have received and hopefully enjoyed a copy of ‘Vanishing Hexham Street and Place Names’ that accompanied this year’s excellent edition of the Hexham Historian. This year has also seen the revamp of the photo archive on our website that you are probably sick of me plugging once again. The monthly picture test continues to try the grey matter along with Mark B’s jigsaws. Our Facebook page continues to reach new audiences with weekly historical images of the town, our recent photo of the interior of Turnbulls Grocer has been seen by over 4,000 people.

It has been another great year of talks put together by Liz Sobell, we have come to expect nothing less. Liz has been responsible for organising the talks for many years and, having taken over the editorship of our annual journal, is handing over this responsibility to fellow committee member Andrea Cameron going forward. I would like to give our gratitude to Liz on behalf of the Society and wish Andrea well taking on the new role, in which I’m sure she will excel.

As mentioned during the AGM, we are conducting a short survey of members to seek your views in relation to our talks; their future on Zoom and/or in person. At the end of this edition of the newsletter you will find a link to an online survey which should only take about two or three minutes to complete or return the slip which can be returned via the post if you do not have internet access. Any responses will be greatly appreciated.

HLHS & the HSHAZ    Mark Benjamin

For those members who don’t speak Acronym, the HSHAZ is the High Street Heritage Action Zone, an Historic England/NCC project seeking to revive specifically the area of Hexham stretching from Priestpopple through to Battle Hill. One of the project’s aims is to create a database of information to encourage peoples’ interest in the history of the area – an aim already considerably achieved by our Society’s website! As the Shops Index provided much useful information, the Project Officer was more than happy to purchase more Goad Marketing Plans held at Hexham Library, some of which HLHS purchased in the recent past. To house these, and other similar items, this Society has contributed substantially to the acquisition of a map cabinet for the refurbished reference library. As part of the library’s post-pandemic re-opening, this was officially launched last month – an event missed by the Courant! The cabinet bears this small plaque noting our contribution.

Talks on the Web

Members who have not been able to join us for our latest talks on Zoom, or who would like to listen again, can now access them in the Members’ Library section of our website. Subject to the agreement of the individual speakers, future talks provided on Zoom will be added in due course.

Hexham Historian Binders   Terry Eccles

Last year’s issue of the Hexham Historian completed the filling of our first batch of very fine binders. Members who wish to maintain their collection of this invaluable resource in fine condition will need to acquire a new binder to accommodate HH31 and future issues. These can be obtained from Terry Eccles by emailing: or write to him at: 1 Tynedale Terrace, Hexham NE46 3JE.

Dates For Your Diary

  • Tuesday 11th January. Pursuing the Blacketts. Dr Greg Finch. 7.30pm on Zoom
  • Tuesday 8th February. Half-Penny ballads and the soundscape of an Election: Newcastle upon Tyne 1774. Dr Barbara Crossley. 7.30pm on Zoom
  • Tuesday 8th March. A sword’s tale: reconstructing Bronze Age fighting styles through experiments and use/wear analysis. Dr Andrea Donfini. 7.30pm presentation to be decided
  • Monday 28th March 2022. Wor Bella. The incredible story of women’s football in the North East during WWI. Queen’s Hall, Hexham, 7.30pm £16 from Queen’s Hall Box Office (01434) 652477

Northumberland Archives Manorial Project – expressions of interest  Ian Hancock

Have you ever fancied doing some original historical research but never got around to it? Well here is your chance. Members of Hexham Local History Society have been invited to take part in Northumberland Archives’ Manorial Project, which is part of a national initiative to identify and study all the records of ancient Manors in the country. Hexham is fortunate in having a remarkable series of manorial documents and this is an unrivalled opportunity for us to investigate them.

It will be a 30 month project in which a group of 10 or more volunteers from the Society would study the core court documents from the Manor of Hexham, including the Borough Books (the records of the manor court for the township of Hexham).

The group will transcribe and study chosen documents, and the transcripts will all appear on a dedicated public website. Northumberland Archives are appointing a project officer, who will organise the allocation of documents, regular contact and training with the group and meetings with us at our chosen venue. There will be opportunities to visit the archives at Woodhorn, but in the light of current COVID restrictions at Woodhorn, transcription would be done from digitised copies of the records. Transcripts will be added to the Manorial Project section of the Archives’ website. Hexham Library also has a microfilm copy of the Borough Books which would enable members who are not computer-friendly to take part.

Reading old documents can be challenging, but one soon learns with practice and guidance and it is a most enjoyable activity – you are reading and learning things about the everyday life of Hexham, particularly in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, that have not seen the light of day for hundreds of years.

We have little idea of how many of our members would want to take part, so this is a call for you to let us know if you would be interested in actively participating in the document transcription process. There would be no commitment to a particular amount of work, but you would need to take part in the training sessions.

If you are interested, please email Ian Hancock at, with the subject Manorial Project. It would be helpful if you could say if you have previous experience of reading old documents.

Northumberland Archives – Everyday Life In A Northumbrian Manor Project

Northumberland Archives has been awarded a grant from National Lottery Heritage Fund to run a 30 month project to increase availability and visibility of some of the manorial records that we care for. The project will involve working with six volunteer groups who will be provided with digital copies of manorial records to transcribe. Each volunteer group will be:

    • Given access to a section on Northumberland Archives website that will include a glossary and provide information about manorial records, how to interpret and use them and will include volunteer guidance.
    • Provided with face to face training in a COVID safe situation.
    • Given a sum of £200 to develop their own activity/event linked to the transcription project.
    • Be invited to participate in a symposium event towards the end of the project to showcase the volunteer work.
    • Be invited to attend some of the linked community and outreach activity that is planned as part of the project.

Volunteer transcriptions will be placed on the manorial section of Northumberland Archives website and made available to researchers across the world.

After transcription volunteer work can be undertaken remotely in the volunteer’s home or in a community venue. There will be regular contact with the Project Officer who will arrange local meetings with volunteer groups and will be available for advice and support.

Free training offer: Oral history recordings

Something else to do! The Hexham High Street Heritage Action Zone and Northumberland Archive are offering HLHS members the opportunity to attend a free training session in Hexham for budding Oral Historians.

The one-off session will cover topics such as: understanding memory, who to interview, question approaches, recording equipment, documentation, transcription, copyright and archiving. Similar training courses are advertised at over £100!

It is likely the session will be held in November or December 2021, either on a weekday evening or at a weekend.

Places are limited so ‘first come first served’ To register your interest in this training please contact (07976794068).

The Northumberland Name Books    Jennifer Britton

Folks out and about in Hexham in early 1860 might have wondered why groups of surveyors from the Royal Engineers and their civilian assistants could be seen around town, looking at buildings and other features in the town, and making copious notes.

They were in fact engaged in preparatory fieldwork as part of a national project, the first edition of the ‘Six Inch’ Ordnance Survey maps. Over fifteen thousand place-names were recorded in Northumberland alone, many accompanied by ‘descriptive remarks’ about them. These included the names of hills, rivers, bridges, schools, inns, churches, farms, mines, archaeological remains and much more besides.

Name Books were produced for the entire country on a county by county basis. Sadly most of the books compiled in England were destroyed by enemy action in World War. Happily for us, the books for Northumberland, along with Cumberland, Durham, Hampshire (Isle of Wight only) and Westmorland survived the destruction.

A huge project to transcribe the Northumberland books, led by Diana Whaley (Emeritus Professor of Early Medieval Studies, Newcastle University), was launched in 2016 and the magnificent results can now be viewed online at

We are fortunate that so many ‘descriptive remarks’ were made about buildings in Hexham and its neighbourhood. For instance Tanners Row consisted of ‘three mean looking dwelling houses at the east end of Cockshaw’. By contrast Prospect House was ‘a good dwelling house situated on an eminence commanding an extensive view of the surrounding country’. The George & Dragon and The Grapes public houses were rated as ‘very good’ whereas The Robin Hood and The Tanners Arms were only ‘middling’. The Seal was ‘a moderate sized ornamental park, the late Sir Calverly Blackett considerably improved it by laying a Spacious drive; and planting trees through it, it is the privileged play ground of all classes & forms a quiet boon to the inhabitants of Hexham’.

The Name Books can be both browsed and searched. I warmly recommend them, but be warned – they can become addictive!

Planning a trip? The Orbis Interactive Map to the Roman Empire

Those clever folk at Stanford University have come up with a travel guide to the Roman Empire! Snappily entitled “The Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World”, the interactive route map enables you to establish a historical route from one site to another; you simply select the start and destination sites from the two drop-down lists. Sites are named in accordance with The Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World Routes differ depending on whether you are looking for the fastest, cheapest or shortest connection, on the modes and means (here called options) of transport, and on the month of the year.

Click “calculate route” to obtain cost information and a path for the route you have selected. Fastest routes are displayed in purple, cheapest routes in green, and shortest routes in yellow.

“Fastest” calculates the route that takes the least amount of time. Its path is highly dependent on the type of transportation you select. For example, faster land speeds may obviate the need for usually fast but often indirect sea travel. “Cheapest” gives you the route with the lowest total cost priced in denarii (communes), a late Roman currency denomination used in the records from which we derive our price simulations. Price costs based on the modes and means of transport you choose. Transport of goods (exemplified by grain) and passenger travel incur different costs, and the price of grain transport on land varies depending on whether it is carried out by pack animals or wagons. As a result, there could be three different cheapest routes between two points. “Shortest” only takes account of total distance, via the transportation network, from one point to another. The shortest route will often not be the fastest or cheapest one.

When you first access the map, all principal network modes are enabled by default except for high resolution routes. Disable individual modes as desired. Open sea and coastal sea routes operate 24 hours a day. Both of these modes must be enabled to access the complete maritime route network. Coastal sea routes and coastal sea (daytime) routes cannot be enabled at the same time. For travel on rivers, choose between a faster military boat and a slower civilian boat. A faster and a slower sailing option are available for sea travel. The interface offers a variety of road options: each of the speed options corresponds to a specific daily travel speed. Speed options are only available for queries for fastest and shortest connections. Each of the price options corresponds to a specific expense for a cargo unit or passenger. Price options are only available for queries for cheapest connections.

If you want to find out how your route changes if you avoid travel by land, river, open sea or coastal sea lanes, deselect particular modes from this menu. For instance, if you only want to use coastal sea routes, simply uncheck the “Open sea” box. Note that unchecking boxes renders sites inaccessible if they can only be reached by the deselected modes of travel. You can also remove individual sites by clicking on that site and clicking “Exclude” or by clicking the “Select Sites” button and selecting multiple sites.

Cost results appear in the “Calculated route” box in the lower left-hand corner of the map. All results include the required days of travel (rounded to one decimal point) and the distance covered (in kilometers). Queries for routes that do not involve road travel generate prices based on sea and/or (civilian) river transport. Queries for routes that involve road travel generate prices that take account of all types of road travel for which specific historical price information is available, regardless of whether these are actually employed in the calculated route.

As you query routes, they appear both on the map and in a simple timeline that shows each stop below the map. The timeline displays the name of each site when you move your mouse over it. The distance between each site can be contrasted with time and expense by clicking on the corresponding buttons above the timeline. For the record: a Summer time trip from Carlisle to Corinth – and who doesn’t like a Greek holiday? – would take 35 days for the fastest route or 47 if money was tight, and cost 1184 denarii or about £1415!

Book Review    Greg Finch

Fewster, Joseph M. (ed), The Keelmen of Newcastle-upon-Tyne 1638-1852, Surtees Society, Vol 225, (2021), xliii + 395pp, ISBN 978 0 85444 081 8, £50 hardcover.

Critical to London’s fuel supply from the Tudor period, Tyneside coal was a strategic commodity. But because few seagoing ships could navigate the dangerous sandbanks, reefs and dumped ballast in the lower reaches of the Tyne, and none could pass Newcastle bridge, coal had to be brought downstream from the pits and staithes that lined the riverbanks further upstream. It was the keelmen who provided the brute force on the river to move coal from staith to ship, up and down the Tyne on each tide in small boats. With shallow draught, up to 26 tons of coal on board, and the weather and tides of the Tyne to contend with, the navigation and manoeuvre of keels by a large oar and smaller rudder in the hands of a skipper, two men and a boy required great strength and skill, and a deep knowledge of the river. Keelmen were seen –and often feared- as hardy and insular, living apart from Newcastle by the river in Sandgate, their numbers swelled each summer by seasonal migrants from Scotland. Industrial strife, petitions and regulation through two centuries have left behind a great deal of research material, probably more than for any other group of workers in the early modern period, and many of these records are published here. Most Surtees Society and similar scholarly editions of original records concentrate on a single body of papers, but Joseph Fewster’s skilfully edited collection draws from far and wide to document a single subject from various perspectives. Documents included here are in the Durham and Northumberland Record Offices, Tyne and Wear Archives, Newcastle’s City Library and Mining Institute, Home Office and State Papers in the National Archives and printed pamphlets and newspapers. Fewster, who died shortly after submitting his manuscript, spent decades studying the keelmen. This volume complements his 2011 monograph on the subject, The Keelmen of Tyneside. From our distant vantage point in time, the achievement of the coal industry in supplying London and other markets with ever increasing quantities of fuel in the early modern period is impressive. Viewed closely through this wide range of contemporary material, the interests jostling for monopoly control at every stage of the process – mine owners, fitters, staithmen, keelmen, shipowners and London merchants are less edifying. To the owners, the keelmen were often seen as more than just another group to be outwitted – they were a formidable and threatening body of men capable of visiting civil disorder on the district. Even the recurring attempts by keelmen to contribute to mutual support in the form of charitable bodies and the hospital which overlooked the quay were regarded as a potential threat, lest they be used as warchests to sustain strikes. The persistent attempts by the Hostmen’s Company and local magistracy to control the charity over more than a century are all documented within these pages, attempts that were hardly conducive to trust and constructive engagement. Details of several strikes over wages, the overloading of keels and other abuses throughout the period are provided, covering blockades by keels, intimidation of strikebreakers, riots and the deployment of military force by authorities acutely aware of the potential for chaos. The arduous and unrewarding work of the keelmen and how it was treated with contempt by many employers comes across clearly. Yet some of the bitterest struggles, in the early 19th century, originated in doomed attempts to preserve this precarious and strenuous living in the face of the introduction of far more efficient and cheap means of getting coal from pit to ship through chutes, coal drops and steam barges. With the opening of Newcastle’s Swing Bridge in 1876 it was all too clear to contemporaries that the keelmen would soon ‘be numbered with the things of the past’ and hope was expressed that one of the keels would be preserved in a museum. However, as Fewster poignantly observes, not a single one has survived.

Book Review    Terry Eccles

Gleaves, Graeme North East Electric Stock, 1904-2020: its design & development (Pen & Sword, 2021) ISBN 978 1 52674034 2 £25

Since railways were born in the North East, with waggonways and the creation of steam engines to move stock around, it should not be surprising to know that our region was in the forefront of the development of electric trains and systems.

Graeme Gleaves is not only knowledgeable but enthusiastic about his subject on which he has written widely. The book is full of fine detail of the development of the stock and systems in this country in which the North Easst has played a key role. The detailed descriptions of carriage design and construction, sometimes down to the last screw, illustrate the author’s research. Also included is an excellent selection of historical photographs.

The North East Railway (NER) was the first in Britain to adopt the Chicago system of placing conductor rail outside the running rail which still used today on the London Underground. The ‘Cowhead’ carriage coupling System unit was unique to the Tyneside electric stock and was found nowhere else in the country.  Interestingly in 1951 British Rail converted a 1920s Drivers’ Trailer to provide the ‘Pram Van’, the first carriage to be assigned to parents with prams to allow them to travel equally as members of the public without causing access issues.

But the book is really about how the region has always had the vision and ingenuity in wanting to provide the most efficient and economical transport system for its people. The current Metro system has continued to live up to this standard. Gleaves shows why North Easterners should be proud of the heritage and continue to look to the future. If history, understanding and detail of the Northern Eastern Electric railways is what you are looking for, this book is for you.

Book Review    Ian Hancock

Cullen, Stephen M Amateur Armies: Militias and Volunteers in War and Peace 1797-1961 (Pen & Sword, 2020). ISBN 978 1 52673 443 3 £19.99

In Britain, before the formation of a proper national police force in the 1850s, the only option for magistrates attempting to control mass lawlessness was to read the riot act and call out the military. This usually meant calling on a local militia force, as in the Hexham Riot of 1761, when the North Yorkshire Militia put down a violent demonstration (ironically, against balloting for militia recruitment). In wartime, the militias were intended to provide home defence while the regular army fought abroad, so apart from local policing activities their main occupation in peace-time was to train for this eventuality.

This interesting and readable book examines the roles of these armies of amateur soldiers like the British Militia and Volunteer forces, not just in this country but across the world. It does this through a diverse series of comparative case studies starting with the remarkable British militia mutinies of 1795 and the repulsion of the French invasion at Fishguard in 1797; the North American militia during the war between the USA and Britain over the Canadian colonies in 1812-15; the Rifle Volunteer movement in Britain from the 1790s to its role in the Boer War; the Spanish Civil War Falangist and Carlist militias and the “international brigades” in the 1930s; and the opposing volunteer armies of Castro supporters and US-based emigrant opposition culminating in the failed invasion of Cuba in 1961. We get refreshingly different and well researched views of these conflicts and the roles of ordinary people caught up in them.

The author describes the many common features of these different organisations and the extent to which the particular events leading to their creation influenced their eventual forms. In each case he provides a chronological account of the important military engagements in which they were involved. He discusses the circumstances under which the militias were recruited, the extent to which they were truly volunteer organisations, and their sometimes competitive and difficult relationship with the regular army. Though the militiamen were frequently lampooned by the popular press and a source of amusement to their neighbours, the militias had no difficulty in recruiting members. In Britain, even before the Volunteer Rifles had been formally constituted in 1859, 60,000 men had volunteered, and numbers reached over 200,000 by 1863. The author is perhaps keener than some other historians of the militia to ascribe this to “patriotism”, but he does not neglect their appeal, during peace time, as a social activity, a way of learning new skills (particularly the use of firearms), and for enhancing social standing, especially among the middle classes who usually aspired to officer rank. As he points out, membership of a militia could also help avoid conscription to the army and service abroad. In this country, the militias were wound up after the end of the Boer war, when a wholesale army reorganisation created the modern Territorial Army in their place.

Although its title refers to “war and peace”, the book is much stronger on the wartime activities of the militia than on their day to day lives at other times. It deals well with peace-time recruitment but is very thin on home peace-keeping duties. It would be interesting to know how often the British militia forces were employed in policing roles at home, and what the militiamen, particularly the volunteers, felt about taking action against fellow citizens. In this regard the author is more revealing about the early American militias. The book starts after the English militia riots of the mid 1700s, and hardly touches on such major upheavals as Peterloo and the Chartist protests, and the extent to which local militias were used to suppress them. I would have liked more social history and less detail of military campaigns, but that is a personal choice. It is a most enjoyable and enlightening book, with a decent index and a good bibliography. Highly recommended.

Reviewers wanted

Would you like to write a review? If you come across a new publication that you think might be of interest to Members, please get in touch and we’ll see if the publisher will give us a review copy. Reviews can be around 300 words or longer. In the meantime, we have two titles in search of a reviewer. If either of these appeals, contact Mark (details above)

    • Tracing your ancestors using the UK historical timeline
    • Roman conquests: Britain

Remember, as a reviewer you get to keep the book reviewed – good review or bad!

New Publications: Please note these are purely notices and not reviews

Ryder, Peter Monastic sites of Northumberland (Broomlee Publications, 2021) 108pp. ISBN 978 1 83840122 1 £12.00

Hexham’s very own architectural historian, Peter Ryder, has published this well-illustrated volume on the historic monasteries of the region.


Waugh, Ed The Geordie plays, Vol 1 (Tyne Bridge, 2021) 260pp. ISBN 978 1 83828093 2 £8.99

Telling the stories of Harry Clasper, Joe Wilson and Glenn McCrory; three Tyneside heroes, each with a magnificent tale to tell, this collection of plays consists of Carrying David; Hear the boat sing and Hadaway Harry, all of which have had runaway success in the region, with Hadaway Harry selling out in London before selling out in the Theatre Royal Newcastle. Carrying David was to be the fastest-ever transfer to Theatre Royal Newcastle before being postponed due to the Covid pandemic

Peers, Robert The story of Bywell: a historical landscape (The Author, 2021) ISBN 987 1 39990829 0 £9.95

Invaders and settlers left their mark on Bywell. Celtic monks kickstarted the local economy, a bishop was consecrated, a king was born, fine churches were extended, Oxbridge colleges were founded and a great flood dramatically altered the fate of the locals before Victorian enterprise founded a stately home and parkland.


Priest, Nancy Tindale: a sense of place. (The Author, 2021) 182pp. ISBN 978 1 52729115 7 £15

Not to be confused with Tynedale (although it may share an entomological root), Tindale is a hamlet to the south of Brampton in the shelter of Tindal Fell, rich in mining history. Nancy Priest’s book traces the area’s history from prehistoric times through to the early 20th century. As well as the mining, railway and social history, the book covers the area’s rich birdlife. A fascinating study, well-illustrated throughout with line drawings by the author.


And Finally

Who is this dog and what is his connection to Hexham?

His story can be found in the I didn’t know that! section of our website


Meeting Survey

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