No. 95 Spring 2023

No. 95 Spring 2023



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Editor: Mark Benjamin

Tel: 07879263848


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 Thoughts from a Chair    Mark Benjamin

Well, who’d have thought it – after many years of managing to avoid it, I seem to have ended up as Chair of the Society! The Committee has undergone quite a change in personnel this year, with Mark Runnacles-Goodridge, Liz Sobell and Andrea Cameron all stepping down due to a range of personal circumstances, with our heartfelt thanks for all their contributions. Whilst being very grateful to those remaining, I welcome our three newcomers to the Committee, a little about whom you can read below.

I am happy to say that the Society continues to thrive, continuing to be the largest local history society in Northumberland and maintaining our proud record of publishing items of local interest. The latest, Greg Finch’s The making of the Hexhamshire landscape, proving very profitable – much to our Treasurer’s delight. For those of you who have yet to read it, copies are still available from our Publications’ Officer!

In addition to hosting speakers ourselves, members of the Society give talks to other community groups, including the Rotary Club, Women’s Institutes and village societies, and we continue to contribute advice and information to the High Street Heritage Action Zone (HSHAZ). In January, the Hexham Courant featured content from our website, with a particular focus on our Timeline, in a 2-page piece looking back at the town’s history.

On a sadder note, we were very sorry to hear of the death of long-standing member Lorna Armstrong. Lorna was taken ill in late January and died on the 11th February. Lorna was a regular attendee at our meetings, and rarely missed an outing. She was a delightful, outgoing and friendly person and we would like to express our sympathy to her family.

Lastly, I’m delighted to remind you that, from March, we shall be meeting in person once again at Trinity Methodist Church for our monthly talks. Zoom meetings have some advantages, particularly when nights are cold and dark, but are not the same as being in a room with other people – not to mention the after-talk opportunity to chat over a coffee!

 New faces on the Committee

Julia Grint (Draper)

I was born in Northumberland and have lived and worked in Hexham for most of the last twenty five years; before this I was a farmer’s wife in Cumbria. Over twenty years ago I and my husband, Alan, founded Cogito Books in the town, which since our retirement has been owned and run by Alan’s daughter, Claire. I have written two books: An Introduction to the Bastle Houses of Northumberland, and Enfilade, a novel set in WW1 Bellingham and France. I’m currently researching and writing about Christian ethical issues relating to various historic sites in Northumberland.

Mark Hatton

Mark Hatton has lived in Slaley for the past 25 years, although work and his passion for the Lake District and Scotland does mean he isn’t often there. Since retiring in 2017, Mark has had a lot more time to devote to his interest in exploring and researching abandoned mines and quarries, photographing and researching 17th and 18th century gravestones, and visiting Neolithic rock art sites. He gives talks on these subjects to many local history groups. (Editor’s note: he’s already lined up for a talk next year!)


Helen Rutherford

I was born and brought up in County Durham. I moved to Hexham in 2004. I have been a member of HLHS for nearly 20 years (I edited the newsletter for a short time). I am a former solicitor and an Associate Professor at Northumbria University Law School. My historical interest is in nineteenth century crime and punishment in the North East – in particular the work of coroners. I love legal biographies, nineteenth century trials, and family history. Mark persuaded me to be joint editor of the Hexham Historian and I hope to be inundated with interesting research and writing for future editions.

 Your annual reminder!   Yvonne Purdy

If you haven’t already paid, your membership fees are now due. Once again, we have managed to persuade our Treasurer that no increase is necessary, so they remain excellent value at £10 for a single membership, £15 for a joint. The options for paying are described in detail on the website at If you still wish to pay by cheque, this should be posted to Yvonne Purdy at 31 Dukes Road, Hexham NE46 3AW.

 Summer Outings    Jennifer Britton

With this Newsletter you can see the details and access the application forms for places on this year’s outings, to print out for posting if you wish to book a place:

As usual, places are limited and allocated strictly on the first come, first served principle so get your applications in the post as quick as possible – no places can be reserved by phone or email!

  Dates for your diary

Tues March 14th: 1715 Northumbrian Jacobites, paying due regard to Acomb, Corbridge, Haydon Bridge, Hexham and Hexhamshire. Talk by Francis Morgan-Grant. Trinity Methodist Church 7.30pm.

Tues April 11th: Ad Gefrin: re-awakening Northumbria’s Golden Age. Talk by Dr Chris Ferguson. Trinity Methodist Church 7.30pm.

Tues May 9th: Living in houses: a personal history of English domestic architecture. The Tom Corfe Memorial Lecture, given by Prof Ruth Dalton. Trinity Methodist Church 7:30pm. (A review of Professor Dalton’s book can be read below.)

Thur May 11th: Visit to Bywell Hall

Tues June 6th: Afternoon visit to The Guildhall, Newcastle

Wed July 12th: All day visit to Newbiggin Maritime Centre

 More from the HSHAZ   Peter Mawer

Amongst the required outputs for the High Street Heritage Action Zone are New Research on Historic Themes and New Research on Town Centre Historic Themes. This seems something that members of HLHS might be interesting in undertaking!

The suggestions below are just that, suggestions, of what the themes could be – if any other aspect of Hexham’s history in the last few centuries appeals, go for it – I’m open to other ideas.

  • Transport in Hexham
  • Employment in Hexham
  • Family Life/ the role of women in Hexham
  • History of retail on Priestpopple, Battle Hill & Cattle Market as far back as possible
  • History of the four oldest buildings on the high street – owners, occupants, uses etc.

We would look to use the information gathered to produce A0 size display boards which will be displayed (in the library?) then loaned to the First and Middle schools. 

Much of the information is readily available, either in the Members’ Library section of the HLHS website, or in the census records held at Hexham Library. If you’d like to know more, either contact Peter at or Mark Benjamin – contact details above.

 The Women’s Land Army in Northumberland

Mike Gatherar is hoping members may have memories of Mrs F C Clement, the County Organiser of the WLA in the Second World War. If you do, please contact Mike at, or via the Editor.

 Do you recognise your grandparents in any of these children?

These two school photos were found in Haydon Bridge but no-one in the village knows anything about them. Do any faces seem familiar? They would seem to date from the 1920s/early 30s.

 Hexham Football Club and The Clayton Cup in the 1920s

Rosina Escreet is enquiring about her grandfather, Gawen Parker, and has this photo of him with his team mates. If anyone can tell us anything about either Mr Parker or the football team picture, we’d love to hear from you. Gawen Parker is seated front centre, with what seems likely to have been the Clayton Cup, awarded yearly from 1904 to the best club in Tynedale.

The football shows that the photo dates from the 1927-28 season. If anyone can add names to any of the other faces, or has any information about the club at that time, please contact Rosina at or via the Editor.

 New “local bookshop”   Robert Turnbull

Reiver Reads is an online book selling business specialising in medieval and local history. I’ve always been interested in the medieval aspect of history in this part of the world. You could almost say I’m steeped in it. My late father’s family were Border Scots, and as kids we used to visit relatives up in Berwick so it’s very much in my DNA

Reiver Reads is a passion of mine and a logical progression in many ways. I’m currently undertaking post graduate research at the University of Edinburgh, and am hoping to write my thesis on the relationship between John Balliol and Edward 1st, the Great Cause. If all goes to plan I will have Professor Steve Boardman as my supervisor, so the two aspects of the business and the degree are very much linked in together. 

As regards Reiver Reads, it’s still very much in the embryonic stages. My son Adam is responsible for the photography and my wife Kim will handle the accountancy side. We will see how it goes. I would like to open a physical shop at some point, but at the moment it’s very small baby steps.

 A forgotten Hexham notable: James Jurin   Christine Irving

Many members will have heard of Hexham’s most notable medical hero, William Hewson, but the man I am going to tell you about was a Hexham-based medic who laid the foundations for the smallpox vaccine, a full 70 years before Edward Jenner arrived on the scene.

Overlooked and largely forgotten now, James Jurin (1684-1750) began his work trying to find an antidote to the deadly 18th century killer way back in the 1720s. Originally a teacher by profession, he was appointed headmaster of Newcastle’s Royal Grammar School in 1709, just four years after he graduated from Trinity College Cambridge. Ten years later, he went back to university to study medicine, emerging just a year later with the requisite doctorate.

He was a great supporter of Sir Isaac Newton, who he met at Royal Society gatherings, and was interested in what was the beginnings of meteorology and he corresponded with Voltaire.

Jurin’s mother was one of the Cotesworths, a wealthy merchant family operating out of Newcastle and Gateshead, and he himself went on to marry the wealthy widow of a Morpeth MP. Somewhere along the line, his connections with the North-East led him to Hexham – and the purchase of The Hermitage mansion, standing on the banks of the Tyne. This became the perfect country retreat for him and his wife and their five daughters, and it was to remain in the family for a generation after his death.

At around the same time that he bought The Hermitage, Jurin began his work on an early form of smallpox inoculation, known as ‘variolation’,that cemented his reputation. It involved scraping pus from the sores of smallpox victims and then injecting it into healthy individuals, who would then develop a mild form of the disease that gave them immunity against the full-blown thing. They must have been brave people!

Jurin put out correspondence all over the country to find doctors who were willing to try what was basically an experiment and to collect the data afterwards. He wanted to know what the difference in mortality rates from smallpox would be between the group that had been injected with smallpox and the one that hadn’t. On the whole, he found that those people who had undergone variolation didn’t get smallpox.

Jurin himself died a very wealthy man. His wife’s inheritance was certainly a factor, but he also reaped the rewards of a very successful career. He left an estate valued, in today’s money, at £5.5m.

 Book Review   Hugh Dixon

Dalton, Ruth Living in houses: a personal history of English domestic architecture (Lund Humphries, 2022) ISBN 9781848224957. £35.00 (20% discount to HLHS members through quoting HLH20 until 31st May 2023).

Hexham examples rarely appear in national studies but they do here. Ruth Dalton, Professor of Architecture at Northumbria University, who lives in Hexham, has juggled her nine successive homes into the chronological order of their building and used them as way-markers in a broader history of domestic building. The success of this approach is that narrative theory is hugely strengthened by personal experience. As Professor Dalton says ‘studying somewhere is very different from really spending time in a place’

A brisk introduction includes tables used for comparative information – date, style, materials, social class, and tenure – with a clarity which avoids cumbersome prose. Nine chapters, one for each of the author’s homes, have a brief account of living there and then sections on the history of the place and the type, the layout with plans, materials, and the influence and inspiration of the type; and each concludes with personal lessons learnt for architectural practice. This structured approach works well for the variety of buildings which could scarcely have been better if this project had been the intended from the outset. The architectural history spans over three and a half centuries: from a rural, timbered cottage of 1651; and an august Georgian town house (UCL student accommodation); to a shared-ownership, terraced house in an award-winning ‘village’ created on the former coal sidings beside King’s Cross Station. In each case social and building history are meticulously researched. Two of the first four homes, in are in Hexham, a converted brewery behind Priestpopple and a Regency villa which became one end of Orchard Place. As an architectural historian Professor Dalton’s strength is tackling the challenges of providing homes for growing populations in housing developments of the later 19th and 20th centuries. The progress charts the changing face and pace of housing projects from Victorian and Edwardian model schemes, through the rise and fall of council houses and enormous post-war public developments, and on to current advantages of housing associations.

Illustrations are effective. Chapters start with good pen sketches of the buildings and use maps, plans and elevations, and old and new photographs. It seems odd to have no colour even where polychrome structure is important to the design. Detailed supporting notes include references to Hexham Historian and help from members of HLHS.

The account is hugely enlivened because much is personal. At one stage the author and her husband observed as residents the notorious ‘sink’ estate which two years later saw the tragedy of Damilola Taylor. By contrast the restoration of Hexham’s Orchard Place merits applause. In conclusion Professor Dalton admits to having ‘one more house left in me’ and hopes to complete this story by designing ‘a small, sustainable (ideally zero-carbon) eco-home just for the two of us.’ If that occasions another edition, it may be one of a series. This most timely book deserves to become widely known.

 Book Review   Helen Rutherford

Raymond, Stuart A Researching local history: your guide to sources (Pen & Sword, 2022) ISBN 9781526779427 £16.99

The aim of the book is to provide a guide to the wealth of sources available to local historians in England (and Wales but not Scotland nor Ireland). The author has a long career in local history and was the librarian for the Yorkshire Archaeological Society and assistant librarian at Deakin University in Australia. It is not a book for beginners who wish to start researching from scratch – it is not a ‘how to’ guide. However, it is a useful resource for those with basic archival and research skills who would like a compact guide to the vast range of repositories and documents available for historical study. Researching Local History fulfils its aim and its deceptively slim covers are jam-packed with useful information.

Although the book is specifically designed, according to its title, for research into local history, the sources available are important for all shades of historian: economic/social/family and more. In any event, it is difficult to draw tidy lines between the various sub-fields of history, although such divisions are often jealously guarded and policed by those who write under the various umbrella terms. I would say all historians would find this book useful.

Researching Local History is divided into eight chapters. Chapter 1 offer an overview and definition of English local history, to set the parameters for the information in the book and chapter 2 follows with a list, probably best described as a comprehensive guide to sources about sources. The chapter is divided into sections such as: books and libraries, archives and repositories and the internet. There are links to dictionaries, maps and photograph archives. Each section has a helpful, succinct commentary to explain the contents of the sources.

The main chapters cover specific areas of interest: – People and Population; National and Local Government; Landed Property, Wealth and Poverty; Agricultural History; Trade, Industry and Occupations and Living Conditions, Education, Religion and Leisure. Each section sets out a comprehensive set of sources that could profitably be mined for information with links and brief descriptions to assist decision-making about their suitability for the research in hand.

In effect, Stuart Raymond has done the leg work for anyone deciding where to start to research an historical topic using primary materials. He provides copious list of websites, books, journals, and archives to explore. Drawing on over 50 years of experience as a researcher and librarian, the author has presented a library within the covers of a book. The suggested repositories of primary sources, and helpful suggested secondary sources, will provide a diligent researcher with the means to plan a route and research plan without leaving the comfort of an armchair. The annotations and comments allow the lists to become a conversation with a knowledgeable cataloguer of books and sites.

The book is not a definitive guide, I am not sure whether such an endeavour is possible, but it is an excellent book to take a fairly new (but not novice) researcher straight to the repositories or guides to their area of interest. It cuts out the need for fruitless searching and wondering and is a great resource to have to hand to develop a project.

Having recently taken over the editorship of the Hexham Historian, with Julia Grint, I hope that members of the society may take a leaf out of this book and research some Hexham history for inclusion in future editions. I hope some of you may be inspired to pick up the idea that has lain dormant in your notes, or in the back of your mind, and use this book to find the sources you need to write your next article (short or long) for the Hexham Historian. If you need help and inspiration, this book will provide it.

 Book Review   Christine Seal

Thomas, Amanda J The Nonconformist revolution: religious dissent, innovation and rebellion (Pen & Sword, 2021) ISBN 9781526799722 £16.99

Having researched on a national research project on Communities of Dissent, this book was not what I had expected by its title.

I had expected the book to concentrate on the late 17th century through to the present day and only for England. Instead Thomas starts around 1215 and incorporates references to groups from the continent coming to England to avoid persecution. As Thomas said in her introduction, from at least the 13th century, the creation of new religious groups was outlawed and dissent was classed as “heresy”. In 1215 the Lateran Council stated that “we excommunicate and anathematise every heresy that raises against the holy, orthodox and Catholic faith.”

Chapters 2 and 3 discuss the work of Wycliff, which is discredited and condemned including his view on the sacraments and the Eucharist. Chapter 4 describes the hostile working conditions in the Low Countries of Europe resulting in large numbers of Flemish Weavers moving to England. Metal workers from Germany were also encouraged to migrate and give their knowledge and technology, which in turn gave foundations for later industrial revolution. The chapter is largely on industry and craft, but under Elizabeth I the future of Protestantism seemed more secure. Thomas also mentions German Martin Luther.

Following the Civil War, Quakers became a significant force in early years of the industrial revolution. In Chapter 7 she highlights that the greatest entrepreneurs, business men and inventors were Quakers. Lewes in Sussex was one of the first towns to embrace Protestantism following the Reformation. Another chapter highlights the period of enlightenment where Protestant dissent helped create an environment where everything, not just religion, might be challenged and questioned. The Lunar Society is mentioned, an information group of industrialists meeting in Birmingham. Darwin, Priestly and Wedgwood were Unitarian while Galton was a Quaker. The Unitarians emerged in the late 1700s. Three whole chapters concentrates on Thomas Paine, who later became famous for his radical views and in particular on the American War of Independence. He spent time in Sussex, the US and Paris, and wrote The Rights of Man. His view saw there was a direct link between the Norman land grabs of the 11th century and the corrupt, self-serving behaviour of the English hierarchy (the government and monarchy).

My main criticism of this book is Thomas’ concentration on industry and craft. There is not enough on the development of nonconformity in society and little reference to modern day dissenters.

 Book Review   Ian Hancock

Maxwell, Jenna A history & guide to Scottish castles (Pen & Sword, 2022) ISBN 9781399016131 £22.00

This is not a gazetteer of Scottish castles. There are over 4000 castles in Scotland, so readers of this book must resign themselves to the fact that their particular favourite might not be mentioned. Those described are the author’s personal choice, and her descriptions are based on her own visits. Nevertheless, she has managed to cover most of the real highlights, sorted into 16 geographical areas, from the Borders to Shetland. A visitor to the country looking for information on historic castles worth looking at will find plenty of material here.

The entries for individual castles are a mixture of description, history and the author’s personal reactions to the building. They are written in a very engaging style, firmly aimed at the casual visitor, and include, I think, just the sorts of information someone with an enquiring mind would like to know as they viewed the castle. They are illustrated with excellent black and white photographs of exteriors and interiors, that capture the atmosphere of the locations as well as the structures themselves. There are enjoyable anecdotes but also serious history and architectural analysis.

But this isn’t a book for the dedicated castle enthusiast. The chosen examples are mainly ones that are firmly on the tourist map. The section on the Highlands, for example, completely omits mention of several of my favourites, either because they are not sufficiently imposing, or because they are not immediately obvious as you belt past on main road, doing the North Coast 500 tourist road trip. Brochs, which surely have a claim to be a uniquely Scottish form of fortified building, if not strictly castles, hardly get a look-in, with only the mighty Mousa Broch on Shetland warranting a description. On the other hand, some grand mansions that are little more than decoratively fortified houses in ‘Scottish baronial’ style, like Inverary Castle in Argyll, receive lavish attention because their owners call them ‘castles’.

Perhaps the only really disappointing aspect of the book is its failure to explain the roles of these castles, at the time they were built, in the social and political history of the regions they dominated. We hear of notable owners and events, vile deeds, visits of kings; but nothing about the lairds, their tenants and estates in day to day life. These places were the centres of communities, and I would have liked to read something about them.

Nevertheless, this is a book I would happily take with me on holiday and make good use of, and I certainly recommend it as an enjoyable guide book.

 Book Review   Liz Sobell

Rowley, Trevor An archaeological study of the Bayeux Tapestry: the landscapes, buildings & places (Pen & Sword, 2016) ISBN 9781781593806 £25.00

The ubiquity of images contained in the Bayeux Tapestry perhaps leads to a general feeling that we know what it is: a roughly contemporary textile depicting the invasion and defeat of the English by William the Conqueror. After all, there can’t be many amongst us who haven’t seen a card, mug or tea towel based on scenes from it.

The author, Trevor Rowley, argues that there is now strong evidence that the Bayeux Tapestry is not a straightforward record of a series of events to be taken at face value. Questions to be asked are: when was it made, and where? England or France? Who commissioned it? Possible candidates include William the Conqueror’s half-brother Bishop Odo of Bayeux, the monks of Saint Augustine’s Canterbury, or Queen Edith of Wessex the widow of Edward the Confessor. Only the date of the Tapestry gets general agreement that it was made within twenty years of 1066.

Rowley summarises current scholarly opinion on the sources of aspects of imagery in the Tapestry (which is technically an embroidery). Clear parallels can be drawn with the style of imagery in illustrated manuscripts and perhaps more unexpectedly with classical imagery, especially Trajan’s column.

The author argues that landscapes and buildings depicted have not been given equal attention although they are essential aspects of the narrative. He follows the narrative emphasising questions of where events happened, and whether images correlate with the true sites of events.

Rowley’s arguments are copiously illustrated with details from the tapestry, photographs and plans. It results in very densely packed chapters well worth reading, and you certainly will never look at that tea towel in the same way again.

 New Publications – Please note these are notifications, not reviews

Coby, Paul. Forts and Roman strategy: a new approach and interpretation (Pen & Sword, 2022) ISBN 9781526772108 £30.00

O’Gorman, P J Britain and Rome, Caesar to Claudius: the exposure of a Renaissance fraud (Pen & Sword, 2022) ISBN 9781526769514 £20.00

 And finally

Memo to self – have I packed my thermos? Uncovered during the recent redevelopment of the Henry Bell warehouse site, this thermos flask would appear to have been left by a workman during its 1974 conversion to a swimming pool! (photo courtesy of Daniel Foster).