No. 96 Summer 2023

No. 96 Summer 2023



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Editor: Mark Benjamin

Tel: 07879263848


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 Thoughts from a Chair    Mark Benjamin

Part of the Society’s remit is to educate. This would appear to include journalists, especially those from the Hexham Courant, it would seem. Whilst we have been pleased to see the institution of a regular slot featuring historical images of the town, the lack of local knowledge shown in many of the accompanying captions has been distressing. Once printed, the mistake will inform many readers who know no better. It is hoped that we can rebuild a relationship with the Courant that was lost when several of their experienced reporters departed, trusting that such mistakes are avoided in future. For other potential hazards to future historians, see elsewhere in this issue!

Another aim is to involve the membership (that’s you, Dear Reader!) in our activities. One very successful effort in the past was the Reading the Past Project that involved members in transcribing historical documents from the 17th & 18th centuries and converting them into digital format to enable them to be made far more accessible than the handwritten originals. This evolved into the Dukesfield project which now contains transcripts of many hundreds of documents relating to the lead trade in the region. We would now like to start another, similar, project to digitise the files on Hexham’s great and good, collected by the late David Jennings – a former stalwart of HLHS. See below for details but, rest assured, these will be much easier to read!

Every time the indefatigable long-term HLHS member and author, Stan Beckensall, brings out a new title, he assures me that it will be his last. So far, list 37 titles, including his latest (see below) and I remain unconvinced that Rituals of Death, published in February, will indeed be his last!

On a lighter note, as long-term customers, the Society was invited to participate in the 50th Anniversary celebrations of Robson Print in March. Christine Hanley and I attended, although neither of us took up the offer of fire-walking that had been laid on as part of the event! Amongst the many others attending was Sandy Rutherford, formerly Managing Director of the Hexham Courant, who shared my reservations about the Courant’s current state; pictured drowning our sorrows at the state of current local journalism. One of Sandy’s first acts as MD, alerted by the sound of breaking glass, was to stop the Courant’s invaluable collection of glass plates being thrown into a skip. Whether it survived his departure is unknown.

 Dates for your diary

Throughout the summer: Guided Heritage tours around the town, see elsewhere in this issue for details.

Tuesday 12th September: Chris Britton on Four men & a window / Dr Christine Seal on The Lobley family of Hexham. Trinity Methodist Church Hall, 7.30pm Free to HLHS members, £2 for visitors.

13th-15th September: Victorian & Edwardian Theatre in Performance. International Conference with speakers from USA and Europe will join those from the UK to examine the inter-relationships between the stage, the orchestra pit, the performer and the audience during the Victorian & Edwardian periods. A wide variety of subjects are expected including papers on silent film, the role of dance, Victorian transformation scenes and theatre fires. Tyne Theatre & Opera House. Further details and booking from £120 until 30th June, then £150/£60 students.

Tuesday 10th October: Dr Andrew Birley on Vindolanda uncovered: the early forts and foundation of a frontier and its changing people. Trinity Methodist Church Hall, 7.30pm Free to HLHS members, £2 for visitors.

Tuesday 14th November: AGM & Ian Hancock on Chopwood, props and raff : Hexhamshire’s woodland over the last 400 years. Trinity Methodist Church Hall, 7.30pm Free to HLHS members, £2 for visitors.

 The Membership Speaks!

As you may have noticed, our September meeting features two short talks by members of the Society. We would like to make this a regular element of our programme so, if you’re undertaking research on any subject that might be of interest and would like to give a short presentation in 2025, please contact any member of the committee. We’ll be happy to offer advice and technical assistance if needed. We look forward to hearing from you!

 Calling Corbridge Members

Many copies of the Society’s annual journal, the Hexham Historian, are delivered by hand – saving the Society quite a bit of money. We are looking for someone to deliver the 11 copies in and around Corbridge. If you feel you could help when the next issue is published this Autumn, please let our new Secretary, Julia Grint, know. or (01434) 603275.

 A Membership Benefit

HLHS is a member of the British Association for Local History and our members are entitled to attend the public talks presented by BALH, often featuring distinguished speakers from the field of local history. Many of these are “virtual” talks and, therefore, accessible wherever the speaker is based. Have a look at the BALH website

To obtain the attendance discount on any talk, there is no need to login when booking, simply use the code F-21288A when completing the booking form.

 Digitising the Great and the Good (and some maybe not so good)   Mark Benjamin

As mentioned above, the late David Jennings compiled a vast collection of obituaries, profiles and some family notes relating to personalities prominent in Hexham’s history – largely from the 19th and early 20th centuries. These can provide a wealth of information on the history of the town of the time but, at the moment, these are gathering dust in a large collection of box files in the Moot Hall and are, to all intents and purposes, inaccessible.

We would like to build a small team to work its way through the files; first selecting what is worth digitising, then scanning the originals and, finally, transcribing the collection to add to the website. If this is something you feel you would like to help with, please contact me at or on 07879263848 to find out more.

 Dukesfield Documents – Reading the Past     Jennifer Britton

HLHS has been involved in the Dukesfield Documents online collection of transcribed documents since its origin as part of the Heritage Lottery Funded ‘Dukesfield Smelters and Carriers’ project, under the leadership of Greg Finch. We contributed £1,000 of grant support to the Dukesfield project in 2013, and at the conclusion of the project in 2015, the transcribing group ‘Reading the Past’ continued its work supported by another £1000 grant from the Society. The transcribed documents centre on the Blackett and Beaumont lead business between the late 17th and early 19th centuries and have been drawn from original material found in over 20 record offices, libraries and private collections.

To date over 13,600 letters and other documents (well over 3 million words!) have been transcribed and made freely available and searchable online. As one of the transcribers I can attest that it’s been a fascinating learning curve! The database has attracted widespread interest, and the website attracts an average of 21,000 page views per year.

The 2015 grant has now been used up. The transcribing group, still comprising some 20 active members after 11 years of work, wish to continue and the committee has agreed to give them another grant of £1000. This will enable visits to the National Archives and Woodhorn in order to acquire digital images of documents newly identified as being of interest. It will also help cover other costs such as hire of venues for group meetings.

There are, of course, other local sources of documents which are available to the group free of charge.

‘Reading the Past’ has, since 2017, been a sub-group of the society. The grant monies will remain within the HLHS account and be drawn down by the group as necessary.

Website hosting and domain fees are paid by Hexhamshire Parish Council, supported by sales of Ian Forbes’ fascinating book Images of Industry (well worth purchasing and available at Cogito Books, Hexham).

HLHS’s charitable objective is to promote the advancement of education by the study of local history and the committee feels that continued support of ‘Reading the Past’ is an excellent way in which this objective can be demonstrated.

For more information visit Dukesfield Documents and also take a look at Greg’s fascinating article: ‘Dukesfield Documents: online research material for Hexham and beyond’ in the 2022 edition of ‘Hexham Historian’.

 Nothing to watch on the “box”?: Dukeshouse Wood Camp School cine films   Jennifer Britton

A couple of years ago the Society was given a collection of items relating to Dukeshouse Wood Camp School when it was run by Gateshead Council. The collection had belonged to the late Ron Miller who had been a teacher at the school and subsequently became Headmaster. The collection was donated by Ron’s daughter.

Amongst the items was a set of cine films of the school, some of them with accompanying commentaries, all of them filmed and edited by Ron Miller.

We contacted the Yorkshire Film Archive (which now incorporates the former North-East Film Archive) about these films, and they agreed to inspect and evaluate them for inclusion in the Archive. Given that some of the films dated back to the early 1960’s we were very concerned about potential deterioration. However we were delighted to hear that not only were all the films still in excellent condition, but that the Archive considered they were extremely well produced. They were more than happy to accept them as part of their collection.

All of the films now appear in their catalogue and two can be viewed online. was made in the early 1960s (and ends with a scene of the River Tyne at Hexham frozen over in the early months of 1962) while was made in the mid-1970s. The latter has been successfully reunited with Ron Miller’s commentary.


The North East Institute of Mining & Mechanical Engineers has its own YouTube channel NEIMME – YouTube where three years’ worth of talks on a variety of subjects relevant to the mining and engineering heritage of the region can be found.

 Pacifists and Conscientious Objectors in WW2    Phil Lines

Was anyone in your family a pacifist between the wars or a conscientious objector in World War Two? I am a PhD student at the Open University researching the interwar peace movement and conscientious objection in World War Two. I am keen to find written interviews, oral recordings, memoirs and letters relating to pacifists and COs across Britain or really any information that you may have about a family member who campaigned for peace and refused to fight, or changed their mind and joined the forces.

Much has been written about conscientious objection in World War One but, relatively, there has been far less research into the Second World War even though the number of COs was much bigger. If you have any information that you would like to share with me, please email me at

 Interested in theatrical history? More opportunities to get involved

Following over 550 hours work from our wonderful volunteers, The Tyne Theatre & Opera House’s Drury Lane of the North project now has 24 years of performance data completed with another 18 currently being worked on. That means they’ve just got 10 more years to get going! Extra help is always welcome so if you’d like to join them, do get in touch. They hope to be able to demonstrate the completed database at the conference in September (see above), allowing delegates the first look at the performance calendar which will show every production held at the theatre from 1867 to 1919. Do take a look at their web pages to see what volunteers have unearthed so far…

 Hexham Heritage Tours: Alternate Saturdays throughout the Summer

Something to do on a sunny Saturday! A series of free 90 minute walking tours of Hexham, part-funded by the High Street Heritage Action Zone and by the Hexham Community Partnership. HLHS has been involved in the development of these walks but we cannot answer for the content as presented!

The walks, which start and end at the Queen’s Hall on Beaumont Street, are from 11.30 – 1pm on alternate Saturdays from June to September, beginning on 17th June with the last one on 30th September. Pre-booking is advised and should be done through the Queen’s Hall

If you prefer a self-guided walk through the town’s history, several can be found to download on the A Brief History page of our website

 Can you help?

  • Jenny Mills asks: I believe my relative Mary Moody worked in a toy shop in 1881 at 33 Fore Street and wonder if you have any information. My direct relative was Nicholas and his family. (We have established that a James Moody was operating as a General Dealer on Fore Street in 1886, along with a Toy Dealer named Thomas Gregg, also on Fore Street but, if anyone else knows anything about the Moody family, please contact Jennie at or via the Editor)
  • Does anyone know anything about the now-disused private swimming pool near The Leazes on Shaws Park? We’ve had several enquiries and would love to find some photos of it in use. If you do have anything to contribute, please contact the Editor.

Enquiries received via the Website: If you can help, either respond through the Website Notes & Queries Forum, or through the Editor

  • Hexham-Newcastle Mailcoach: My great great granduncle was said to have driven the last mailcoach between Newcastle and Hexham. Can anyone please point me at further info on this event? I have tried a newspaper search on Find My Past”
  • 2 Spital Cottages, Tyne Green: I moved to this lovely old house in 2021 and have been trying to find when it was built without much luck so far. It was on the 1840 survey. I have been unable to obtain the original deeds. The oldest part of the house is basically one very large room and associated upstairs I would be very grateful for any information you can give. Thank you.”
  • Station Master, Hexham: I am trying to trace information on a distant relative who was Station Master at Hexham until he retired in the early 1960s. He was married and I believe he and his wife moved to Seal House after he retired. I have been in touch with the son of his successor, Jakie Bowron, but has been unable to help me. Any information would be appreciated.”
  • Jackson family of Hexham: I am doing research for Jackson family at Carntyne House, Battle Hill. I heard they had a horse racing farm. I know some of them are buried at St Andrews cemetery. Daniel Jackson and one of his sons were doctors. Any info about the family would be greatly appreciated”
  • Woodley field: Hey we’ve lived at Woodley field NE46 2NB for a year and half and have been renovating this place and been trying to find more history about it. I’m wondering if anyone has any info to share? William Ritson who was prominent in the construction of the railways and did such schemes as Riccarton Junction, built it in his near retirement but (I) can only find limited bits of info on the house. Would love to find the original architect plans, which families lived here, their stories etc and it was split into two houses in 1960s and the servant buildings are separate dwellings now too.”


 The Transport Library

Whilst we are constantly gathering images of Hexham for our own digital archive, we occasionally come across other collections of relevance. Such a one is the Transport Library. This has many images of buses, coaches and trains in Hexham settings which can be accessed at All are watermarked on the website but are available to purchase through the Library’s site, presumably unmarked.

 Elizabeth Gibson Cheyne (1869-1931)   Judy Greenway

Poet and writer Elizabeth Gibson (later known as Elizabeth Gibson Cheyne), wrote approximately forty books of prose and poetry between 1899 and 1918. During her lifetime her poems also appeared in publications ranging from mainstream journals to the little magazines of literary modernism, from the radical press to publications by Theosophists, Freemasons, and Ethical Societies. Though her books had limited circulation, they were noticed in the Times Literary Supplement as well as tiny specialist journals. Her poems were quoted by social reformers, set to music, used in alternatives to traditional religious services, and read out at protest meetings. By the end of the First World War, however, her work was largely forgotten.

Elizabeth Gibson was born in 1869 into a large family in Hexham, Northumberland, where she lived for the first forty years of her life. Her father, John Pattison Gibson, was the town chemist, notable also as a photographer and antiquarian. Elizabeth attended Gateshead High School before working as a day-governess and typist. She was also responsible for helping to educate her younger brother Wilfrid Gibson (1878-1962) who was strongly influenced by her and also became a poet. Her relationship with Wilfrid remained one of the most important in her life.

She had a turbulent personal life, loving both men and women. In 1899, she became engaged to fellow poet William Henry Phelps, but sometime after 1902, the relationship broke down. In 1910, she suffered a period of suicidal depression. In 1911 she married Thomas Kelly Cheyne (1841-1915) a leading Biblical scholar, and moved to Oxford. As well as a shared commitment to social change, she and her husband both challenged religious orthodoxies, searching for truth in all religions, interconnections rather than differences. Thomas, while still an ordained Anglican priest, became a member of the Bahá’í faith soon after their marriage, but Elizabeth, though profoundly religious, continued to reject organised religion.

Elizabeth called herself a suffragist, a socialist, and a freethinker. She supported the militant suffragette organisation the W.S.P.U. (Women’s Social and Political Union) and was a member of the Women Writers’ Suffrage League. In 1914, following the outbreak of the First World War, she was one of the signatories of the Open Christmas Letter to the Women of Germany, calling for women internationally to unite for peace. However, some of her later poems indicate that she came to change her views on the war.

After her husband’s death in 1915, she moved to London, where she worked as a volunteer visiting wounded soldiers. She became interested in Spiritualism under the influence of Bishop Basil Wilberforce and founded a group called The Order of the Spirit. She published her last book in 1918. The following year, she enrolled on a Theology course at King’s College London. After a deterioration in her mental health, she was admitted to Bethlem hospital in 1920, subsequently moving to Camberwell House Asylum where she remained a patient until her death in 1931. She is buried in Oxford, with her husband.

 Vindolanda – find finds, finds and more finds   Vindolanda Trust

We’ve unearthed more beautifully decorated Samian pottery sherds over recent weeks, this one depicts a gladiator.

In the next 5 years we anticipate uncovering up to 200,000 sherds of pottery from the excavations at Vindolanda and Magna! We have launched an appeal to help fund research into our pottery collection. Find out more via this link

(Ed: For more news about Vindolanda, don’t forget to come along to our October talk, to be given by Andrew Birley!)

 Further west along the Wall – Giant heads at Petriana

The Uncovering Roman Carlisle project has been conducting a community supported excavation at the Carlisle Cricket Club, where the team have been excavating the Roman bath house after its initial discovery in 2017 by archaeologists from Wardell Armstrong.

Image Credit Stuart Walker Photography

The bath house is located near the Roman fort of Uxelodunum (meaning “high fort”), also known as Petriana, in the Carlisle district of Stanwix.

Uxelodunum was constructed to control the territories west of present-day Carlisle and an important crossing on the River Eden. It was located behind the Hadrianic barrier, with the Wall forming its northern defences and its long axis parallel to the Wall.

During the latest community-led excavations, archaeologists have found two colossal sandstone carved heads (3x the size of a human head) which would have come from sculptures measuring up to 12-15 ft (3.5-4.5m) tall. The carved heads date from around the 2nd century AD which the team believe may depict Roman gods.

 A history of Hexham in 400 words or, A warning from the future present!   Author unknown

Hexham is a historic market town situated in Northumberland, England, located on the south bank of the River Tyne. The town has a rich and fascinating history, dating back over 1,300 years.

The earliest known record of Hexham dates back to 674 AD, when it was mentioned in the Venerable Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People. At this time, Hexham was a small Anglo-Saxon village with a wooden church and was part of the kingdom of Northumbria.

In the 8th century, Hexham became an important center of Christian learning, with the establishment of the Hexham Abbey by Saint Wilfrid. The abbey was one of the most important religious centers in northern England and played a vital role in the spread of Christianity throughout the region.

During the Viking invasion of England in the 9th century, Hexham was repeatedly attacked and plundered. The town suffered greatly during this period, and it was not until the 10th century that it began to recover.

In the 12th century, the town became a thriving market center, and in 1170, Hexham received its royal charter. The town’s market was held every Tuesday and was an important source of trade for the region.

During the Middle Ages, Hexham was also an important center for wool production, and the town’s prosperity was based on the wool trade. In the 16th century, Hexham became a center for the production of leather goods, and the town’s tanneries were renowned throughout England.

During the English Civil War, Hexham was a Royalist stronghold and was heavily fortified. In 1644, the town was besieged by the Scottish Covenanters, and after a fierce battle, the Royalist garrison surrendered.

In the 18th century, Hexham became a center for the production of paper, and the town’s paper mills were some of the most advanced in England. The town also became a popular destination for tourists, with visitors flocking to see the ruins of the Hexham Abbey and the picturesque countryside.

In the 19th century, Hexham continued to grow and prosper, with the opening of the Newcastle and Carlisle Railway in 1838. The railway connected Hexham with the rest of the country and led to an increase in trade and industry in the town.

Today, Hexham is a thriving market town with a rich and varied history. The town is home to many historic buildings, including the Hexham Abbey, the Moot Hall, and the Old Gaol. It also boasts a vibrant cultural scene, with numerous festivals and events taking place throughout the year.


Editor’s note: This “essay” was generated by ChatGTP – asked to write a 400-word history of Hexham. The American spelling of centre can be excused but its grasp of Hexham, both historical and geographical, is a bit off – not sure where it got the idea about paper-making excellence, and the besieged Royalist garrison in 1644 was in Newcastle. The robots still have a way to go!

 New Publications – Please note these are notifications, not reviews

Malden, John Corbridge Memories: Roman railways and horse-drawn tea. 210x240mm, 162 pages profusely illustrated.

A nostalgic view of the village from 1947 to 1969 when the author’s father was vicar of the parish. Available from the author at 7 The Mill Building, Edington Mill, Duns TD11 3LE 01890819055 £18 plus £7 p&p (or try searching for the book on your browser).

Beckensall, Stan Rituals of Death, from Prehistoric times to now. (Pen & Sword, 2023) ISBN 9781399098373 £14.00.

The latest volume by the indefatigable HLHS and former committee member.

We all must die, and how society deals with the disposal is fascinating in the way it reflects the beliefs of the people of the time and ways in which they honour or do not honour the dead. Having excavated prehistoric burials, the author weighs carefully the evidence of what people might have thought of the dead through the way they buried them and what was put into the graves. These excavations were done mainly with the help of young people, and the way that this has been organised in order to get the maximum information has been an essential part of the task.

Burial customs change, so the book includes a section on events such as the Black Death and cholera to show how such catastrophes change people’s minds and customs. The present problem of burial has been highlighted as it was then by the horror of an invisible disease, the effects of which we have to cope with. In the past the causes of the disease, when discovered, led to Public Health inquiries into the causes, and to improvements in some burial grounds. The traditional burial in “God’s little Acre’ around a church provides with much information about people through their headstones and other monuments – something accessible to all who visit our churches today, and examples from Northumberland give a typical range of what we find there.

Turnbull, Les. History of lead mining in the North East of England (The North of England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers, 2023) ISBN 978 1 73999932 2. Available from £15

The History of Lead Mining in the North East of England was first published in 1975. This fourth edition has been greatly enlarged by the addition of new chapters and the volume is now printed in colour throughout. This is a companion volume to ‘Coals from Newcastle’ and is an essential guide to the mineral mines of the northern Pennines.

The first half of the book provides an historical introduction and a description of all the principal processes involved in the mining, dressing and smelting of lead ore. Throughout, it deals with the communities established in the dales and the lives of the men and women connected to the industry. The second section provides ideas from exploring the region by car and on foot. There are numerous historical and contemporary photographs as well as maps to aid those who wish to explore the industrial archaeology of the lead dales.

Hutchinson, David The Ancient Remains of Ingram Farm: a field guide to the archaeology of the Scheduled Ancient Monument £6.99 + £2.25 p&p.

I have written a field guide about the Ingram Farm Scheduled Ancient Monument which I thought may be of interest to your members.

The guide brings together, in laypersons terms, this interesting and varied site. It includes an overview of the monument and an introduction to some of the people and organisations that have investigated, surveyed, photographed, mapped and excavated the area since Victorian times. Each of the main sites within the monument is described and illustrated with plans and photographs. Within the guide is also an overview of the people who have shaped this landscape since Neolithic times. 

The guide contains information from many sources, both past and present and, I hope, will provide a useful guide to those interested in the prehistory of the South East Cheviots. It is in a handy A5 size and runs to 100 pages.

The guide is available from Ingram Café or direct from the author (07738546780) or email


Doherty, John Cody The Border Counties Railway booklet: a visual, interactive and immersive history. £1.50 + £1 p&p. From

 And finally

Sadly, it fell between Newsletters, but I just managed to catch an excellent display with the amusing title My [Border Reivers] ancestors were awful; created by Charlotte Elliott, a graphic design student at Sheffield Hallam for her final year project. Despite having grown up in Allenheads, it was only through a chance conversation with an elderly relative that Charlotte became aware of her Reiver heritage.

Fascinated by what she heard, and discovering that none of her contemporaries at school (all Armstrongs, Ridleys etc) knew about the reivers either, Charlotte started to research and decided to utilise what she had found as part of her coursework, in an attempt to make this aspect of the history of the region better known to a younger audience.

As well as featuring striking artwork, both in poster and audio-visual content, the display also included a substantial booklet – the first printing of which was hand-sewn by Charlotte herself (a subsequent reprinting was more conventionally machine-bound). Both printings rapidly sold out and Charlotte is considering ordering more copies. If you’d like a copy, contact Charlotte at