No. 98 Spring 2024

No. 98 Spring 2024



Blank Line

Editor: Mark Benjamin

Tel: 07879263848


Blank Line

 Thoughts from a Chair  Mark Benjamin

Following the decision at the AGM, the Committee has been making progress with the change of the status of the HLHS Charity to that of a Charitable Incorporated Association (CIO). Most importantly, and after much discussion, it has been decided that our new name, legally-required under the rules covering the change, will now be The Hexham Local History Society – a change that I’m sure we will all manage to adjust to in time – if, indeed, anyone notices!

Included with this issue, you will find details, along with booking forms, for the three summer outings. This will be Jennifer Britton’s swansong as, with great reluctance, she is stepping down from the Society’s committee. She will be greatly missed, and I would like to express my gratitude, along with that of the rest of the committee, for all her contributions over the years, not least in organising the very popular outings programmes. I am delighted to say that Jennifer has asked to remain on our “panel of experts”, contributing to answering enquiries received by the Society from near and far.

We continue to field requests for information from far and wide, through our website, through email, via Facebook and even occasionally, by letter! Our newly-formed “panel of experts” has proved invaluable in several instances but we still welcome any help available from the membership at large! See “Can you help?” below.

Earlier this month, Julia Draper and I responded to a request from Acomb Court residential home to, as we thought, explore ways of providing a stimulating exercise for the residents and possibly harvesting their memories for our database. As it turned out, we ended up giving an ad hoc talk about various aspects of the area’s history, ranging from local mines, through German PoWs to the Reivers – not forgetting old question of whether Roman feet ever set foot in Hexham (they didn’t!*). I think the residents (at least, those who didn’t nod off!) enjoyed the session and the Events Organiser is considering taking out a corporate subscription to our society – so not as much a waste of time as we feared!

As you may recall, HLHS has been contributing to the High Street Heritage Action Zone project – although we bear no responsibility for any problems you may have been experiencing driving or walking down Battle Hill/Priestpopple lately. In return, the project has provided quite a few extra resources for our own records. The latest is a set of 80 photographs of listed buildings taken by Hexham’s own Photographic Society. Primarily intended for project partner, Historic England, these will prove a useful resource for future historians. Just out of interest – who can locate this image from the set?

I recently got into a Facebook debate (?) with someone who said that they’d read that Benson’s statue was originally intended to be sited at the eastern end of Priestpopple, roughly where the mini roundabout now stands. Despite my pointing out that this was highly unlikely, given that the Corbridge road was only cut through in the 1920s and that, at the time the statue was unveiled, Priestpopple simply ran down into Loosing Hill, he was adamant and suggested that I do my homework! On asking for his source, his only reply was “I read it somewhere on Facebook” An object lesson not to believe everything you read on the Internet – unless, of course, it’s from our own website!

 Your subscription reminder  Julia Grint

If you haven’t already paid, 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 made out to Hexham Local History Society and posted to Julia Grint, Beldon, Park Avenue, Hexham NE46 3EN.

 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. You need to ge a logged on HLHS member to access the outing forms page. The links in the table below are one route. Alternatively, log onto the HLHS website, go to the page Activities>Outings and click on the links there:

Wednesday22nd MayTyne & Wear Archives and Museum tour
Wednesday12th JuneNenthead Mines
Sunday14th JulyCatcleugh Reservoir and the Black House

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!

 Welcoming a new Webmaster!

We (and particularly, Pete Lee) are delighted to announce that we have found a new webmaster to take over the maintenance and development of our ever-expanding website. Let Steve introduce himself:


I’m Steve Tinkler, a 3-year resident of Hexham and a 19-year web-developing veteran. Outside of work you may find me playing guitar and warbling at the front of a classic rock and indie covers band, walking up fells in the Lake District, or hitting my thumb with a hammer while attempting some DIY. However, above all else I’m a family man and always happiest at home.

I’m very much looking forward to being your go-to webmaster, and I look forward to meeting you all in person very soon.

 Dates for your diary

TuesdayMarch 12thHadrian’s Wall and the illusion of uniformityHLHS talk by Dr Rob Collins. Trinity Methodist Church Hall, 7.30pm
TuesdayApril 9thThe glass industry in the North EastHLHS talk by Dr Oliver Gunning. Trinity Methodist Church Hall, 7.30pm
SaturdayApril 13thTindale 225: celebrating 225 years since the opening of the Brampton Waggonway10am-4pm Hallbankgate Village Hall, Hallbankgate CA8 2NJ. Further info from
MondayApril 15thGillray, royals & censorshipTalk by Tim Clayton. Lit & Phil, Wesgate Road, Newcastle NE1 1SE
TuesdayMay 14thScandinavians in Northumberland: the place name evidenceThe HLHS Tom Corfe Memorial Lecture, by Prof Diana Whaley. Trinity Methodist Church Hall, 7.30pm
WednesdayMay 22ndHLHS Outing to Tyne & Wear ArchivesSee section above for details
WednesdayJune 12thHLHS Outing to Nenthead MinesSee section above for details
SaturdayJune 22ndEtheldreda Festival of Music & FoodHexham Abbey, 11am-5pm
Wed-FridayJuly 10th-12thThe Nineteenth Century Today: interdisciplinary, international, intertemporalThe Palatine Centre, University of Durham. Further details from
SundayJuly 14thHLHS Outing to Catcleugh Reservoir and the Black HouseSee section above for details
TuesdaySeptember 10thTransatlantic Blues: The North East music scene and the US Civil Rights Movement in the 1960sHLHS Talk by Prof Brian Ward. Trinity Methodist Church Hall, 7.30pm

 Can you help?

Enquiry received via Notes & Queries on the website:

I am trying to establish whether Jane (nee King) and her husband, Dr John Lockhart, separated after he resigned from the Scotch Church in Hexham, and why he resigned. John was not present in Prospect House at the 1861 census and he gave a Newcastle address in newspaper correspondence during the 1860s, although Jane and their children seem to have remained in Hexham. Lockhart’s gravestone in Newcastle also shows that he was buried with his first wife, Jane Oliver, and that Jane King’s name was not acknowledged at his death, nor added when she died. Any help would be appreciated. I am researching various ministers deposed by the Church of Scotland between 1843 and 1883, including Lockhart.

If you can help with this enquiry, please go to the Notes & Queries page of the website and enter your information there, or tell any committee member.

 Discovering the already known!   Mark Benjamin

During the Cold War of the 1980s, all local authorities were required to “ensure” that civil administration would be able to carry on following a nuclear attack, by building bunkers for essential councillors and staff. Tynedale District Council, in their wisdom, initially proposed that the roof of the Old Gaol would be a suitable site! Having been dissuaded by more practical heads, they created a more conventional bunker underneath the then council offices of Hexham House. With the ending of the Cold War, the bunker was decommissioned and over the subsequent years, has just been used as storage.

Although the presence of the bunker was well-known, at least to groups such as Northumbrians for Peace, it only recently came to the knowledge of some Town Councillors who are interested in making better use of the space – possibly as an historical display. Accordingly, access was recently granted to a small party, including myself, to inspect the remains of the bunker. In addition to the fabric of the bunker itself (blast-proof doors illustrated right), we also discovered some more peaceful artefacts, such as this Millennium tapestry created for Tynedale District Council and listing all the constituent parishes. This, along with impressive aerial shots of both Haltwhistle and Hexham, have now been transferred to the safe care of the Northumberland Archives, although the tapestry is now on a long loan to Hexham Town Council and will be viewable at the council offices at the cemetery.

 Recording ghosts  Historic England

Ghost signs are old hand-painted advertising signs preserved on buildings that have since changed their identity. They are snapshots in time, relics of social history and a nostalgic window into the past.

Once you’re looking for ghost signs, you’ll find they are frequently hidden in plain sight. They are all around us: tucked away down alleyways, hidden among rooftops, or among the signage of our modern high streets.

Ghost signs can come in many forms but typically they are historic hand-painted advertising signs, or old shop signs preserved on buildings which have since changed use.

Often found in urban areas, ghost signs are an important part of the historic fabric on our high streets. These faded relics can tell us much about our collective architectural, cultural and social history.

You can upload your own images at to help us understand more about where these pieces of our past can be found. Two images have already been recorded in Hexham – do you know of any others? You will need to create an account with Historic England to upload your images. If you don’t want to do this, contact Mark Benjamin – details above – with your image and description) If you do find one, remember to send the image to us to add to the Photo Archive!

 33 Hencotes – memories  Alan Wood

A recent posting on Facebook led to a correspondance with Alan who has shared his memories of 33 Hencotes, now residential but, like much of Hencotes, originally commercial premises. Although Alan remembers it as a garage, it looks likely that it was originally an inn – possibly the Hare & Hounds (known to have been somewhere on Hencotes in 1847). Thomas William Forster, motor & heating engineer, was there from at least 1921. Alan writes:

“Forster & Low, Dependable Austin Dealers” my father worked there all his life, and ended as manager there until he retired. They were then bought by Bishop’s of Corbridge and moved to the site on Alemouth Road, and now Bristol Street Motors.

This was the garage, the slope was not there, it was the glass fronted car showroom for one car, the petrol pump, two I think, were inside the door (were the slope joints the straight wall) The garage had a showroom window, room for one car, and a large swing door, giving access to the workshop at the top of the hill. The door, open during the day was a large wooden one and opened back to the wall on the right, it had a small access door to enter or leave when the door was closed. Above the now support post and across the opening, was a hinged steel arm, supporting the hose; cars would stop on the road and the arm swung out over the pavement to provide attendant-served petrol.

From the opening, just past the pumps was the door into the sales counter and stores, where the store keeper was a retired Hexham policeman, then upstairs to the office and on the top floor, storage space. I remember on the office wall, was a very large OS map of the area with some farms etc marked. A lot of their customers were farmers who, when they bought a car, wanted “Luck Money”, as was the custom I believe when buying cattle, so they got a little discount!

There were “lockup” garages around the side of the yard, which was open to the elements, but cars were worked on in this area. The workshop was at the rear, lathes running with belts from overhead pulleys, and the speed altered by a long shaft to move the belt on to the next size overhead pulley. At the rear of the workshop was a door giving access to the Sele. From the entrance there was quite a slope up to the yard and workshop, on the left was an outside toilet, and next to that the battery shop, well a small brick unit with a charger and benches, used to recharge car batteries, but also a lot of glass accumulators that were in radios (low voltage to heat the valves, and the main supply was a 120 volt dry battery, which had to be replaced).

During the war, the garage produced small machined items, running a night shift at some point I remember my father telling me. In those days, when a car was produced against an order, the garage would go to Austin in Birmingham to collect the car; engines were not run in, so it was a max 30mph trip back to Hexham.

After the war they purchased a blister hanger, must have been from some airfield, and it covered over the whole yard area. They also had a turntable at the top of the slope, so that the car could be turned to drive into the now covered yard to be worked on. The turntable was necessary as the supports for the blister roof now restricted the turn into the yard. In the workshop, they had a “cut off” oil drum with paraffin in, and a box of sawdust beside it, for hand washing.

I spent happy times visiting the garage with my Dad, seeing how things worked. Tom Forster was not in the business in my time but I knew Mr & Mrs Low quite well, and it was Mr Low that set up an interview for me with Joseph Lucas in Newcastle, a job that lasted 41 years, progressing through the firm (starting at 15 in 1950, on £1 4s (120p) per week for the first year).

The shop next door was a baby clothes shop, Mrs Moralee. Don’t know how that would have worked during the war, as clothes were allocated coupons, items having various values, but this may not have applied to baby clothes.

 Yr Hen Ogledd – the “Old North”: Northumbria’s western neighbours  Welsh Histories (FB)

Yr Hen Ogledd was the name for the northernmost parts of England (modern day Cumbria) and the southernmost parts of modern day Scotland in the days of Brythonic Britain. This region spoke the now extinct language of Cumbric, which was either related to or a direct relative of “Old Welsh” (which, of course, is an ancestral language of present-day Welsh).

In many ways, Yr Hen Ogledd gave way for modern Cymru, as many of the Welsh Kingdoms, such as Gwynedd with Cunedda, were founded by people hailing from the region.

If you have ever wondered why “Cumbria” is a similar sounding word to “Cymru”, it is because the origins are very similar and are both rooted in the Brythonic Kingdoms.

 Always Remembered  North East War Memorials Project

NEWMP are asking everyone to have a look the project’s index at to check whether any local war memorials have been missed. If you are aware of one that has, please update the database – either online or by emailing with the following information:

  • Closed churches, schools, businesses, when they closed and where the memorials are now
  • New memorials
  • Addition of names in the recent past
  • Commemoration seats, soldier outlines etc
  • Work any group undertook for the 2014-18 Commemoration

 Book Review   Liz Sobell

Sadler, John The Hot Trod: a history of the Anglo-Scottish border (Amberley Press, 2023) ISBN 9781398105423 £25

John Sadler must be a delightful companion on a walk in the Borders: his detailed knowledge and enthusiasm, along with a pithy sense of humour, would fill the time with pleasure. This book demonstrates all of Sadler’s qualities, but is perhaps better to dip into than to read cover to cover.

The reader can easily feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information offered. The short title, The Hot Trod, initially suggests that the topic will be an account of the border law and custom which allowed immediate and unchallenged pursuit ‘with hound and horn’ across the border (either way) to recover stolen goods. In fact, the subtitle, a History of the Anglo-Scottish Border, reflects the true scope of John Sadler’s book.

He is especially interested in battles and skirmishes and here the reader would have been greatly helped by plans describing the positions of rival factions. The author is also a keen re-enactor and inserts many accounts of events he took part in, all adding to the general cheerfulness of the book.

However, I found it uncomfortable that there seemed to be an underlying belief that the troubled history of the border has produced characteristics of an Ur-Reiver which could still be identified today – Sadler’s example was the murderer Raoul Moat. More disturbingly, on page 258, he quotes at some length Philip Walling, a Cumbrian barrister, who asserts his belief that he can trace parts of his personality to Viking ancestors on his father’s side, whilst rejecting characteristics which could have been bestowed on him via his mother’s Scott and Armstrong antecedents. This is nonsense, and didn’t deserve inclusion in Sadler’s book.

 Book Review   Terry Eccles

Conway, Hazel & Rabbitts, Paul People’s Parks: the design and development of public parks in Britain (John Hudson, 2023) ISBN 9781739822989 £60

One of the aspects many of us take for granted about where we live are the ‘open spaces’ in our towns and cities. The creation of these areas is often defined by parks.

This remarkable revised version of Hazel Conway’s ‘People’s Parks’ (1991) by Paul Rabbitts is a fascinating piece of research of the development of these ‘green spaces’ around Britain. Their history is charted from the beginning of the 19th century to the present day.

This detailed examination explains why these spaces came about; concerns about workers’ health and poor housing conditions, highlighted by various movements of the day, led many in power to recognise there was a need to develop such areas in cities and towns to provide clean air for the people.

The authors provide biographies of many designers such as Thomas Paxton and Edward Kemp who laid down the foundations of parks around the country, many of which layouts survive today. The North East has examples of award-winning parks which followed their creative designs; for example, Saltwell in Gateshead, Leazes in Newcastle, and Mowbray in Sunderland.

The difficulties that had to be overcome when both designing and building parks to take advantage of the terrain, such as quarries and wasteland, is explored. The often grand architecture of monuments, clean water fountains, clocks and even museums is detailed and explored with an enormous range of fascinating photographs showing the variety of inspirational designs, as well of people enjoying the parks. The authors examine the multifunctional nature of these areas from floral gardens and quiet seating to aviaries, lidos, shaded wooded spots etc. They point out some designs which had separate areas for different social classes, but in most cases, such inbuilt inequality was fought against to make provision for all.

Restrictions have been enforced over the years, when special officers, gardeners or wardens could stop you from ‘skipping’ or ‘leapfrogging’ and particularly with ‘Do not stand on the grass’ signs. Despite this, the need for greater exercise and recreation was recognised in creating spaces that would allow all ages to participate in various activities and sports, which we continue to see today, like children’s playgrounds, Park Runs, festivals, music and creative events and many others.

Rabbitt’s update examines the role parks played in the years of the pandemic and shows how important these green areas were for many of us during lockdown, helping with our physical and mental health.

The creation and funding of these ‘People’s Parks’ has never been easy and the authors explain how local landed people were encouraged to donate for the common good whilst these same landowners often sought to make gains of their own, attaching conditions to the development of adjacent land as desirable housing,

With over 27,000 public parks across the UK, Conway and Rabbitts have been able to pull together such historical information in one book with so much passion about our public parks, helping us to understand the dedication and vision that has gone into creating these precious ‘People’s Parks’.

 Notification of new titles

Grennan, Penny Objectivity: a history of Hexham high street through objects. (NCC/HSHAZ, 2023)

This book is part of the High Streets Heritage Action Zone scheme and aims to shine a spotlight, through personal stories, on the shops, past and present, which have been doing business in the town over the years. Items bought over the years in shops on Hexham’s historic high street, and the unique stories behind them, have been documented by the author.

During her research for the book Penny interviewed local people to find out more about the objects they had purchased and hear the stories behind them. “The objects in the book all tell a story: where and when they were bought or made, who bought them and why, what we are reminded of every time we see, use, wear, or hear them.”

Sadly, the book is not available for sale, but a copy can be found in Hexham Library.


Milton, Judith & Peters, Chrissie Lead Mining Land The Northern Pennines: Astride Auden’s Watershed (Stemplesike Press, 2023) 978 1 3999 5276 7 £16.99

As we tell the story of lead’s social, industrial and geological history, of lead’s environmental legacy, and as we look at the future, we comment on the claim W H Auden made in his poem “The Watershed” that the lead mining lands refuse to communicate. We think that they do.


Teulon, Jennifer The story of The Bathing House at Howick (The Author, 2023,

Most people who love the Northumbrian coast know of the iconic Bathing House. Its unique character and isolated location make it a magnet for artists and photographers and images are now shared world-wide. But not many know its full story of over 200 years.

  * A note of clarification  The Editor

In my opening piece, I stated that no Roman feet ever set foot in Hexham. I stand by this, primarily on the grounds that the town of Hexham only dates from the founding of the abbey in 674, when the hamlets of Hencotes, Gilligate and Prestfoffle grow up around the abbey walls, joining the Vicus Fori (or market place), some 200 years after the departure of the legions. However, feet attached to Roman soldiers from nearby Coria may well have tramped across ground that later become Hexham – so the question remains open! Suffice it to say that no evidence has ever been found of any Roman presence within the town’s boundaries. Readers wanting to know more should read Tom Corfe’s article The Hagulstaldian Church: some notes on early Hexham in HH15, available from if you have not already got a copy!

  And finally …

Everyone knows about the feared Northumbrian midges, but did you know that Hexham has its very own mosquito? OK, it’s only to be found in another Hexham, a suburb of Newcastle, Australia, but, to quote the website, “the Hexham Grey is a formidable insect. It is a mosquito so monstrous in size it would not be out of place buzzing around a herd of grazing dinosaurs.”