No. 99 Summer 2024

No. 99 Summer 2024



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Editor: Mark Benjamin

Tel: 07879 263848


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 Thoughts from a Chair  Mark Benjamin

And so, after 34 years on the Society’s committee, including editing the Hexham Historian from 2007-2020 and this Newsletter since 2011, I am stepping down; not only as Chair, but from the committee itself at this year’s AGM in November. I shall probably (almost certainly) edit the Autumn Newsletter – but that’s it!

I first joined the Committee to advise on publishing our annual journal, the Hexham Historian, invited by the late Tom Corfe as he felt my experience with the County Libraries’ publishing programme would be an asset – little did I know that I’d end up, some years later, editing it for 11 years! Members of the Committee have come and gone over the years, and now it’s time for me to go, although I shall remain involved in HLHS, primarily in maintaining the Shops Index, and in helping to answer queries received by the Society.  

To Zoom or not to Zoom:  As you will be aware, in the aftermath of the Covid pandemic, when we were forced to hold all of our talks on Zoom, the Committee decided to continue the January & February talks in this way. Our reasons for this were twofold; one being that it enables members from afar to attend and, two, that local members might not wish to come out during the cold, dark winter months. Having tried this for a couple of years, we have come to the conclusion that the take-up warranted neither the hassle nor expense. Having the talks filmed and available on the website negates the first reason and Members seem to be sufficiently hardy to weather the weather! Accordingly, and with apologies for anyone who preferred the Zoom option, all 8 talks in 2025 will take place “in real life”, in Trinity Church Hall.

We receive all sorts of enquiries about aspects of local history. One of the odder received recently was from a radio producer, asking what we could tell her about the Pollock Sisters. A recent Facebook posting of the story generated responses from several Hexham residents who remembered both the incident and the girls, and there are several retellings on YouTube. Those of you who have never heard of this enduring mystery can read the story in the Myths & Legends page of our website Obviously, those who do believe in reincarnation will object to its classification; to this agnostic, it seemed the most appropriate place. The radio producer has promised to pass over the results of her research, so perhaps the story might find a way into a future Hexham Historian – should our Editor agree!

 Speakers – Can you help?

The monthly programme of speakers is an important part of the Society’s offer and, over the years, we have enjoyed talks on a wide range of topics. This does not happen without someone organising it and we are now in need of one (or two) of our members to take this on – could this be you? The task primarily involves:
  • Sourcing and booking the speakers
  • Assisting with the publicity
  • Booking the restaurant for the pre-talk meal

The programme for 2025 is now completed, so there’s plenty of time to work your way into the task for 2026. If you think that this is something that you could do, have a word with any of the committee, contact Mark at or call on 07879263848

 A slightly embarrassing admission

On compiling the very impressive list of speakers who have addressed the Society since 1988, it emerges that no-one kept a record of the speakers of 1989! We’re rather hoping that one of our current members has squirreled the relevant information away somewhere (maybe you’ve kept a collection of our programme cards! – if you have, we’d love to hear from you.

 Visits – what do you think?

During the Summer break in our talks programme, for many years we have organised visits to places of interest, far and wide; reports of the latest two visits can be read below. Over the past few years, Jennifer Britton has done sterling work in organising all three visits but, with no obvious replacement, we have realised that it is not necessary for one person to do all three! Is there somewhere that you think would make a great outing and, if so, would you be prepared to organise it? The task primarily involves:

  • Identifying the site and arranging the visit
  • Booking transport if required
  • Gathering members’ bookings
  • Supervising the outing
  • Arranging for someone to write a report for the Newsletter

If you might be interested in getting involved in this way, please let us know; help and guidance will be available. If no-one steps forward, with regret the Committee may have to abandon its commitment to this part of the Society’s offer

 Dates for your diary

WednesdayJuly 10thWe’re not going back: 75 Mines. 3 Sisters. 1 Cause. (And a six pack of Babycham)Queen’s Hall, Beaumont Street, Hexham 7.30pm. £15 ( £13 concs; Unite members £10)
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 Spring Newsletter 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
ThursdaySeptember 12thThe wheel of time: a people’s history of Path Head, Blaydon Burn & SummerhillLand of Oak & Iron Heritage Centre, Winlaton Mill NE21 6RU. 6.30pm
ThursdaySeptember 19thThe Ponteland Dig, 2019Ponteland LHS talk by Milena Grzybowska, Archaeological Research Services Ltd. 7.30pm. St Mary’s Church Hall, Thornhill Road, Ponteland £2
October 6thAll about that place: One-place Study challengeSee below for details
Tuesday October 8thThe Enemy Within: WW1 Aliens in the North EastHLHS Talk by Sylvie Fisch
If you have any relevant event that you think might interest members, please let the Editor know

 All about that place

“All About That Place” – the One-Place Study Challenge Event happening from September 27th to October 6th, 2024

Join us for this FREE event that promises to revolutionize the genealogy world!  Explore the places your ancestors lived right from the comfort of your own home. Who knows, you might even kick-start your own One Place Study!

Hosted by the Society of Genealogists, the Society for One-Place Studies, Genealogy Stories, and the British Association For Local History – BALH, this event is a unique collaboration.

Get ready for a pop-up Facebook Group and our YouTube channel packed with FREE online talks from various speakers. But wait, there’s more! This event is all about participation. Dive into local history with challenge instructions designed to get you exploring. Download your FREE challenge workbook to track your progress and learning activities.

And that’s not all! Celebrate your journey with the chance to win amazing prizes in our prize draw, including a 1-year membership to the Society of Genealogists or the Curious Descendants Club!

Subscribe to get all the details on how to join this FREE event, and stay up to date with All About That Place announcements:

 We have questions – do you have answers?

Does anyone know anything about Tribune House? It would appear to be a name associated with Nos 26-27 Market Place – currently occupied by Small World Café. It’s a rather grand building and, as shown in this photo, seems to have connections to the Liberal Party – at least in 1907 when the Liberal candidate, Richard Holt, unseated the Conservative MP, the Hon Wentworth Beaumont, at the General Election held that year. We don’t know if this is the origin of the name but, certainly, the Liberal Party of the time could claim to be the tribunes of the people – prior to the rise of the Labour Party – let alone the present-day Tribune Group!

 Another question

Gill Crawshaw asks: I’m researching an event that took place in Wentworth Leisure Centre in July and August 1989, called The Festival of the 5 Senses. It was a multi-sensory installation that you wandered round, designed to be enjoyed by disabled and non-disabled people alike. There were also musical and poetry performances during the festival. Does anyone remember this? Did you perhaps attend the Festival? If so, I’d love to hear from you.
If you do have memories of the Festival, either reply to Gill in the Notes & Queries Forum or via the Editor.

 Kith and Kin: Cornish & Lowry

The Bowes Museum is hosting an exhibition of two of the North’s most famous 20th century artists. L S Lowry and Norman Cornish.    Although Cornish’s North Eastern credentials are well-known, Lowry too, had connections with the region, often visiting County Durham and, indeed, has a trail dedicated to him in Berwick-upon-Tweed.    The exhibition runs from July 20th 2024 to January 20th2025    Further details from

 Group Visit to Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums, 22nd May – Mark Benjamin

16 hardy souls braved the elements to take a tour around the main regional archives, now housed in Newcastle’s Discovery Museum. HLHS member Lizzie Baker, Archive Lead for TWAM, showed us a selection of items, some relating to Hexham, before showing us around the stacks of the archives.

Space, often a concern for archive services who, by definition, can discard nothing whilst continually taking in new material, is a particular worry for TWAM. Housed as they are in a Grade II listed conversion, they are unable to install rolling stacks – primarily because of concern for the load-bearing capability of the floors – which rather limits their storage capacity (they still have over 12 miles of shelving! However, they have come up with an ingenious solution: collections in little demand are now housed in ideal dry, cool, dark conditions…in a salt-mine in Cheshire! When needed, material can be retrieved from the mine in 48 hours.

The archives also contain records from the local criminal courts and NHS trusts. We saw a file of “mugshots” from the Quarter Sessions, some of which had been retrieved from a skip! Amongst them was Ellen Williams, sentenced at the age of 11 to seven days hard labour for stealing

As well as the more obvious local material, the archive also contains over 20,000 plans relating to ships built on the Tyne and the Wear. My attention was particularly drawn to the icebreaker/ferry Baikal, built for the Trans-Siberian Railway company by Sir W G Armstrong Whitworth & Co Ltd. Constructed on Tyneside in parts, it was then transported some 4000 miles by rail to Lake Baikal, where it was reconstructed in 1899 by a team of Geordie shipbuilders to ferry the trains across the lake. Very much a case of “Dasvidaniya, Pet!

 Group Visit to Nenthead Mines, 12th June – Mark Hatton

A dozen HLHS members gathered at Nenthead Mines on a dry, bright but cool June day. We were welcomed by a group of volunteers from the Nenthead Mines Conservation Society (NMCS), all of whom are very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the history of these mines. They have done considerable amounts of work to preserve, research and share these mines with the public.

The day started with a presentation from Pete Jackson, Chair of NMCS, who gave us an overview of the rich history of these mines. Huge quantities of lead were mined and smelted here, mostly in the 18th and 19th centuries. When lead prices collapsed in the late 19th century the mines ran down, until a Belgium-based group took them over to extract the Zinc found here. At one time these mines employed 500 people, many of who were foreign immigrants, making Nenthead a very busy and multicultural place in the early 20th century.

We then visited the newly restored top of Brewery Shaft. This 300 foot-deep shaft can be viewed safely and spectacularly from above, with lightning effects that well illustrate its size. Our guide explained how water flowing down the shaft was used to produce compressed air to power the mine’s drills and other machinery. We then walked up to view the enormous wheel pit where a waterwheel powered the condenser system, whereby lead in the fumes coming from the smelter was filtered out. The water management system needed to operate these machines was then viewed before returning to the smelter complex to discuss how that worked. After a welcome break for lunch we all donned warm clothing, helmets and head-torches and walked in to Carr’s Mine. This area of the mine complex has been carefully restored by volunteers to give visitors an experience of the underground working conditions the miners faced and the techniques they used. It also allowed us a view of the geology of the mines and how the mineral rich liquids created the veins of lead ore that the miners worked with such skill, effort and ingenuity over many generations. This was a highly enjoyable and memorable visit for all who attended.

NMCS offer open days throughout the summer months and these provide a fascinating opportunity to view, understand and appreciate the rich history of these Mines. Their website has full details.

Durham Record Office reopens!

The long-awaited move to The Story local history centre and register office at Mount Oswald having been completed, the archives will once again be available to visit from June 17th, much to the relief of researchers throughout the region and beyond.

Over the last six months, more than six miles of archives and five historic collections have been carefully transported from County Hall to Mount Oswald – more than 10,500 shelves of precious documents and objects.

“A new exhibition space has been created and interactive digital displays have been introduced, along with an online collections search facility with AI features.

The Fitzhugh Library, Middleton-in-Teesdale – Cath Maddison

The Fitzhugh Library collects material (books, documents, maps, press cuttings, posters, ephemera, etc) pertaining to the old Palatinate of Durham, as it was prior to 1834 (when the last Palatinate was dissolved) and before the 1974 boundary revisions. We also collect material pertaining to the old ecclesiastical parish of Romaldkirk.

The topics are wide-ranging – history, archaeology, biography and genealogy, mining, railways and of course, religion. At the moment we have over 17,000 items catalogued, and over 20,000 press cuttings, nearly 1,000 aerial photographs and over 2,000 maps. We always welcome donations, particularly of the type of material often discarded for lack of a home.

No one individual now knows the extent of our holdings. Gems that recent searches have unearthed are a First World War postcard sent from a German prison camp back to Teesdale and a copy of the Northern Echo from 1912 with news of the sinking of the Titanic.

We are fortunate with our volunteers who include a retired historian, a retired librarian, published authors, genealogists and those with extensive cartographic experience.  As a research library we welcome visitors to browse or to study. It is easy for them to lose many hours opening box files on the shelves and following the byways that open up!  We have provided information for a graduate thesis (Durham University), several books, and exhibitions (e.g. The Bowes Museum), websites (North East War Memorials Project) and to diverse groups such as the Friends of the Stockton & Darlington Railway and the Witham (Barnard Castle) Archive Team.

Contributors to the Victoria County History series use us for research and two members of our team took part in a Radio 4 series on “Solitude”, discussing local poet Richard Watson and his walk to work at the lead mine at Little Eggleshope.

Special collection areas of interest include:

Hannah Hauxwell Collection.

Hannah of “Too Long a Winter”, Yorkshire Television fame left a unique family archive of letters, funeral cards and memorabilia showing life in the Upper dale dating back to her great grandparents. Hannah’s Uncle Tommy was a Methodist minister and items include his long-service certificate, membership and camp cards for family members and sermon notes.

Methodist Interest

We hold Methodist ministry material for all of our geographical area coverage, but naturally have more from Upper Teesdale, including preachers and circuit plans, financial records, Sunday School records, Methodist Missionary Society documents, and magazines. Documents include registration, trustee and legacy documents for Lunedale Chapel.

Maps & Photographs

We hold a substantial collection of maps and photographs, including the F Parkin Raine photographic collection. These cover all aspects of life in Teesdale, taken by numerous photographers, including Elijah Yeoman. This collection can be searched digitally.

Before visiting it is helpful to know in advance your area of interest so material can be found quickly. Our online catalogue may be searched by title, keyword or class number. But remember, not all our acquisitions have made it there yet!

The library is located in Middleton-in-Teesdale, in the upper rooms of the former Mechanics Institute; above the Village Bookshop and opposite the Teesdale Hotel.    Please note the Fitzhugh library is accessed by stairs and has no disabled access. (But we can make you a welcoming cup of tea, when you get there!).

Open: Mon & Tues 10.30 – 2.30 (except Bank Holidays)  Open at other times by arrangement.

The Fitzhugh Library, 1st Floor, 51 Market Place, Middleton-in-Teesdale, DL12 0QH   Tel: 01833 640074

 Book Review   Mark Hatton

Collins, Rob & Harrison, Jane
Excavations along Hadrian’s Wall 2019–2021: structures, their uses, and afterlives (Oxbow Books, 2024) 9781789259445   £50.00

This weighty volume should grace the shelves of any Academic, Professional Archeologist or dedicated Amateur who seriously and deeply studies Hadrian’s Wall. This is not a light read, but a very thorough and professional account of a series of fieldwork archeological projects at previously under researched or vulnerable sites along the wall. The findings of each project are laid out in great detail, including 100’s of colour photos, diagrams, tables and maps. Many new finds were made during these projects and our collective understanding of the building, operation and later decay of Hadrian’s Wall has been materially advanced. The authors, archaeologists, volunteers and National Lottery Heritage Fund who enabled these projects should be very proud of what they have accomplished, particularly as much of the work took place during the pandemic. This book ensures their work, findings & conclusions will be available to and appreciated by current and future generations of archaeologists and researchers for many years to come

 Book Review   Liz Sobell

Dryburgh, Paul et al.
The Church and Northern English society in the fourteenth century: the Archbishops of York and their records   (York Medieval Press, 2024) ISBN 9781805432111  £75.00

I once began a lecture by announcing that my interest in local history had got so extremely local that I’d managed to confine it to the field behind my house (no-one laughed, it was an academic conference). In spite of the blow to my confidence, I have maintained much the same mindset, so on receiving this book to review I turned immediately to the index and searched for mentions of placenames in the Liberty of Hexhamshire.

I was at first disappointed to find very scant details of local places and people, but on reading further I realised that the purpose of the book was entirely different and much more impressive.

The book follows on from the Northern Way project, which created a free and fully searchable website combining the extensive records of the archbishops of York with administrative documents shared between the Church and State (now kept at The National Archives). The documents date in range between 1304 and 1405 and the website can be found at .

The editors have compiled essays by thirteen academics aiming to provide context for further studies of the website records, and we are lucky here in Hexham to have the HLHS publication The Black Book of Hexham, which falls neatly into the same period.

Whilst the editors acknowledge that the essays could not answer fully the research questions they posed themselves, they can be rightly proud to have made this material more accessible and to have made the circumstances of their creation clearer

 Book Review   Greg Finch

Jade Scott (ed)
The life and letters of Lady Anne Percy, Countess of Northumberland 1536-1591 (Boydell Press/Catholic Record Society, 2024), xcii + 86pp, ISBN 978 0 9028 32350, £45 hardcover

The Northern Rising of 1569 was a short-lived and ill-fated Catholic rebellion against Elizabeth I’s Protestant Tudor state. It was led by Thomas Percy, the Earl of Northumberland, and Charles Neville, the Earl of Westmorland. Most accounts have focused on the motivation and consequences for these aristocrats, and the lesser gentry who followed them southwards through County Durham that winter. However, Northumberland’s wife, Lady Anne Percy, was much more than a passive bystander. She rode with rebel forces, led small parties of men, and intercepted post between Queen Elizabeth and the Earl of Mar in Scotland, who acted as Regent for the infant King James VI. After the failure of the rebellion, she was initially to be found in the castles of sympathetic lords in the Scottish borders. Exiled in the 1570s, she was a prominent figure among English Catholic exiles in Europe, seeking support for Mary, Queen of Scots and exercising diplomatic strengths in Papal, Spanish and French courts.

Dr Jade Scott has – impressively – collected, transcribed and closely annotated Lady Anne Percy’s correspondence from French, Vatican and various English archives to produce this slim edited volume. As Dr Scott points out in the introduction, it is likely that Lady Anne wrote many more than the 25 letters included here, all of which date from between 1570 and 1577. After all, since her intentions were to undermine the English Protestant state, those to whom she wrote were usually asked to destroy the letters afterwards. Letters survive in English archives because they were intercepted and copied by the Queen’s agents. Several of them are annotated by Elizabeth’s chief adviser, Lord High Treasurer and general ‘fixer’, William Cecil. Some others are in undeciphered code.

The editor’s extensive – if dry – introduction, longer than the contents of the letters which follow it, includes an account of Lady Anne’s life, much on the networks of correspondents she cultivated and maintained once in European exile, and the approaches taken by Catholic exiles to encrypt and protect letters from surveillance. Those with a particular interest in the Tudor Catholic exile community in the 1570s, and in the arcane linguistic devices used between them will probably find this book of interest. But standing back to consider the wider context, Lady Anne Percy’s life and exploits arguably warrant a much fuller and engaging biography.

 Notifications of other new (or recently discovered) titles

Gregson, Nicky
The violin shop
(The Author, 2014) ISBN 9798326386403  £12.99. Available from the shop, or via Amazon

There has been a violin shop on Hencotes since the 1970s. For the past 35 years, under the auspices of the partnership of Cain & Mann, and then under the proprietorship of Dave Mann, the shop has been part of the Cremonese violin-making diaspora. It’s become a byword for excellence – in the making of modern hand-crafted violins in the Italian style, and in the repair and restoration of fine stringed instruments

Atmosphere and ambience are a large part of what draws people to this place. The centrepiece to the workshop is a workbench, although that is often hard to see, buried as it is under violins in varying states of disrepair and a multitude of bits: chewed up pencils, chopped up bits of ebony, worn out strings, the odd tailpiece or two. This is the unmistakeable mess of a master craftsman at work.

The Violin Shop weaves the history of this tiny shop in Hexham with the lives of Dave Mann and Nial Cain. The story encompasses on the one hand the Boys’ Brigade, drums, the Newcastle nightclubs of the late 1960s, gangsters, working men’s clubs and cars, and – on the other – folk music. The book illuminates the craft practices of making, restoring and repairing violins as well as the challenges of making to a commission. A tale of two commissioned fiddles – one in the make and one returned – runs throughout, serving as a device both to illustrate a luthier’s craft work and to highlight the difficulties of making something that is not just an object but a sounding object; one which has to not just sound well but also enchant its player. The book explores this process in depth with a range of well-known professional violinists and fiddlers, talented amateurs, as well as players of all levels of ability.

Lawrance, Sarah
Bewick tales  (Open Ended Books, 2024)

Intended for use by people living with dementia, and their carers, the publishers have created an uplifting, accessible book that provokes curiosity, imagination and conversations between readers, their friends and family, focussing on the here and now and what people can achieve rather than the past and what has gone.

During the past six months, together with author and curator Sarah Lawrance, the team has consulted people living with dementia to develop the accessible layout, design and narrative for Bewick Tales.

Nairn, A K
The trail of blood (Broken Man Books, 2024) £8.99 

It’s 1516 and Scotland and England are teetering on the brink of yet another war. So when a torso is found right on the border between the two countries, it threatens to create a bloodbath.  French diplomat, Antoine de Lissieu, is dragged in to investigate and reluctantly takes a band of men to the wild frontier region. But he’s shunned by both sides of the divide and plagued by traumatic memories from his past.

The hero of The Trail of Blood is based on the real-life historical figure, Antoine de la Bastie, by all accounts a very honourable man who was an outstanding tournament jouster (known as “the White Knight”) in France before fighting in the Italian Wars and being captured by the Venetians at the Battle of Agnadello in 1509.

After his release, he became a regular visitor to Scotland, to promote the Auld Alliance with France. In particular, he supported the Duke of Albany’s bid for power, after the disaster of Flodden.  Albany “rewarded” him by making him Warden of the Marches but he only lasted a year or so in the job before the Humes murdered him in 1517.    

The author has reinvented him (borrowing the surname Lissieu from one of his landholdings) and resurrected him as a master sleuth, rather than as a victim, in the first of a proposed series of novels.   A counter from across the Border to the Robert Carey novels of P F Chisholm!

Addyman, Marie
The natural history of the North in Tudor England: a gazetteer of William Turner’s references to birds, fishes and plants (The Author, 2016) £5.00 available from or call Mark on 07879263848

Morpeth-born Turner (c1508-1568) wrote extensively, but not exclusively, on the flora and fauna of the north of England.   This lavishly-illustrated 56pp booklet gathers together his various descriptions scattered throughout his more general writings.

Brown, Sarah Dixwell Brown
Regicide in the family: the search for John Dixwell  (Levellers Press, 2022) ISBN 9781951928469  £25.00

The author was 28 years old when she discovered, by chance, that she was related to John Dixwell, one of the 59 men who condemned Charles I to death for “high crimes and treason”. John Dixwell was born in Ponteland where his father Edward was the vicar. He ended his days living under an assumed name in New Haven, Connecticut.  This book relates her decades- long quest trying to find out as much as she could about her renegade ancestor.

  And finally …

Taken from The Cookery Book, produced as a fundraiser for the Hexham Group Hospital Supply Depot in July 1940 – recipe from Mrs Newall of Newbrough Lodge.

Surprise Potatoes

The potato is baked until tender, then with the aid of an apple corer the inside is gouged out from end to end, and in its place is put a small, thin sausage. The sausage is cooked beforehand and put in while still hot. A small piece of the potato scrapings should be placed at each end, so that the filling is unexpected. A little minced meat, a roll of grilled bacon, or a little flaked fish can be used in place of the sausage.

As my grandmother would have said, “Enjoy!”