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Hexham in 1839

Hexham is in the south division of Tindale ward, 278 miles from London. The parish comprehends Hexham township, 4,310 acres, with a population, in 1831, of 4,666 ; and Hexhamshire, 24,060 acres, with a population, in 1831, of 1,376 : together, 28,370 acres, population 6,042. Hexham is believed to have been a Roman station. Camden conjectured that it was Axelodunum, one of the stations of the ‘Notitia,’ on the line of the wall (per lineam valli), which later antiquaries fix near Carlisle ; Horsley contended for its being the Epiacum of Ptolemy, a town of the Brigantes, which others fix at Lanchester.

Two inscriptions on stones in the vaults of the ancient church are considered as proofs that a Roman station. did exist here. In the seventh century (A.D. 674) a monastery was founded here by St. Wilfrid, who erected the monastic buildings in a style of magnificence little known at that day. He built also three churches in Hexhamshire, which domain had been granted to him by the queen of Northumbria. A few years afterwards (about A.D. 678), on the division of the Northumbrian diocese into three parts, a bishop's see was established at Hexham, and continued for many years, until the bishops were driven out by the Danes, and the diocese was afterwards united to Lindisfarne. The abbey and town of Hexham were sacked by the Danes early in the ninth century; and in A.D. 875 it was again attacked, the church burnt, and the inhabitants massacred.

In the twelfth century the archbishop of York established here a priory of regular canons of St. Austin, and bestowed on them the former cathedral, and many other gifts (A.D. 1112). In the Scotch wars of Edward I the town and part of the church were burnt, and the title-deeds of the priory lost ; but by royal authority an inquisition was taken (e. D. 1297), and their various gifts confirmed by charter. The revenue of the priory, at the dissolution, was £138, 1 shilling and 9 pence gross, or £122, 11 shillings and 1 penny clear.

The town is pleasantly situated on an eminence, near the south or right bank of the Tyne, a little below the junction of the North and South Tyne. It consists of several streets, the principal of which are tolerably wide, but the rest are generally narrow ; the streets are partially paved and indifferently lighted. The market-place is a. spacious square, tolerably well paved, and surrounded with pretty good houses; on the south side of the market-place is a market-house, furnished with piazzas ; part of it is appropriated as a butter and poultry market, and part to stalls for butchers' meat ; at one end of the building is a ‘pant,’ or reservoir, the water to which is conveyed by pipes. In the market-place is an ancient stone building, with a dial in front, formerly used as the town-hall of the bishops and priors of Hexham, and now used as a sessions-house. There are a bridge over the Tyne of nine principal arches, and three supplementary arches to allow passage to the waters in time of floods; a suspension-bridge over the South Tyne, near the town ; and a bridge with two arches over a burn west of the town. On the top of the hill on which the town stands, not very far from the town-hall, is a square tower, used as a prison by the bishops of Hexham. But the most important building is the old priory church, now used as a parish church. It is a cruciform building with a central tower, above 100 feet high to the battlements, or 125 feet high to the top of the vane. The nave, burnt by the Scots in the time of Edward I, has never been rebuilt ; the transepts are separated from the choir by a screen richly carved in the lower part and adorned in the upper part by an emblematical painting. The choir is separated from its side aisles by massive clustered pillars supporting pointed arches ; above these is the second tier of arches, of Norman character, separated by massive clustered columns ; and above these again, a third tier of arches, pointed, supporting the wooden roof. There is a fine east window, and in the church are several ancient monuments. There is an ancient crypt, which some have supposed to be part of the original Saxon church built by Wilfrid. At the west end of the church are the remains of the monastic. buildings; the refectory is yet entire, and is occasionally used as a room of entertainment ; it is very spacious, and has an oak roof. There are some remains of the cloisters, which show the richness and excellence of their architecture. The gateway of the abbey, supposed by many to be Saxon, is also standing. There are two Catholic chapels, a Scotch church, and two or three other dissenting places of worship in the parish.

Several manufactures and branches of trade are carried on, spinning woollen yarn, hat-making, tanning, leather-dressing, and glove-making. The market is on Tuesday for corn and provisions ; and there is a Saturday market for butchers' meat. A market for cattle is held on the alternate Tuesdays during a considerable part of the year. There are two yearly markets for horses, cattle, sheep, and swine : at the earlier of these, held in August, vast quantities of lambs are sold. The Midsummer sessions for the county are held here, and petty-sessions for the ward every month. In the western part of the town is a house of correction for the county.

The living is a perpetual curacy, of the clear yearly value of £139, in the peculiar jurisdiction of the archbishop of York.

There were, in 1833, a grammar-school, with a small endowment and 65 scholars ; a school, partly supported by subscription, with 230 children ; seven other day-schools, with 200 scholars ; and six Sunday-schools, with about 705 children.