This is like something out of Tolkien. Hexhamshire was a county of Northern England. It existed for several hundred years until it was incorporated into Northumberland in 1572. The county probably originated as one of the districts of the Kingdom of Northumbria, the town of Hexham then being the seat of a bishopric. It later lost its privileges, and became considered part of County Durham. In the early 12th century, Henry I of England decided to weaken the power of the prince bishops of Durham by removing parts of their realm. In doing so, he elevated Hexhamshire to county status, with Hexham as its county town. Hexhamshire remained a county until 1572, when it was incorporated into Northumberland by Act of Parliament, by 14 Eliz. 1 c. 13 ("An Act for the annexing of Hexhamshire to the Countye of Northumberland"). At the same time, the district was transferred from the see of Durham to the see of York, where it remained until 1837. During this era, the Border Reivers were raiders that attacked local residents. There were both English and Scottish clans in these groups, and they would attack regardless of nationality. Local farmers would often need to make payments to the various clans as a form of protection money to ensure they are not attacked. These agreements were called "Black mal", where mal was an Old Norse word meaning agreement. The word blackmail entered the English language in 1530 as a result.
In June 1330 orders were issued to construct a gaol in Hexham making it the oldest purpose-built prison in England. Prisoners from around Hexhamshire were held, before their trial in the Moothall Court Room nearby, within its walls - the area ruled over by the powerful Archbishop of York - and it was his Bailiff and officials who ran the Shire on his behalf from the nearby Moothall. Prisoners were kept in the Gaol until the 1820s, when a new county gaol was built at Morpeth. By 1828 however, most prisoners were held in Morpeth Gaol, and the Hexham House of Correction was used for petty thieves. The gaol currently houses a museum, covering: archaeology, archives, costume and textiles, law and order, music, photography, social history, weapons and war. The collections include 15th and 16th century arms and armour, and objects of local historical interest. Descend into the dungeon, peer into the gloom and imagine confinement in the dark awaiting trial in the nearby Moothall. Meet the gaoler to learn about the treatment of criminals then put yourself in the prisoners’ shoes and try the stocks for size – if you dare! The Border Library holds the Butler Collection, books, recordings and music relating to the culture of the Borders. The museum is fully wheelchair accessible.
Location : Hallgate, Hexham, Northumberland NE46 1XD
Transport: Hexham (National Rail) 1/2 mile. Bus routes 83, 683, 685 and 688 stop nearby
Opening Times: Tuesday to Saturday 11:00 to 16:30
Tickets: Adults £3.95 Concessions £3.50 Children £2.50
Tel: 01670 624523