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Timeline – Hexham Abbey

672–674 The Northumbrian Queen Etheldreda granted Bishop Wilfrid the lands of Hexhamshire to build a new Benedictine monastery.
678 Wilfrid’s priory church of St Andrew was completed. The original Saxon crypt is still in use today.
681 Hexham Priory became a cathedral and Trumbrith was consecrated first Bishop of Hexham.
709 or 710 Wilfrid died at Oundle, as incumbent Bishop of Hexham, and was canonized.
821 Hexham was downgraded from a cathedral owing to the threats from Viking raids.
c845–c860 A hoard of around 9,000 9th-century Northumbrian coins (stycas) was buried in a bucket. See 1832, below.
875 The Danish Viking army occupied the mouth of the River Tyne and raided the surrounding countryside. The monasteries at Hexham, Jarrow, and Monkwearmouth were attacked and partly destroyed.
c995 The Bishop of Durham appointed a provost to administer Hexham and a priest to serve the church.
1071 Uhtred the provost transferred Hexhamshire to the Archbishop of York. The manor became the administrative centre for a large area.
1079 A Scots army under King Malcolm III threatened Hexham but timely prayers from Eilaf the Elder (and a convenient fog!) saved the town.
c1083 Eilaf I fell out with the Bishop of Durham and placed his church under the Archbishop of York. Archbishop Thomas I gave Eilaf a fresh appointment to Hexham and leave to restore the church.
1114 The Archbishop of York, Thurstan, re-founded the church at Hexham as a priory of Canons Regular of St Augustine (Augustinian or Austin Canons).
1138 The Scots were defeated at the Battle of the Standard at Northallerton - a period of peace was secured.
c1150 The gateway, and presumably the precinct wall, was erected from about 1150.
1180–1280 The chancel, transepts, tower, and domestic buildings were built. King John visited Hexham three times: 1202, 1205, 1212.
1296 A Scots army destroyed Lanercost and the priory at Hexham was burned, as well as 200 scholars in the conventual school. Shrines, books and the relics of the saints were destroyed. Only the walls survived. You can still see where the melted lead from the roof scorched the Abbey’s stone floor.
1297 William ‘Braveheart’ Wallace led a raid into Hexham and destroyed all that survived from the raid the previous year.
1298 Although the canons had lost the deeds proving their ownership of the lands, the great charter of Inspeximus, granted by King Edward I, confirmed to the canons all the lands they had held.
1311 Robert the Bruce ravaged Tynedale but spared the Abbey priests from slaughter.
1346 Hexham Abbey was again sacked by the Scots under King David II. The nave was completely destroyed.
1360 The chancel roof had probably been rebuilt by about 1360.
1404 Three bells were dated 1404.
1409–1410 The Ogle Chantry was built about 1410; Sir Robert Ogle had died 31st October 1409.
1429 Roger Thornton of Newcastle left 400 marks for rebuilding the nave but it is not certain whether the work was ever begun.
1440 The transept roofs had probably been rebuilt by about 1440.
1464 The Battle of Hexham, between Henry VI and Lord Montacute, was fought near the Linnels. The Duke of Somerset was taken, beheaded in Hexham marketplace, and buried in the Abbey church.
1480–1491 Rowland Leschman was prior. The Leschman Chantry is in the north arcade of the Abbey’s Chancel.
1491–1524 Thomas Smithson was prior. The Rood Screen, of the solid form, carrying a loft, access to which was gained by winding staircases, was erected during his priorate. It is therefore one of the last additions to the church before the dissolution.
1514 Hexham priory sent its quota of men on a raid into Scotland. The priory flag was captured and appropriated as the town flag of Hawick borough.
1536 Henry VIII’s Reformation decreed that all monastic houses with an annual income of less than £200 should be dissolved. The King’s commissioners arrived in Hexham to close the monastery and were met by armed men led by the Master of Ovingham. The commissioners had to retreat.
1537 The Duke of Norfolk travelled to Hexham under the King’s orders and brutally suppressed the Pilgrimage of Grace (rebellion in support of Roman Catholicism). The priory, including the chancel and transepts, survived because it was needed as a parish church.
1538 The Abbey became Hexham’s parish church replacing the old church of St Mary located south of the present the market place. The other buildings and the monastic land were granted to Sir Reynold Carnaby, the King’s representative in Hexhamshire.
1539 Sir Reynold Carnaby built an extension to the north of the Prior’s House.
1543 Sir Reynold Carnaby died without a male heir (but with three daughters) and the Abbey estates reverted to the Crown. Queen Elizabeth I granted them to Sir Christopher Hatton together with all tithes which belonged to the Abbey (e.g. income from Abbey estates); but he had to pay £13 6s. 8d. annually to the curate of Hexham.
1545 The Archbishop of York exchanged the Manor of Hexham for manors in the County of York; (since the late 11th century, Hexhamshire had been a detached portion of the County of York).
1571–1589 Hexhamshire was made a part of the County of Northumberland in 1571. Sir John Fenwick (the Lord of the Manor) who had purchased the Manor from Sir Christopher Hatton, then sold it to Sir John Forster of Bamburgh (Lord Warden of the Middle Marches). Sir Reynold Carnaby’s three daughters conveyed their share of Hexham Abbey to Sir John Forster at different times: Katherine in 1576, Ursula in 1589, and Mabel in 1574.
1600 The Manor devolved upon Sir John Forster’s son-in-law, Sir John Fenwick, who acquired also the Abbey and the property which had gone with it, together with the impropriation of the living. It remained in that family for three generations.
1612 The Abbey’s “Breeches” or Geneva Bible (translated in 1560) was printed.
1625 Richard Fishborne, citizen and mercer (merchant) of London bequeathed £2,800 for ecclesiastical purposes in the North of England, to be administered by the Worshipful Company of Mercers (one of the City of London’s Livery Companies). £880 of that money was used to buy corn tithes of properties and a house, to found and endow a puritan lectureship in the Abbey church to enable a sermon to be preached every Sunday; (NB: not all clergy were licensed to preach).
1690 Sir John Fenwick (son of Sir John Fenwick killed at Marston Moor) sold the manor to Sir William Blackett of Newcastle.
1699 Agreed by the Minister and the fower-and-twenty on 13th March, that a proper account should be taken, and entered in the registers of all the burying places within the church. The initials cut on the walls and on the pillars, and in some cases leaded into the floor, as marking the spaces allotted to different families, are probably from this date. George Ritschell (curate & lecturer) had the chancel lead roof replaced with slates.
1703 Under the Bounty Act, the curacy received an augmentation of £400 (commonly called Queen Anne’s Bounty) and became a perpetual curacy.
1705 Sir William Blackett died, and was succeeded as lord of the manor by his son, also Sir William Blackett.
1725 The Abbey tower needed support on the west side where the Nave had once stood. While deep foundations for a buttress were being dug, the Crypt of St. Wilfrid’s church was re-discovered. It had not been mentioned since the time of Prior Richard in the twelfth century. Since then the Nave had been walled off at the Crossing and the floor had been covered with several metres of soil and used as a graveyard.
1728 Sir William Blackett died, leaving the estates to his illegitimate daughter Elizabeth, on condition she should within twelve months marry his nephew, Walter Calverley.
1729 Walter Calverley, nephew of Sir William Blackett, married Blackett’s illegitimate daughter, and so succeeded to the estates of his uncle.
c1730 The large traceried, perpendicular, 14th century window at the east end was removed and replaced by a wheel window (of bastard Gothic character - Hodges, 1888).
1733–4 By a private Act of Parliament, Calverley assumed the name of Blackett.
1740 An inscription recorded that a gallery was built in the year 1740 by Sir Edward Blackett, Bart. at his sole expense, and given by him to this Church, for the use of the public, reserving only the front seat to himself. At the same time the other galleries were erected either by the churchwardens or by private individuals. The canopies and pinnacles of the stalls were cut down to accommodate the galleries.
1742 Six bells, broken and in great disorder were re-cast into eight by Thomas Lester, of London.
1749 On the death of his father, Blackett succeeded to the baronetcy, and was styled Sir Walter Calverley Blackett. He lived in the Abbey House, at Hexham, and spent large sums on the house and grounds, and also contributed liberally to the repairs of the church.
1761 The Hexham Riot.
1777 Sir Walter Calverley Blackett died without issue and, under the entail created by the will of the former Sir William Blackett, the estates devolved upon Sir Thomas Wentworth, of Bretton Hall, Yorkshire. He also took the name Blackett
1792 Sir Thomas Wentworth Blackett died and Diana, the eldest of his three daughters, inerited his estates; she had married Thomas Richard Beaumont, esq., of Yorkshire in 1786.
1810 The lead was stripped from the Transept roofs and sold, and the roofs covered with Westmoreland slates.
1818 The Abbey House was seriously burned, the west wing or abbey-barn was removed, and the other portions were almost entirely rebuilt from the ground.
1821 The clock was installed in the tower with four dials 8 feet in diameter.
1828 On 9th September a part of the East wing fell with a tremendous crash, and broke through the roof of the building adjoining, called the Old School (formerly the eastern chapels) in which were deposited the town lamps, all of which were demolished.
1829 The upper portion of the east end was rebuilt, Mr John Dobson, of Newcastle, being the architect. The window was rebuilt according to the former design, except that the transom was omitted. The iron tie through the south wall of the south transept was inserted.
1830 The church was closed for repairs. Heating apparatus was first introduced, and a furnace constructed on the south side of the choir. The church was re-pewed throughout. The Frith Stool was moved and was placed in the north aisle but it was broken into two pieces.
1831 Diana Beaumont died and her estates passed to her eldest son, Thomas Wentworth Beaumont.
1832 Monday October 15th, when digging William Errington’s grave, 7 feet deep in Campy Hill, a vessel containing a large number of coins was discovered. Many coins were dispersed by the finders, but about 9000 were collected. See c845-c860, above.
1836 After almost 800 years Hexham was severed from the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Archbishop of York, and was placed under the Bishop of Durham.
1838 The Northumberland Midsummer Sessions were held at Hexham, for the first time, in the New Court House, at the Abbey; formerly the Moot Hall had been used. The police started to occupy other parts of the former monastic buildings.
1848 Thomas Wentworth Beaumont died and his son Wentworth Blackett Beaumont esq. succeeded to the property; he was created Baron Allendale in 1906.
1856 Houses, which had been built right against the Eastern Chapels (the Old School), were purhased and removed so that the Chapels could be restored. Unfortunately the funds were exhausted before the rebuilding could begin, and in any case the east end of the Abbey fell out, and the church had to be closed for two years so that its east end could be completely rebuilt.
1858 Wentworth Blackett Beaumont paid for the construction of Beaumont Street and repairs the east end of the Abbey. A wholesale ‘restoration’ was begun, which resulted in the destruction or removal of nearly all the ancient fittings of the choir. A permanent disgrace to Hexham. - Hodges 1888. Mr John Dobson turned the scale in favour of the destruction of the eastern aisle in order that he might remove his 1829 design and replace it with the present east end. A three-light window in the east bay of the south aisle of the choir was wantonly destroyed. The eastern chapels were finally swept away in July. The Leschman chantry was pulled to pieces and placed in the south transept; it was considerably shortened and some portions were destroyed
1859 The churchyard, which had long been overcrowded, was closed, and the new St Andrew’s cemetery was opened to the west of the town.
1860 An ugly and senseless compromise at raising the roof at the east end of the choir was made. A large warm-air drain, 6 feet wide and 6 feet deep, was dug through the length of the north transept, cutting through layers upon layers of coffins and skeletons. A small copper-gilt burial chalice was found beneath the floor of the transept.
1865 The 1804 Carlisle Cathedral organ by John Avery was sold to a Mr. Head, then bought by the Abbey 1857. It was enlarged and rebuilt on the Smithson screen by Nicholson of Newcastle in 1865.
1866 Canon Barker, the incumbent (resident priest) and Mercers’ Lecturer, assumes the title of Rector. This was possible because the previous year an Act of Parliament ruled that all incumbents who received corn tithes might call themselves Rector.
1869–70 The transepts were restored and the north doorway was closed up, as was that from the cloister to the south transept. The west wall of the tower crossing was taken out and a two-storey vestry annexe was built, one bay deep.
1878 On Easter Day the facing of the south wall of the transept fell out, and damaged the stonework of the vestibule to the chapter house.
1881 The Flavinus slab, elaborately carved on the upper side, was found laid in an ancient foundation running across the slype.
1882 The new diocese/bishopric of Newcastle was created.
1887 The roof bosses in the north transept were replaced by new ones, similar to those in the south transept.
1894 Wentworth Blackett Beaumont transferred the Hexham estate to Wentworth Canning Blackett Beaumont.
1898 Rev. E. Sidney Savage instituted as Rector on 14th August. He soon embarked on a programme of improvements.
1899 Joint report of C. C. Hodges and Temple Moore was read to a Vestry Meeting on 16th May about the completion of the nave and restoration of the choir to the pre-1858 layout. The Hexham Abbey Completion Fund was launched. The repair of the pinnacles of the North Transept was completed.
1900 The Abbey Institute in Gilesgate opened on 8th August.
1902 The Mercers’ Company and the patron, Lord Allendale, agree that the positions of Lecturer and Rector should merge into one and that the patronage should alternate between the Mercers’ Company and the Viscount Allendale.
1903 Northumberland County Council purchased the Court House, police buildings, etc., for £7,000, the whole covering an area of 6,260 square yards from the Lord of the Manor, Mr Beaumont.
1907 Wentworth Blackett Beaumont died; Wentworth Canning Blackett Beaumont became 2nd Baron (advanced to Viscount Allendale in 1911).
1907–08 The Nave is rebuilt on the same layout as it had been in the thirteenth century, with a single aisle on the north side. Also: Choir floor raised, Western panels on Smithson screen hinged to open, new altar screen/reredos, new organ case, choir stalls with misereres resited, new book boards and front benches with kneeling desks, Ogle and Leschman chantries replaced, sedilia restored, frith stool replaced, ancient pulpit/litany desk replaced, font removed to nave, new wind porches, pulpit and reading desk. The Nave was consecrated on 8th August 1908.
1910 Electric lighting was installed throughout the Abbey.
1917 A Roll-of-Honour shrine was presented by Mrs Henderson and erected outside the Abbey Institute in Gilesgate. See 1962, below.
1918 The great west window was installed; it had been designed and made by H. T. Bosdet, and was dedicated to Charles William Chipchase Henderson (1847-1914).
1923 Wentworth Canning Blackett Beaumont died; Wentworth Henry Canning Beaumont inherited (2nd Viscount Allendale).
1931 Fractures in the north choir arch, crypt, and tower were due to the June earthquake.
1936 Acca’s Cross was reconstructed and installed in the Abbey’s south transept, 10th July. For many years it had stood in the library of Durham Cathedral.
1946 A £13,000 scheme to restore parts of Hexham Abbey [the vestibule to the Chapter House] to provide a museum, was mooted.
1951–55 The vestibule to the Chapter House was rebuilt as St Cuthbert’s Chapel, rather than a museum.
1956 Wentworth Henry Canning Beaumont died; Wentworth Hubert Charles Beaumont inherited (3rd Viscount Allendale).
1958 The Police Station was in the buildings to the north of the Prior’s Garden, the former Prior’s House, until the new Police Station in Shaftoe Leazes was opened in September 1958.
1962 The Roll-of-Honour shrine was removed from Gilesgate before the Abbey Institute was sold to the Community Centre on 31st March. See 1917, above.
1974 The new organ, by Lawrence Phelps, was installed. His wife, Gillian Weir, gave the inaugural recital.
1975 Social Services moved into the Prior’s House and part of the Carnaby Buildings in 1974 or 1975.
1979 In the Nave a floating floor on steel girders was installed to keep weight off the crypt roof.
1984 An upper storey is built on the vestibule to the Chapter House, which had been re-roofed and used for a time as a St Cuthbert’s Chapel; it is now used as a Choir Song School (where the canons’ dormitory once was) and the chapel was made into the Abbey Gift Shop.
1987 The Museum in the north Chancel aisle was dismantled after about ten years. New doors were installed in the Slype.
1992 New choir stalls and a circular altar were provided for the Crossing.
1996 The new quiet chapel of St Wilfrid is created at the east end of the north chancel aisle.
1999–2000 Two new bells, Peace and Millenium, were cast by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry and installed, as a result of the £27,000 project to give Hexham Abbey and town 10 bells for 2000.
2002 Tynedale Magistrates’ Court re-opened its doors on Wednesday 1st May, after a £189,000 refit. Wentworth Hubert Charles Beaumont died; Wentworth Peter Ismay Beaumont inherited (4th Viscount Allendale).
2004 Rev. Graham Barham Usher appointed Rector and Lecturer by Viscount Allendale in June. On 21st December Lord Allendale and the Mercers' Company agreed that instead of Rectors and Lecturers being appointed by them alternately, future appointments would be made jointly by Lord Allendale and the Mercers
2014 25th March: Graham Usher, Rector and Lecturer of Hexham since 2004, was consecrated as Bishop of Dudley by the Archbishop of Canterbury in St Paul's Cathedral, London.
14th October: the new Visitor Centre opened, housing “The Big Story” exhibition and the new Refectory café.
2015 24th February: Service of institution and induction of The Revd Canon Dagmar Winter as Rector and Lecturer, the first woman to hold the post, and the first to be appointed jointly by Viscount Allendale and the Worshipful Company of Mercers.
Graphical Timeline