Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

A Terrible, Bloody, Confrontation in the Market Place

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

A Terrible, Bloody, Confrontation in the Market Place

Article excerpt


VETERAN filmmaker Mike Leigh is currently making a film about the notorious Peterloo massacre in time for the 200th anniversary in 2019.

Now, as atrocities go, St Peter's Fields was pretty dire but can't actually compare to what happened here in Hexham Market Place nearly 60 years earlier.

"Our Sovereign Lord the King chargeth and commandeth all persons being assembled immediately to disperse themselves and peaceably depart to their habitations, or to their lawful business, upon the pains contained in the Act made in the first year of King George for preventing tumults and riotous assemblies."

On March 9, 1761, a crowd, perhaps 5,000-strong, crammed into the square, would have heard those ominous words of the Riot Act marking a seismic shift from the civil power to the military.

Hexham was then a thriving market town - the 'shire' a Regality of the Archbishopric of York and the manor was in the hands of Sir Walter Blackett of Wallington, county magistrates held their quarter sessions in the Moot Hall. The place was home to, say, 3,000 people with thousands more in mining settlements nearby. Thirsty folk - the town had over a score of pubs!

The Market Place was then roughly half the size of a football pitch hemmed in by houses in front of the Moot Hall and Abbey, (now only 27/28 Market Steads is a Georgian survivor).

Chief magistrate Lancelot Allgood's town house stood on the south side - though he preferred the more congenial Nunwick Hall.

Bother began in Northumberland when the government, hard pressed by the drain of the Seven Years War, re-introduced militia service.

This was decidedly unpopular, Dad's Army was a drag but the real fear was men might be sent abroad. In 1758 there were riots, four men were tried at York Assizes and one executed.

Local Constables were tasked to draw up lists of eligible men. In February 1761, disturbances sparked at Gateshead and the bench backed down. More riots at Morpeth (March 2) and Belford (March 5) followed.

The night before, Hexham's Magistrates lodged at the Globe on Inn Battle Hill: Sir Robert Bewick of Close House, George Delaval, Christopher Reed of Chipchase and, Ralph Heron. …

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