Friday, 8 January 2021

Hexham Riot






‘The Market Place was a tragic sight. Bodies of the dead and wounded lay scattered. The ground was stained with blood and the cries of the wounded were pitiful. The following day it rained, washing away the traces.’



Wash away the day,
wash the pain away,
sweep the remains of yesterday
into the racing river.
Beat the Dead March,

bang the old drum,
heal Hexham’s bust bones
and cry me a river,
cry the Water of Tyne.
Wash away the day
and wash this pain away.





With blood gushing out of his boot tops,
a well-dressed man
leaves town
along Priestpopple.
Thirteen men lie inside the Abbey,
not owned.
Numbers are found dead upon the roads.
Big with child, Sarah Carter shot,
the musket ball found in the child’s belly.
Thrice into a man’s body
lying at James Charlton’s shop door
it’s said they ran theIr bayonets;
and a pitman dead,
a weaver:
all those broken days of history,
all the slain hours in our diaries.
Sound the Abbey’s bells!
Let them toll the severed minutes.
the end of torture.
Let them gush
with rejoicing
for more peaceful times.




These streets,
in this Heart of All England,
are swept clean of blood.
But the stains still soak our books.
Death upon death,
we turn the pages;
in between the lines,
we read about the screams,
time’s bullets
tearing flesh away.
There is terror lurking in this Market Place,
just scrape away the skin
and, deep down,
there’s a Riot:
a commotion boiling
a terrible turbulence,
a throbbing pain.
It is a Riot of gore,
a torrential downpour
of weeping:
a seeping sore
that is Hexham’s History.


(Poems featured in Hexham Local History Society Newsletter Autumn 2011)



by D.W. Smith


Known as Bloody Monday, the Hexham Riot, which broke out on March 9th 1761, was the outcome of an attempt to introduce a system of balloting for the militia. Balloting met with opposition throughout the north of England but it was in Hexhamshire that feelings ran highest. The local magistrates, well aware of this, had taken the precaution of bringing a detachment of the North Yorkshire Militia into the town of Hexham. Drawn up in the square in front of the Moot Hall, these soldiers only served to increase the fury of the mob that gathered on the day of the ballot. After almost four hours of argument between ringleaders and magistrates, the Riot Act was read.

The mob broke loose and advanced with staves and clubs upon the charged bayonets. Two soldiers were shot by their own weapons and the magistrates, in panic ordered general fire. By the time the firing ceased, the mob had fled through the streets, leaving only dead and severely wounded - a sight that seemed to move even the soldiers. Various figures have been advanced for these fatalities - one source gives 45 dead and 300 wounded, but it is likely that the figure was much higher, for large numbers of the wounded escaped to their own locality and were naturally unwilling to acknowledge their part in the affray. However, with careful investigation, several can be found who probably died from wounds in those days of rudimentary surgery. Joseph Ridley's Hexham Chronicle gives a list of dead and wounded, but it is by no means complete. For example, Dorothy, wife of William Armstrong of Stamfordham, died four days later; Charles Shipley of Gunnerton died a month later - two of his cousins, the Coulsons of Gunnerton, were also involved. Thomas Richardson of Corbridge had been married barely a month before being shot. Many of the dead were claimed by relatives - John Appleby, aged 74, of West Matfen, my own kinsman, was buried at Stamfordham on the 12th. John Leighton, buried at Bywell, was only 21.