Country meets town in the Tyne Valley
PUBLISHED: 01:15 02 April 2010 | UPDATED: 17:00 20 February 2013
The meeting of North and South Tyne tells a tale of two sides to the towns of Hexham and Corbridge, as David Taylor discovers
Follow the path west from Tyne Green Park in Hexham to Warden, and you will eventually reach the Meeting of the Waters. This is the place where the South Tyne joins the North Tyne to create the River Tyne and the start of the valley that leads ultimately to Newcastle, Gateshead and on to the sea.
The South Tyne begins life in the Pennine Hills on Alston Moor, near the source of both the Wear and the Tees. The origin of the North Tyne can be found in the Scottish Borders, and from there the river flows south through Kielder Forest before reaching Warden.
Its fitting that the South Tyne should start near two rivers also connected to industry and urbanisation and that the North Tyne should have more bucolic associations, for Hexham and other nearby towns in this stretch of the Tyne Valley have similar divisions in their individual characters.
Industry has long had a place in Hexham. Pub names such as the Tanners Arms honour a period from the middle-ages to the end of the 19th century when the production of leather gloves - or Hexham Tans - was an important part of the economy of the town. This helped Hexham to expand rapidly in the 17th and 18th centuries, and many of the towns civic amenities, such as the Sele park, have their origin during this period.
Hexham Farmers' Market
The Farmers Market is now well established in the town. It is held every second and fourth Saturday of the month from 9am until 1.30pm in Hexham market square. The market offers the chance for a diverse range of producers to sell their goods directly to consumers, cutting out any middlemen. All the stallholders come from within a 50-mile radius of Hexham so that shoppers can be guaranteed that the produce is local.
Market days are usually well-attended and lively events and it is not uncommon for street performers to entertain while people shop. The highlight of the year has to the Christmas market, when the regular stallholders are joined by a wide variety of craft and seasonal displays, with Beaumont Street being closed to traffic for the occasion.
To find out more about the Farmers Market visit the website: www.hexhamfarmersmarket.co.uk
The glove industry did not survive to the start of the 20th century, but other sources of income soon took its place. Today Hexham boasts the Egger plant on its eastern border. The plant manufactures chipboard from wood sourced locally, and after investment of 150 million Euros in 2006 is as advanced as any in Western Europe.
The downside of urban life is crime and disorder and Hexham has seen its share of both in the past. In the centre of the town not five minutes walk from Hexham Abbey is the Old Jaill. Built in 1330, it is the oldest purpose-built jail in England. Notable events such as the jailbreak of 1538 by the Roman Catholic priest, Robert More, are still commemorated to this day.
The most infamous event in Hexhams past is the riot of March 9, 1761. Protesting at the implementation of balloting for the militia, a mob charged a detachment of North Yorkshire militia in the market place in front of the Moot Hall. It is estimated in the ensuing chaos that 45 people died and 300 were wounded. A plaque commemorating the event was unveiled with much ceremony in 2004.
Four miles further east along the Tyne is Corbridge. Not as large as its neighbour, youd be forgiven for thinking that industry and urbanisation have not left their mark on the town. And yet, Corbridge has been an important crossing point on the Tyne for over 2000 years. The current road bridge dates from 1674 and was once the point where the A68 to Scotland crossed the Tyne.
The bridge encouraged trade and the market cross in the centre of the town was once the hub around which this commerce turned. The riches that Corbridge accumulated led to frequent attacks by border raiders in the Reiver period. The 14th century fortified Vicars Pele opposite the market place is testament to a time when the area was more lawless than it is now.
A short distance outside the centre of Corbridge are the 15m high remains of the Corbridge Fire Brick and Sanitary Tube Works, a bottle kiln in use during the 19th century. Built to manufacture bricks, tiles and chimney pots, the kiln is now surrounded by an English country garden, the countryside reclaiming the industrial landscape.
This is the rural side of the Tyne Valley near Hexham and Corbridge, an area where pockets of wildlife-rich woodland nestle between productive farm fields. And in these fields? Anything and everything from staples such as wheat to more exotic fare like asparagus. Most noticeable of all is the livestock, such as the native and very hardy Cheviot sheep.
This proximity to farmland and the ready access to skins and leather, was the main reason that glove manufacturing thrived in Hexham when it did.
Farming is still an important part of the Tyne Valley story today. Hexham has a thriving, purpose-built livestock market at Tyne Green and the annual County Show at Corbridge would lose much of its character without the sheep and cattle breed events.
What ultimately caused the extinction of the Hexham glove trade and the Corbridge brick works was competition from the industrial powerhouses of Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesbrough - three cities at the mouths of the Tyne, Wear and Tees respectively. And yet, the entrepreneurial spirit associated with these industries still lives on in events like the farmers market. The scale of enterprise may be smaller but the ambition and sense of purpose is just as great.