If you asked me at the start of last term what I knew of Brancepeth and Hexham my response would have been a resounding ‘not much!’ and now I find myself having too much to say for one blogpost. Brancepeth Castle and Hexham Abbey both have Anglo-Saxon origins – with Hexham Abbey even retaining its c.674 crypt – and from then on long and varied histories featuring many famous families and a fair share of notable incidents. Aside from their remarkable past they are both still actively used sites in their communities. Hexham Abbey retains its religious function while Brancepeth Castle, in stark contrast to the tales of murder and intrigue Dr. Susanna Phillippo recounted to us, was in the middle of a Christmas market at the time of our visit.
Hexham Abbey – a suitably ominous trapdoor to the Anglo-Saxon crypt
While the castle is perhaps the most immediate association with Brancepeth, there is also a small church to St. Brandon which dates back 900 years. Sadly, the original building and its impressive woodwork burnt down in 1998. It has since been rebuilt and it does retain its original stone features including an effigy of Robert Neville the ‘peacock of the North’ whose family owned Brancepeth Castle for nearly 400 years. It was confiscated from them in 1569 as a result of their involvement in the ‘Rising of the North’. While the church is open to the public, the castle is now a private residence but due to the Christmas market we were able to look around the interior.
Inside Brancepeth Castle – a busy Christmas market!
Hexham also has a number of interesting buildings including the Old Gaol and the Moot Hall. The undisputed highlight however is Hexham Abbey, a stunning building which dominates the town centre. It is worth visiting for aesthetic reasons alone! Inside there are many points of interest which speak to its extensive history. Beside the ‘Night Stairs’ (c. 13th century in origin) which once led to the canons’ dormitories sits a Roman gravestone to the standard-bearer Flavinus which was discovered in the foundations of the cloister in the 19th century. While in the onsite museum there is a series of remarkable wooden 16th century ‘Passion Paintings’ whose vibrant colours are still visible today. These are just a few of the remarkable items viewable at the abbey.
A roman cavalryman and a unfortunate ‘barbarian’
So far, the trip series has really given me an appreciation for the rich history of Northumbria. My only real association with Newcastle before moving here was Hadrian’s Wall, but as I have seen and learnt there is so much more than that to explore! Hexham and Brancepeth are both a short trip from Newcastle city centre and are easily accessible by public transport.