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Hexham Moot Hall and Old Gaol

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
The Tower Towers; Manor Office; Archbishops Precinct; Hexham Castle; Exham

In the civil parish of Hexham.
In the historic county of Northumberland.
Modern Authority of Northumberland.
1974 county of Northumberland.
Medieval County of Northumberland.

OS Map Grid Reference: NY93646411
Latitude 54.97156° Longitude -2.10078°

Hexham Moot Hall and Old Gaol has been described as a certain Masonry Castle, and also as a certain Palace.

There are major building remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.
This is a Grade 1 listed building protected by law*.


The date of the Moot Hall, which stands in the Market Place is uncertain. A document of 1355 refers to the chamber of the bailiff and the hall of pleas as being in a ruinous condition and from this it would seem that a building for the transaction of manorial business had been in existence long before 1355. The building may have been a fortified structure similar to that now existing. The same document ordered that the building be repaired but it is not known if the old structure was patched up or the present building erected.
Only one tower at Hexham is mentioned in a list of towers made in 1415 but there is nothing to indicate whether this refers to the Moot Hall or the Goal. A document of 1439 refers to the Moot Hall as a new tower, but it may have been several years old at that date. The only positive deduction that can be drawn is that the building was erected at some time between 1355 and 1439. Architecturally it cannot be much earlier than the closing years of the 14th century. A survey of 1552 refers to both towers as being in decay, but in 1608 the Moot Hall was in good repair. During the Scotch war of 1640 it was suggested that the two towers be garrisoned with 150 musketeers. Used as a court house until 1838 the Moot Hall is the property of the lord of the manor.
The building is of three storeys and includes a covered gateway, with three pairs of gates. It was intended to serve the various functions of gateway, justice hall and a dwelling for the seneschal or bailiff (Hinds 1896)
The gateway of the Moot Hall gives access to the area known as Hall Gate or Hall Garth. This area, or bailey, around the Gaol was enclosed by a precinct wall or enceinte. Some ancient masonry is still to be seen in the lower part of the wall of the house at the angle of the Market Place and Hall Stile Bank, and is without a doubt a portion of this wall 'still in situ' (Hodges and Gibson 1919)
The Moot Hall is in good condition and used to house the Brough Library.
The house at the angle of Market Place and Hall Stile Bank is now completely demolished and no trace of any masonry that could be associated with a precinct wall of the outer enclosure or bailey remains.
Projecting from the east wall of the Moot Hall, and bonded to it, is a fragment of walling, possibly part of the precinct wall referred to by Hodges and Gibson. The fragment is too small for any definite conclusions to be drawn regarding its purpose. The extent of any outer enclosure or bailey that may have existed could not be ascertained (F1 EG 17-MAY-1956).
The Moot Hall. Grade I. Late 14th/early 15th century. T-shaped plan. Four storey tower gate and three storey square strongly built annexe. Rough ashlar. Tower has two storey pointed recess on each side with portcullis provision and two-light windows with cusped heads. Vaulted thoroughfare on ground floor. Stair windows to west, stair windows and one window to east. Third floor consists of small rectangular blocks, with chapel to east. Annexe has machicolated parapet and one window on each side, two-light windows with cusped head. East side has 17th century exterior staircase to first floor and doorway with pointed arch. To right of doorway is garderobe projection rising to the parapet. Interior: Brough Library on first floor. Second floor ruinous and contains the old town stocks. Ground floor has segmental barrel vault. AM. (Listed Building Report).
Moot Hall was built as a tower house with two turreted wings. Included in 1415 castle list. Was property of Archbishops of York. Ground floor room has stone tunnel vault; east tower contains newel and small rooms. Garderobe preserved; rest altered (Milner 1976).
Area to west of Moot Hall excavated to prove existence of a moat between it and the Priory - only a build up of post-medieval levels was found. Area permanently filled in (Med. Arch. 1966).
Excavation of Moot Hall garden (NY 937641). Site previously occupied by a building dating from at least the 1750's - no date found from documentary search. Remains of three basement walls found, a paved floor and a wooden floor. Four clay pipes found (Sockett 1967).
Gate tower or Moot Hall, a tower which may have formed a castle with the Manor Offices if in medieval times they were connected by a curtain wall. Moot Hall is late 14th or early 15th century. T-shaped in plan. Moot Hall made of stone from the bed of the River Tyne (Long 1967).
The Moot Hall consists of a rectangular three storeyed block aligned north-south, with a vaulted east-west gate passage at its southern end; at each end of the gate passage is a taller tower, producing an overall plan like an inverted letter 'T'. The building is built of squared blocks of sandstone, its architectural features (where original) - several windows with cusped heads, and four-centred arches - would all tie in with an early 15th century date.
At basement level there is a vaulted chamber to the north of the entrance passage, from which a newel stair in the south east tower rises the full height of the building. There is also a doorway into the basement from a chamber beneath an external stair on the east of the building, the principal access to the upper floors. This stair and the chamber beneath, are largely late 17th or early 18th century in date, but the doorway into the main basement, a two-centred arch, is earlier in character than any other feature in the building; this and some walling on the north side of the stair, appears to survive from an earlier medieval structure.
The external stair gives access to the former courtroom, now the Border Library, which has a raised dais over the gate passage. All features at this level are heavily restored. The principal access to the second floor, the bailiff's hall, is by a modern timber stair, perhaps replacing an earlier one.
The second floor hall has a variety of interesting features including a heavily restored mural fireplace on the west, a possible buffet at the north west corner, a garderobe at the north east corner, and chambers in the two towers at the south end; which formerly had machicolations in their floors, opening behind the high arches spanning the ends of the gate passage. The roof structure of the hall is of some interest, heavy tie beams carrying both ridge and purlins; at the northern corners are corbelled out projections that may have originally carried some form of platforms or angle turrets.
The south west tower had a second chamber above the first, now thrown into it, and a third reached from the flat roof of the main block; the roof level chambers in both towers may have been used by watchmen. The chambers in the south east tower are served by the newel stair; that above the main hall has clearly had some special status, being equipped with a two-light window looking down into the hall, and a piscina-like feature in the south wall.
The tower has a machicolated parapet (largely 20th century restoration on the old corbels) (Ryder 1994-5).
Descheduled on 16th July 1998. Formerly ND251 (Letter, English Heritage, 16-Jul-1998).
Analysis on 19 samples taken from timbers of the roof of the Moot Hall resulted in the construction of two site sequences. Site sequence HEXBSQ01 contains ten samples and spans the period AD1244-1378. Two of these samples are from timbers felled in c.AD1379, with the other eight having an estimated felling date range also consistent with this felling. Seven of these samples come from timbers with obvious signs of reuse. Site sequence HEXBSQ02 contains eight samples and spans the period AD1341-1539. One of these samples is from a timber felled in AD1539, with it likely that the other seven were also felled at this time. This roof was previously thought to date to c.AD1400. Tree-ring analysis has shown it to be constructed with timber felled in AD1539 but incorporating a large amount of reused timber from c.AD1379, possibly from the original roof (Arnold et al 2004). (Northumberland HER)
The building now known as the Manor Office was formerly the gaol the date of which may be almost exactly ascertained by two entries in the registers at York. The first of these, dated June 8th 1330, orders that a gaol should be built. The building had evidently been completed by Jan 19th 1332, the date of an order to furnish the gaol with chains, manacles etc. Only one tower at Hexham is mentioned in a list dated 1415 and there is nothing to indicate whether this refers to the gaol or the Moot Hall.
A survey of 1552 refers to both towers as being in decay and in 1608 the gaol is described as being in 'great ruin'. During the Scotch war in 1640 it was suggested that the two towers be garrisoned with 150 musketeers. The building, which was used as a gaol until 1824, is the property of the lord of the manor.
The gaol is constructed almost entirely of re-used material, chiefly of Roman dressing, probably from the station at Corbridge. An early plan, now in the British Museum, shows the internal arrangements before the 19th century alterations were carried out.
The building is of three storeys with a continuous machiolated parapet. The only original windows are on the top floor (Hinds 1896).
The gaol was used for the transactions of all business anciently connected with the Regality and Manor of Hexham, after this had passed out of the possession of the Archbishops, and so acquired the name of the Manor Office.
The chief prisons were in the second storey, the top floor being used for the gaoler's lodging.
The building is the only medieval gaol, built solely for that purpose and remaining entire in England (Hodges and Gibson 1919).
The Manor Office. Grade 1. Circa 1330 for Archbishop Melton of York. Built as a gaol, which it remained until mid 19th century. Three storey rectangular building with set-offs to each floor. Range of 64 large triple roll corbels for former machicolations. Roof at present leaded. Built partly of Roman dressed stones. Original windows small, trefoil headed with bars. Later insertions are three- or four-light lancets, two to east, one to north and one to south. Central entrance to west with recent pointed arch; former entrance to partly dismantled newel stair to left now blocked and replaced by a two-light trefoil headed window. Three windows on first floor, above entrance, later insertions two-light with mullions.
Interior considerably altered by addition of axial east-west staircase in 19th century. Ground floor vaulted. A.M.
The Manor Office, together with Nos 15 to 19 (consec), Hall Bank House, Bankhead and Manor Cottage and Archway form a group of which Nos 15 and 16 Hallgate are of local interest (Listed Building Report).
Hexham Prison. Built 1330-2 as a tower with two tunnel-vaulted basement rooms. The rooms above are later, the garderobe with chute being the only original part remaining. The top is corbelled out for machicolation - now missing (Milner 1976).
Prison or Manor Offices may have formed a castle with the Moot Hall if in medieval times they were connected by a curtain wall. The tower mentioned in 1415 must be the Manor Office as the Moot Hall was ruinous (Long 1967).
The Old Gaol is a rectangular three storeyed tower c.18m by 11m externally with walls 2.3m thick at ground level, of roughly coursed and roughly squared stone, with occasional courses of larger blocks (evidently reused material).
Entry is by a lobby on the west with an adjacent newel stair; the present doorways are largely restoration and the lower part of the stair has been removed. The basement consisted of two vaulted chambers with a central two centred doorway (now blocked) in the dividing wall; half of the vault of the northern chamber has been cut away to allow the insertion of the present 19th century stair. The northern chamber is provided with a garderobe and a small window in the north wall. In the centre of the floor of each chamber is a trapdoor dropping into a dungeon below, of approximately the same size, also barrel vaulted.
At first floor level are several 19th century partitions; two-light windows (one in the east wall, now blocked, has trefoiled heads, and is probably contemporary with the building) and the remains of a large fireplace imply relatively comfortable accommodation. The second floor was divided into a suite of rooms, probably the gaoler's lodgings; two fireplaces and a pair of garderobes survive. The building was topped by a machicolated parapet; this has been destroyed although its corbels survive (Ryder 1994-5). (Northumberland HER)

Traditionally the courtyard between the two towers was enclosed by a strong wall to make a castle and Gatehouse considers this to be one castle not two towers as it is often described. Palace of the Archbishop of York and administrative centre of his lordship of Hexhamshire.
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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:21:27

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