since I last spent much time in Hexham, so time that I corrected that omission. Other than a fleeting visit to a hotel there to take part in a knockout quiz some time in the 90’s I hadn’t been since my teenage years.
And so for the uninitiated let me give you a flavour of Hexham. It is a town with a long history, some unusual place names, winding streets and alleys, an architectural gem and was for many years the seat of that political rarity, a Liberal MP (Alan Beith). It’s a Northumbrian market town and fairly affluent, and like Berwick, was a regular participant in the wars between England and Scotland.
Perhaps it’s unsurprising that the town has a long military history evidenced by the commemoration of contrasting conflicts as experienced by Roman invader, a casualty of the Boer War, and the Northumberland Fusiliers.
It’s not the martial that brought me here though, it was the buildings, and lets begin with one of those strange place names; Priestpopple. On this road are old hotels, imposing banks, a poet’s birthplace, and the remnants of more prosaic enterprises, each with a historic story to tell no doubt.
One of the banks in particular caught my eye. The affluence of the banking industry was once displayed not in the size of the bonuses they awarded their senior figures, but in the buildings where they plied their trade. Buildings that personified stability and status, but which had become white elephants by the end of the 20th century as the nature of banking changed. Barclays and Lloyds still maintain such structures on Priestpopple, but it is the HSBC building that takes the prize for me. A triangular “island” built in the late 19th century it displays a style which would not have been out of place 300 years earlier. Much of the Renaissance decoration seems to have been designed to frame signage which is no longer there, but at one end a red sandstone frieze is unmistakeable evidence that this is a bank, for amongst the reclining putti the decoration incorporates coinage designs of its day.
Elsewhere in the town there are plenty of other examples of buildings that evoke earlier times some of which will feature in future posts here, but of them all my favourite had to be The Grapes (check out the ornate gable), and because I was driving I didn’t even venture in!