Border Reivers at Hexham Gaol
Hexham Gaol opened in 1333, and closed in the 1820s. Between those times it held many people of different backgrounds with different stories as to how they ended up in there. Over the years it has held the prisoners of the Archbishop of York, the English March Wardens, and the local and regional courts. Most of the records of those stories have been lost over the years, but the building where they were locked up is here in Hexham as both a modern museum and a survival from the past, representing early attempts to provide justice, and interpret what that meant at any particular time.
Our aims as a member of Museums & Archives Northumberland are to connect people to their heritage and culture in surprising, immersive and memorable ways, inspiring personal pride and a deeper sense of understanding and belonging. Telling personal stories in a unique building built for a particular purpose is a very strong way of achieving this, the foundation of our work.
Beyond the Borders has given us an opportunity to benefit from the experiences of people who know what it is like to be imprisoned. They have looked into the past of the Gaol at a particular point in time, with skilled support and advice. The results of their work are now being shared more widely with our visitors.
The Border Reivers stare at us across time, through the surviving records, ballads, buildings and objects. They were a hard people, living during hard and occasionally brutal times. Some of their actions are shocking to us; others show them to have been as human as we are. Family loyalties were so important, with good and bad results; support through hard times, but also blood feuds running for many years, meaning people innocent of the first blow suffered and died. The language of the time survives into our modern world – bereaved, blackmail – words that alone start to open the window on their world.
Beyond the Borders has opened that window wider, and the results will allow our visitors to the Gaol to experience vividly the lives, experiences and thoughts of people from the time of the Reivers.