A Brief History

Hexham Abbey is one of the earliest seats of Christianity in England. Since its beginning, it has witnessed periods of immense turmoil and change, across the region and within the English Church itself. Many of these are reflected in the very fabric of the building we see today.

673-674 Queen Etheldreda grants Bishop Wilfrid the lands of Hexhamshire for a new Benedictine monastery.
678 Wilfrid’s church is completed.
681 Hexham Priory becomes a Cathedral. Trumbrith is consecrated first Bishop.
875 Viking raiders destroy parts of Hexham monastery.
1113 The Archbishop of York, Thomas II, re-forms the Church at Hexham as a 'Priory of Canons Regular of St Augustine', and endows it with land and properties.
1150 The Gateway and Precinct wall are erected.
1180-1250  A Chancel, Transepts and Tower are added to the Priory Church.
1296 Scottish raiders set fire to the Priory, destroying shrines, books and relics.
1297 William Wallace – ‘Braveheart’ – carries out another Scottish raid, and attacks the Priory again, destroying what remained after the 1296 raid.
1311  Robert Bruce ravages Tynedale, but stops short of slaughtering the priests at the Church.
1346  The Priory is sacked in another Scottish raid.
1404  The Church receives its first six bells.
1536  Dissolution of the Monasteries. At Hexham, the Chancel and Transepts survive because they will be needed by the Parish Church.
1538  The Abbey becomes Hexham Parish Church, replacing St Mary’s Church, south of the Market Place.
1725  The Saxon crypt, long since forgotten, is re-discovered by workmen digging foundations for a buttress to support the west side of the Tower.
1742  The Abbey’s bells are re-cast, the six old bells becoming eight new ones.
1821  The Tower Clock is installed, with four faces, each with a diameter of eight feet.
1828  Part of the east wing collapses. It is re-built the following year by Newcastle architect John Dobson.
1857  Restoration of the east wing begins.
1898  Reverend Sidney Savage becomes Rector and embarks on a series of improvements to the Abbey’s structure.
1907-8  The nave is re-built, to the same layout as that of the 13th century. It is consecrated on 8th August 1908.
1910  Electric lighting is installed.
1974  The Phelps Organ is installed.
1992  New choir stalls and a circular altar are added at the Crossing.
1996  St Wilfrid’s Chapel is created at the east end of the North Chancel aisle.
1999-2000  Two new bells – Peace and Millennium – are cast by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, to give Hexham and its Abbey 10 Bells for 2000.
2014  Restoration of the medieval monastery complex – the Priory Buildings - is completed. This work reunites all the buildings on the Abbey site for the first time since the Reformation, and creates The Big Story exhibition and the Refectory Café.