A group of three adjoining public parks comprising the Sele, the Abbey Grounds, and Hexham House Grounds. The Sele was first opened to the public in 1753 and was given into public ownership in 1908. The Abbey Grounds, remodelled in the late C18/early C19 as the grounds to Abbey House, were purchased and laid out as a public park in 1911. The grounds of the early C18 Hexham House were purchased and laid out as a public park in 1928.
A church was first built on the site of Hexham Abbey in AD 674 by Wilfrid on land given by Queen Etheldreda of Northumberland and the site was re-founded in 1113 as a priory of Augustinian canons. In 1215 the priory was given 3.5 acres and 16 perches (c 1.5ha) of land on the Sele (or Seal) which remained in the ownership of the church until the Dissolution in 1537. In 1753 the owner of the Hexham estate, Sir Walter Blackett, opened the Sele to the public. Footpaths were laid out and trees planted and by the early C19 it was 'the mall of the fashionables, the privileged playground of the lower classes, and the place of amusement for all' (Wright 1823). During the C19 the Sele continued in public use under a leasing agreement and by the late C19 a northern part of the ground had been developed as a school. In 1908 the then owner, Lord Allendale, gifted the land to Hexham Urban District Council.
Abbey House, to the south-west of and adjacent to the Abbey and also part of the Hexham estate, is shown in a Grimm drawing of c 1778 with rough pasture and a narrow valley to the west (Hinds 1896). In 1792 the Hexham estate was inherited by Colonel T R Beaumont who made major changes to the house and grounds. In 1823 the ground to the west of the Abbey was described as 'a little ornamental foreground bounded by an invisible fence or haha! [sic] from the Seal' (Wright 1823). A plan by Wood of 1826 shows the L-shaped 'Abbey Ground' laid out with an approach drive from Battle Hill to the south which also forms part of a tree-lined circuit drive in the south of the grounds. A narrow belt of trees appears to mark the western boundary of the grounds with the Sele, on the line of the Halgut Burn which is culverted to the north. By 1865 (OS) the Abbey Grounds are indicated as extending further to the west, the boundary with the Sele marked by a wide north/south path, the Sele Walk. In c 1869 the grounds were reduced with the construction of Beaumont Street (Local History Newsletter 2000) across the south-east corner and on the 1896 OS map the southern approach drive is no longer shown. In 1911 the grounds were purchased by Hexham Council, with financial assistance from Alderman T W Benson, for use as a public park.
Hexham House, to the north of the Abbey Grounds, was built in 1723 and its grounds incorporate a section of the Halgut Burn. The 1826 Wood plan indicates wooded grounds laid out with a perimeter walk divided by a serpentine path. The 1860 OS map shows a similar layout, with areas of dense shrubbery, the whole enclosed within a boundary wall. Hexham House and its grounds was purchased by Hexham Council in 1928 and the grounds opened to the public. Restoration work and new planting were carried out in 1999?2001.
The three parts of the Hexham parks, Sele, Abbey Grounds, and Hexham House Grounds remain (2002) in use as public parks and in the ownership of Tynedale Council. Hexham House is in use as council offices.
LOCATION, AREA, BOUNDARIES, LANDFORM, SETTING
The parks lie in the centre of Hexham town, to the west of Hexham Abbey (listed grade I). The total area of the parks is c 8.45ha comprising the Sele land of c 5.6ha, the Abbey Grounds of c 2ha, and Hexham House Grounds of 0.85ha.
The eastern boundary of the Sele with the Abbey Grounds is marked by a low stone wall to the east of the Sele Walk. The southern boundary of the Sele is marked by a high early C19 stone wall (listed grade II) with gated entrances from the adjoining gardens of residential properties on Hencotes. To the west the Sele is bounded by the Cockshaw Burn running from south to north at the base of the steep slope of Sele Bank with C20 housing beyond. To the north the Sele adjoins a school with the boundary generally marked by a low stone wall.
To the north-east the Abbey Grounds are bounded by the Claustral Buildings of the former Priory of St Andrew (listed grade I), now incorporated into Hexham Court House and Hexham House Clinic. To the north of the Court House the boundary is marked by a stone wall and to the south by low late C20 railings and shrubs. To the east the Abbey Grounds are bounded by Beaumont Street and to the south by Hencotes (formerly Battle Hill) with, at the south-west corner, St Aidan's church inset. The Beaumont Street boundary is generally marked by C20 railings sited at street level on the level top of a low embankment running parallel with the boundary and planted with a line of trees. A late C19 photograph shows this boundary marked by a low stone wall erected in 1869 by W B Beaumont (Local History Newsletter 2000). To the north of the eastern, Beaumont Street boundary a section of c 6m length, marked by a low stone wall, is stepped into the grounds to form a C20 seating area around a small circular raised bed adjacent to the pavement. The southern boundary is marked to the east by a low hedge at the head of a low embankment running east/west c 8m north of the road while to the west the road and church boundary is marked by a low stone wall.
To the north the Abbey Grounds are separated from Hexham House Grounds by Cowgarth, a narrow road bounded to north and south by low stone walls. The wall to Hexham House Grounds returns along the western boundary with a lane leading to the adjoining school. The elevation of these walls facing onto the Hexham House Grounds is in brick. At the south-west corner of the grounds, a higher crenellated, c 7m length of the wall boundary to Cowgarth is a mid C19 addition to the C13 bridge over Halgut Burn (listed grade II*). At the south-east corner of Hexham House Grounds, Cowgarth returns north to a junction with Gilesgate which adjoins the grounds to the north. This eastern boundary is marked by a high stone wall and, to the north, the c 1160 former priory gatehouse known as St Wilfrid's Gateway (listed grade I). The two-storey stone Hexham House is sited on the northern boundary of the grounds. To the south-east of the House the northern boundary with Gilesgate is marked by a mid to late C19 c 3.6m high stone wall. Five openings in this wall, four infilled with railings and one blocked, are similar to window openings in the adjoining Hexham House.
The Hexham Parks, with the Abbey and town centre, are sited on a bluff on the south bank of the River Tyne. The parks generally occupy undulating ground with, in the west of Hexham House Grounds and the south-west of the Abbey Grounds, the Halgut Burn running from south to north in a small valley. In the north of the Abbey Grounds the Burn is culverted. In the centre of the Sele the ground rises dramatically with c 10m high embankments leading up to a southern plateau. To the west of the Sele the ground falls steeply along the eastern valley side of Cockshaw Burn. From the high ground of the Sele there are distant views to the high ridge line of Hadrian's Wall running east/west c 5.5km to the north, and to the south towards Plover's Hill, c 1.5km distant. There are also distant views to the north from a viewpoint in the north-west corner of Hexham House Grounds. From the high ground of the Sele there are also views over the lower ground of the parks and town with the Abbey, to the east, a dominant feature, as it is throughout the parks. The Market Place and medieval town centre is situated immediately to the east of the Abbey and Church Flags, a landscaped graveyard area to the north. To the east side of Beaumont Street late C19 civic and commercial buildings provide a strong outer line of enclosure to Abbey Grounds.
ENTRANCES AND APPROACHES
The principal entrance to the Sele is from Hencotes, at the south-east corner. It is marked by a carriage entrance with ornate cast-iron gates between stone piers surmounted with late C20 globe lights on early C20 iron supports, flanked by railings with curved top detail adjoining the piers and two cast-iron pedestrian gates. A bronze plaque on the west pier records that the gates commemorate the gift of the Sele to Hexham by Lord Allendale in 1908. The entrance leads north, through a small doctors' surgery car park, to the Sele Walk. At the north end of Sele Walk there is access into the north-east corner of the Sele from Cowgarth. From this entrance a cul-de-sac roadway, serving the adjoining school, leads west-north-west adjacent to the northern boundary of the Sele. There are two further entrances into the Sele: at the north-west corner from Shaftoe Crescent and at the south-west corner from Hencotes.
The principal entrance to Abbey Grounds is at the south-east corner from the junction of Beaumont Street and Battle Hill. It is marked by a carriage entrance, set back from the road at the centre of a semicircle, and two pedestrian entrances, all with ornate cast-iron gates between stone piers flanked by railings and lower stone piers (the whole listed grade II). Two bronze plaques to the carriage entrance piers record that the gates were erected in 1912 by T W Benson in memory of his brother. Some 150m to the north, a further entrance from Beaumont Street is set back from the road at the centre of a semicircle and is marked by a pair of cast-iron gates below a pedimented stone arch supported on rusticated piers (listed grade II*). The archway is flanked by railings set on low curved stone walls terminating at stone piers surmounted by ornate wrought-iron lighting standards. The late C17 or early C18 archway was moved to this site from the White Hart Inn in Fore Street, Hexham in 1919 to serve as a war memorial to the Northumberland Fusiliers. There are three further entrances into the Abbey Grounds: one at the north-east corner from Cowgarth is set back from the road and marked by a pair of round stone piers; the others are from Sele Walk, one at the south-west corner of Abbey Grounds marked by octagonal stone piers and a late C20 metal gate and the second, 140m to the north, unmarked.
The principal entrance to Hexham House Grounds is from Gilesgate to the north and is sited 8m to the east of Hexham House. It is marked by a carriage entrance with mid to late C19 cast-iron gates set within an archway in the stone boundary wall (listed grade II). There are three further pedestrian entrances into Hexham House Grounds from Cowgarth but one, from the former priory gatehouse adjoining the north-east corner of the grounds, is now (2002) overgrown and disused. The other entrances are situated at the south-east and south-west corners of the grounds, the former set in the high stone boundary wall with an iron gate and the latter in the low boundary wall with a mild steel gate.
Hexham House (listed grade II*) is situated on Gilesgate to the north of its grounds. It is a three-storey building dating from 1773 with two-storey flanking wings, one dating from c 1840, the whole in stone with sash windows and a small central porch. Hexham House forms a group with other properties on Gilesgate and with the adjoining boundary wall (listed grade II) to the east. It forms a dominant feature from both its own grounds and in northern views from the Abbey Grounds.
GARDENS AND PLEASURE GROUNDS
From the principal entrance of the Sele a wide path, the Sele Walk, leads c 190m northwards to the north-east corner of the grounds while a steep secondary path leads c 70m to the north-west, up a steep grassed slope, to the southern high plateau where it joins a circuit path enclosing the central area of the Sele. A part of this circuit comprises the roadway adjacent to the school boundary to the north and the northern 70m of Sele Walk. To the west the circuit path runs at the sloping head of Sele Bank with, c 230m north-west of the principal entrance, two adjoining long flights of steps leading down to the lower, northern area of the Sele. The Sele Walk and circuit path are lined with mature trees around the grassed central open ground. The path layout is in accordance with that indicated on the 1826 Wood plan which also shows four seats adjacent to the circuit path.
To the west the steep slope of Sele Bank is wooded with open areas adjoining the Cockshaw Burn along the western boundary. An informal path follows the line of the Burn at the base of the slope, linking to the circuit path c 340m north-west of the principal entrance and at the south-west and north-east corners of the Sele grounds. Some 300m north-north-west of the principal entrance is situated the 'Seal Well', dating from at least 1823; now buried within undergrowth, it has a stone housing and cast-iron access hatch (Tynedale Council 1997). Adjacent to the north boundary of the Sele, c 250m north of the principal entrance, is sited a cast-iron drinking fountain (listed grade II) with an ornate dome on four pillars. It dates from c 1912 and is by MacFarlanes of Glasgow. In the north-east of the Sele an area of children's play equipment is enclosed with late C20 railings.
The central feature of the Abbey Grounds is the octagonal bandstand (listed grade II) with arcaded railings between bracketed cast-iron columns above a low stone base and below a two-tier roof with finial. Gravelled paths lead from the five entrances to the circular area around the bandstand. From the centre of the southern boundary of Abbey Grounds, the Halgut Burn runs north on a paved floor for c 100m within a narrow valley before entering a culvert to the south of the bandstand. The head of the valley sides are enclosed with railings to the west and a low stone wall with partial railings to the north and east. A Portland stone war memorial cross (listed grade II) designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield in 1921 is situated 70m south-east of the bandstand. The memorial is enclosed by a circular path, with a path leading north-east to the Beaumont Street entrance, within a slightly raised stone-edged planting bed. Some 100m south-south-east of the bandstand a modern octagonal seat on the summit of a grassed mound is approached from the west by a narrow gravel spiral path. The mound is of unknown origin but is possibly a viewing mount from an earlier, C16 or C17 garden (Tynedale Council 1998). The 1826 Wood plan indicates it planted with shrubbery. Low earthworks c 90m south of the bandstand may be evidence of an icehouse shown in this location on the 1896 OS map. In the west of the Abbey Grounds shallow ridges may be evidence of ridge and furrow and, c 40m north-west of the bandstand, a slight ditch may be evidence of the sunk fence described by Wright in 1823 (Tynedale Council 1998). The path layout in the Abbey Grounds is very largely as indicated on a plan of 1919 and they have been relaid, with other late C20 paths removed, in 2000-1 as part of a general restoration plan. The Abbey Grounds are generally laid to grass with many mature trees dating from the early C20 and some from the late C18. Recent new tree planting has been carried out, particularly in the north of the grounds and adjacent to the eastern, Beaumont Street boundary.
From the principal entrance to Hexham House Grounds, a drive leads south-west for c 9m before dividing around an oval bed to the south-west of Hexham House, from where a path leads west, down and across the Halgut Burn over a small stone bridge. From here the path leads up the western bank of the valley before returning, adjacent to the western boundary, to the south-west corner of the grounds; a similar layout is indicated on the 1860 OS map. At the centre of the western boundary a viewing point with a modern timber seat is sited between herbaceous boundary borders. From this point there are views within the grounds across the valley to the east and south-south-east to the C13 bridge with C19 pointed arch and crenellated parapet over the Halgut Burn (listed grade II*), and also beyond the Grounds, south-east to the Abbey. At the south-west corner of the Hexham House Grounds the perimeter path crosses this bridge and continues adjacent to the south and east boundaries with Cowgarth. The eastern area of the grounds is laid out with a square bowling green embanked with tiered low stone walls to the north. To the east of the bowling green is situated a late C20 single-storey brick pavilion. The bowling green was laid out in c 1929 when a bowling club was formed. To the south of the bowling green an herbaceous border is laid out along the south boundary wall. The grassed valley sides are planted with mixed deciduous and evergreen trees with evergreen shrubbery to the south end of the valley and also in the north-east corner of the grounds where it forms a backdrop to formal planting beds adjacent to the principal entrance. In the north corner of the grounds, adjacent to Hexham House, a small area is laid out with raised beds with stone walls. It was laid out in 1974 for the enjoyment of the blind.
A B Wright, History of Hexham, (1823, facsimile edn 1973), p 62
A B Hinds, History of Northumberland III, (1896), p 262
W T Taylor, Hexham Abbey, (17th edn 1983), p 4
F Graham, Hexham and Corbridge a short history and guide (1984), pp 10, 20, 24, 31
J Grundy et al, The Buildings of England: Nothumberland (1992), pp 318-19, 332
Hexham Rose Town: the concept, (Tynedale Council 1997)
Heritage Lottery Fund Submission Document (extract), (Tynedale Council 1998)
Hexham Local History Society Newsletter, (26 March 2000), p 1
D White and B Lovell, Hexham Abbey Grounds, (illustrated talk details, Tynedale Council 2001)
J Wood, Plan of Hexham, 1826 (extract at Hexham Library)
Plan of Hexham (based on OS), 1919 [extract by Glenkemp 1999]
Hexham Parks, sketch plan with field notes, 1998 (Tynedale Council)
Glenkemp, Hexham Parks Proposals Plan, 1:1000, January 1999 (GK/HaP/9), (Tynedale Council)
OS 6" to 1 mile: 1st edition published 1865
OS 25" to 1 mile: 2nd edition 1896
OS 1:500 1860 edition
Description written: January 2002
Amended: February 2002
Register Inspector: HMT
Edited: February 2003
This List entry has been amended to add sources for War Memorials Online and the War Memorials Register. These sources were not used in the compilation of this List entry but are added here as a guide for further reading, 8 February 2017.