Known as Bloody Monday, the Hexham Riot, which broke out on March 9th 1761, was the outcome of an attempt to introduce a system of balloting for the militia. Balloting met with opposition throughout the north of England but it was in Hexhamshire that feelings ran highest. The local magistrates, well aware of this, had taken the precaution of bringing a detachment of the North Yorkshire Militia into the town of Hexham. Drawn up in the square in front of the Moot Hall, these soldiers only served to increase the fury of the mob that gathered on the day of the ballot. After almost four hours of argument between ringleaders and magistrates, the Riot Act was read.
The mob broke loose and advanced with staves and clubs upon the charged bayonets. Two soldiers were shot by their own weapons and the magistrates, in panic ordered general fire. By the time the firing ceased, the mob had fled through the streets, leaving only dead and severely wounded - a sight that seemed to move even the soldiers. Various figures have been advanced for these fatalities - one source gives 45 dead and 300 wounded, but it is likely that the figure was much higher, for large numbers of the wounded escaped to their own locality and were naturally unwilling to acknowledge their part in the affray. However, with careful investigation, several can be found who probably died from wounds in those days of rudimentary surgery. Joseph Ridley's Hexham Chronicle gives a list of dead and wounded, but it is by no means complete. For example, Dorothy, wife of William Armstrong of Stamfordham, died four days later; Charles Shipley of Gunnerton died a month later - two of his cousins, the Coulsons of Gunnerton, were also involved. Thomas Richardson of Corbridge had been married barely a month before being shot. Many of the dead were claimed by relatives - John Appleby, aged 74, of West Matfen, my own kinsman, was buried at Stamfordham on the 12th. John Leighton, buried at Bywell, was only 21.
The bitter feelings aroused by this event must have long rankled in the neighbourhood. The families of the victims would hardly be well disposed towards a local incumbent who preached on the importance of "the duty of subjection to the civil powers occasioned by a late unhappy insurrection", taking as his text "Power is given them from the Highest".
The story of the riot can be followed in Ridley's Hexham Chronicle, and something of the immediacy of the feeling at the time can be gleaned from John Dawson's Diary (Surtees Society, Vol. 124, North Country Diaries). During the rounding up of hidden rioters which went on for many weeks, much suspicion of having ordered the soldiers' volley fell upon Lancelot Allgood, the Deputy Lieutenant. Together with his comrade Christopher Reed of Chipchase, he was popularly supposed to have escaped the wrath of the rioters by hiding in a hay loft on the Hexham road. Four years later an 'anonymous' Will of a Certain Northern Vicar poured bitter scorn upon these two:
I give the corpulent Kit Reed
My lecture upon gingerbread.
And leave him too - though not for fun
For fear of harm - a wooden gun;
At the same time - in case of riot
A cockloft for to keep him quiet.
A ladder too, fame do not tattle
To aid him in the day of battle.
And to his worthy comorade
Who with 'im such a figure made
A large birch rod that he may be
Tickled most exceedingly!
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This article was first published in the NDFHS Journal, Volume 5, Number 2, January 1980.
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