IN his latest exploration of Tynedale’s past, Hexham historian Mark Benjamin turns his attention to Hexham’s high street, and the variety of shops and eateries which once lined the cobbles, some of which residents might remember...

A COLLECTION of marketing plans held in Hexham Library shows how the retail offer has changed in Hexham over the past 50 years. The Goad Marketing Plans list almost every business in the town centre at two-yearly intervals from 1971, expanding to include the out-of-town shops with the creation in 1989 of Robb’s at Tynedale Park – now home to Tesco.

Although, being recorded only every two years, some short-lived businesses are omitted; the plans provide a fascinating record of what the town has had to offer residents and visitors. Some comparisons can be misleading as, until the 2018 survey, Hencotes was not included; the Goad Plans dealing only with the town centre.

There is much comment today about vacant properties. In 1971, eight shopfronts were unoccupied; by 1996 this had leapt to 18, falling to 14 in 2006 before rising to its record level of 28 (excluding Hencotes) in 2018. It should be noted that some of the properties vacant in 2018 have now been occupied although, in fairness, others then occupied have now closed.

A major change is the disappearance of government offices, both national and local. Until the early 1990s, the Ministry of “Ag & Fish” had offices in Market Street. Local government maintained a physical presence in the town until 2018 when its last remaining outpost, Hadrian House on Gilesgate, was vacated; any remaining services being gathered into the Queen’s Hall.

Along with many market towns, the range of goods available has shrunk over the years. The arrival of the out-of-town stores, both Robb’s at Tynedale Park and those further afield started the decline, only to be threatened, in their turn, by the rise of internet-shopping. What quickly becomes apparent is the disappearance of clothing stores. For 1971 saw no fewer than 27 establishments selling clothing and footwear – not including Robb’s Department Store. By 1983, this had shrunk to 21; by 2000, only 14 remained. By 2018, there were 12 although, interestingly, several of these were new arrivals. The rise of the charity shop (two in 1971, ten by 2018) also superseded many of the clothing outlets. One notable change for the better is that Hexham now boasts four bookshops (two new and two second-hand); in 1971 readers had to travel to Newcastle to purchase a book!

Only one pub has disappeared since 1971, the Old Grey Bull on Battle Hill; since converted into two retail properties although currently, both are vacant. The Turk’s Head is now the Heart of Northumberland, having undergone a number of name changes, the Criterion Hotel – having been closed for some years, reopened as the Tap & Spile in 1986 whilst the Royal Hotel has disappeared but remains a drinking place as Mr Ant’s. On the other hand, there were only six places to have a coffee in 1971, whereas now one can choose from three times as many – not including pubs and other establishments now offering warm beverages in addition to their primary offer! There are also rather more places to eat in the evening – a distinct improvement from when I arrived in Hexham in 1980, to find that, other than the hotels, there was nowhere to eat after 5pm.

In 1971, Hexham residents wishing to have their hair cut had a choice of five establishments (two for women and two for men), only one of which, John Gerard’s, still operates under the same name.

By 2018, there were no fewer than 15 for women and six for men – not counting the three other beauty salons.

Apart from John Gerard’s, only a few trading names remain in business from 1971, excluding pubs and hotels. The Silver Palace, Wardhaugh’s, Thomas Ellis, Leslie Dickinson’s, Herdman’s and Pegg’s are the only businesses still trading. Others, such as Stafford’s, are still trading, albeit no longer in the town centre.

As already mentioned, Hencotes was not included until the latest survey. Hexham Local History Society would love to hear from anyone who can fill in the gaps with shops operating from there from 1971.

The Goad charts are hand-written, and sometimes hard to decipher. The society is mystified by the 1971 entry for 19 Market Place. It seems to be a company named Garden Ent. Sarth.

We know that it sold garden supplies – can anyone remember the actual name?

The Goad Plans from 1971 to 2000 were purchased by the county library service; the later editions being purchased and donated by Hexham Local History Society.

All the plans can be consulted in Hexham Library; the database compiled by the society from the plans will be available through the society’s website