C HARLES Clement Hodges certainly stamped his mark on Hexham and, boy, did he try to ensure nobody forgot it!

For he left behind him a gargantuan tome – Ecclesia Hagustaldensis: the Abbey of St Andrew, Hexham – that would fit on few shelves today.

While the architect had 400 smaller copies printed, which are in themselves ‘big’ by any standard, he had another 10 printed that completely burst the bounds.

Retired librarian and now specialist book dealer Mark Benjamin was delighted when he happened across the second of that 10 volume run –- not least because it is a once in a career find.

“This is the first time I have ever come across one of these books in my whole career in Northumberland, since I came here in 1980,” he said.

“This one isn’t in a terrifically good condition, but that said, there are no other copies available for sale.”

The private seller who approached him probably wanted to free up some space, laughed Mark. “And so do I!”

The huge, leather-bound volume contains the preparatory drawings Hodges made as the long-held plans to rebuild Hexham Abbey’s ruined nave finally seemed to be gaining ground.

As Hexham Local History Society records in its wonderful book, Hexham Lives , in 1899 Hodges and partner-in-arms Temple Moore issued a report on the repair, extension and refurbishment of the, by then, sadly decaying Hexham Abbey.

They were duly appointed to design the new nave and burnish the interior in general.

Hodges actually published Ecclesia Hagustaldensis in 1888 and it was to be another 12 years before the work began on the ground, so was it an early pitch for the contract?

“Possibly,” said Mark. “But it took until Canon Sidney Savage came along, with the drive to get the nave built, before things started to happen.”

Savage, who went on to become the most renowned and distinguished of Hexham rectors, arrived in 1898.

Together, he and Hodges were a dream team bound by a passion for the town and the church they served.

With the plans in place, the public fund-raising campaign was launched and seven years later, hey presto!

The beauty of the book is that it provides a rare record of the plans, and the names of the worthies of the day who sponsored them.

All the usual suspects are there, of course – the Beaumonts, Charltons and Strakers among them – as well as a liberal sprinkling of ‘reverends’ (the second sons of wealthy families often became vicars).

Antiquarian Cadwallader Bates, who bought Langley Castle as a ruin in 1882 and restored it, is on the list, as are industrialist Ralph Carr Ellison and one Miss Allgood, who at the time inhabited the rambling Hermitage mansion on the banks of the River Tyne at Hexham.

But Mark thinks the 10 extra-large volumes might well have been printed for the wealthiest and most generous of Hodges’ patrons.

“They were the same as the smaller book, as far as I can tell,” he said. “They were printed off the same plates, but just with thicker, better quality paper and with bigger margins and more ornate binding.”

The Dukes of Devonshire and Northumberland, the Marquis of Ripon, the Earl of Durham and the Lord Bishop of Durham are up there at the very top of the list of recipients.

Some of the smaller volumes, which are still A3 in size, appear to have been sent to the cathedral libraries at Durham, Ely, Lincoln, Norwich, Ripon and York, as well as the library of the Literary and Philosophical Society in Newcastle.

As Hexham Lives tells us, Hodges was passionate about Hexham Abbey and throughout his life (1852-1932) he drew its stonework and furnishings in meticulous detail.

The son of a Yorkshire parson, he had begun his working life in the drawing office of the Consett Ironworks, but moved to Hexham in 1876 to both set up his own architectural practice and become the Abbey’s architect.

His subsequent discovery of the bicycle enlarged his acquaintanceship with churches and monuments throughout the district, apparently.

He also worked closely on antiquarian and archaeological projects with the Gibson family, and it was with John Gibson that he produced his next book, a full 30 years later, about his beloved church. Hexham and Its Abbey was published in 1919.

The final comment on his earlier tome should go to Hexham Local History Society, which recorded that, ‘His awesome imperial folio monograph of 1888, Ecclesia Hagustaldensis: the Abbey of St Andrew, Hexham (privately printed, Edinburgh) was called at the time ‘the grandest and most exhaustive illustration of an ecclesiastical establishment which has been published in England’. Then and now, they weren’t wrong!

Mark can be contacted via email bennorbooks@gmail.com or his website www.abbooks.co.uk