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Hexham House of Correction

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HEXHAM HOUSE OF CORRECTION
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Frank Pickering - Frank was sent to Hexham House of Correction for an offence against the Poor Laws in 1840. Having completed his task of carrying in coals, Frank took his chance and ran off towards Tyne Green. There he met Tom Jeffer, a 'regular visitor' to the House of Correction, who advised Frank to swim the river. The Tyne was muddy and swollen from recent rain, but MacPherson the Keeper and his dog were already in pursuit. Frank ran across Tyne Green and jumped in the river, just below the spot where part of the old bridge, since 1771, had marked the rise and fall of the water. He tried to cross the river where a penning had been made across the bed. Frank tried to jump across a large gap in the penning and was swept away. His body was found by Richard Muse, a tanner, near the Hermitage a couple of days later.

Hexham's Most Famous Inmate - This was Jonathan Martin, a man who had grown up in nearby Haydon Bridge. Jonathan came from an eccentric but talented family - his brothers included John Martin, a renowned North East artist, several of whose works can be seen in the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne.

Jonathan was a tanner by trade. He had fought as a sailor in the Napoleonic Wars. He believed he had a mission to warn people about the coming wrath of God. He disrupted church services, wrote pamphlets and accused members of the clergy of living wicked and ungodly lives. From time to time he was locked up in prisons and lunatic asylums.

By 1828 he had arrived in York. He left letters to the clergy in York Minster, warning them of what would happen if they did not change their wicked ways. Receiving no reply to these, Jonathan felt he was being ignored. He had a dream in which he believed God told him to set fire to York Minster.

On 1st February 1829 Jonathan went to the Minster for the evening service. He hid in the Minster and waited until the church had been locked up for the night. He made piles of prayer books and cushions and set them alight. He escaped and went to Hexham.

The fires burned slowly, and were not noticed until the next morning. It took fire engines from several towns to help fight the fire, which was eventually extinguished late that night. By this time the choir roof, screen, stalls, pulpit, throne and organ had all been destroyed.

Posters offering a reward of one hundred pounds for his arrest were printed and circulated. Jonathan was arrested 4 days later and put in the Hexham House of Correction before being taken to York for trial. He admitted he had started the fire. The jury decided he was insane, and therefore not responsible for his actions. He was sent to a lunatic asylum in London, where he died nine years later.

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