The Hexham Riot of 9th March 1761 resulted in the deaths of over 50 men and women, with dozens more wounded.
The Hexham Riot involved ordinary folk from villages and communities throughout Tynedale, who marched to Hexham on that fateful day to protest against balloting to select men for service in the County Militia.
The introduction of the Militia Act in 1757 generated some resistance, but agitation had become more organised by the time of the 1761 round of balloting.
In Durham and Northumberland, at Gateshead, Morpeth, Belford and elsewhere, crowds armed with improvised weapons threatened the magistrates when they gathered to conduct the ballot. In each case, the ballot was abandoned and the parish lists were burned by the rioters. At Hexham, the authorities were determined to enforce the ballot.
The magistrates called for the assistance of 240 men of the North Yorkshire Militia, who were stationed at that time at Newcastle. These men were coming to the end of their three years’ service in the militia. Their backgrounds as craftsmen and agricultural workers in rural communities would have been very similar to those of the agitators they were to face. Some 5,000 protestors marched into Hexham from the surrounding district. The militia were drawn up in Hexham Market Place, in front of the Sessions Hall (now known as the Moot Hall) where the magistrates were to conduct the ballot.
For several hours, the angry crowd faced the nervous militia soldiers. Eventually, the situation became so tense that the Riot Act was read and the protestors were ordered to disperse.
This served to make matters worse and two shots were fired out of the crowd. An officer who was attempting to calm the situation was fatally wounded and a militia soldier fell dead. The militia returned fire, killing some 20 of the rioters on the spot. Others died later of their wounds and over 300 were injured.
The protest had failed and balloting for the militia continued throughout the country.
The affair became known as the “Hexham Massacre” or “Bloody Monday” and the North Yorkshire Militia gained the notorious nickname the “Hexham Butchers“.
Source: Local Heritage Initiative