In June 1330 orders were issued to construct a gaol in Hexham making it the oldest purpose-built prison in England. Prisoners from around from Hexhamshire were held within its walls – the area ruled over by the powerful Archbishop of York, and it was his Bailiff and officials who ran the Shire on his behalf from the nearby Moothall.
Prisoners were kept on the Gaol until the 1820s, when a new county gaol was built at Morpeth. By 1828 however, most prisoners were held in Morpeth Gaol, and the Hexham House of Correction was used for petty thieves.
The building has had a variety of uses in more recent years: as a bank, solicitors’ office, home for the Rifle Volunteers, as a billiards club and a place from which to firewatch in the Second World War. By the 1970s this great building was in a poor state but following major repairs, it reopened as a museum and tourist information centre.
Just slightly further up the hill from the Old Gaol you will find the Moothall. Originally part of a complex of buildings owned by the Archbishop of York, this is where the Archbishop’s Bailiff was based, where he held courts, collected rents, and entertained important people.
The Old Gaol is right in Hexham town centre, just a few minutes’ walk from the Wentworth car park.