In jail!

The Career Development Group ended up in jail on Friday 23 May. But don’t worry: librarians on the rampage weren’t arrested. This was the Old Gaol in Hexham. We hadn’t been arrested; we were visitors. The gaol, purpose built between 1330 and 1333, covered 4 floors from the gaoler’s lodgings on the top floor to the miserable prisoners and rats in the dungeon.

Then followed a visit to the library housed in the old gaol building and located in the Charlton room. The library was refurbished in October 2005, and was closed to the public in 2003. Just under 180 boxes of materials were housed temporarily locally in Belsay Hall for 18 months. The library is a charity and receives no government funding but relies on grants, e.g. a grant from DEFRA during the foot and mouth crisis which provided a printer and scanner and some archival storage. The library is run by a volunteer Librarian and there are currently about 5 other volunteers.

The library stocks a collection of about 5,000 books, and in the last year received a generous donation of 2,000 books from a local historian which still needs to be catalogued. No chance of breaking in here as there are barred windows and secure storage with compact shelving. The collection is organised by a card catalogue and is currently classified using Dewey 19-21. The library also stocks a poetry collection, and information on family history of the region, in particular the notorious Border Reivers.

Why do people come to the library? Some to find out about their family history, discover local poetry, look up a reference and to make use of the free enquiry service. Some queries just cannot be answered, such as how many prisoners were held in the gaol at the same time, but we do know the appalling conditions the prisoners were held in. Other queries are referred to other local history information units in the area.

One highlight of the visit was the opportunity to see a photo of Jack Charlton, born locally in Ashington and hero of the victorious England winning team of the Football World Cup of 1966. The photo was on loan from the National Portrait Gallery in London and is one of several photos on display in museums and venues across the North East.


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