The name Hexhamshire has meant different things at different times. The area now known as ‘The Shire’ originally formed part of a larger tract of land called ‘The Regality of Hexhamshire’ which was made up of the parishes of Hexham (including Whitley Chapel), Allendale and St John Lee, an area of approximately 92 square miles. This was probably the original piece of land given by Queen Ethelreda to St. Wilfred in 674 to found the Priory of Hexham.
Throughout the mediaeval period the whole area was under the control of the Archbishop of York for civil and church matters, so it was thought of as being separate from the rest of Northumberland. In 1536, after Henry VIII took control of the Church and founded the Church of England, civil power in the area was taken over by the crown. Control of the Church, however, remained in the hands of the Archbishop of York and it was not until 1837 that the whole original Regality of Hexhamshire was united to the rest of Northumberland in the Diocese of Durham. Civil power in the area was granted by the King to Reynold Carnaby and then passed to the Fosters and Sir John Fenwick. In 1689 the estate was sold to Sir William Blackett, ancestor of the current Lord Allendale. The use of the term ‘Hexhamshire’ to describe the more restricted area now thought of as the Shire does not appear to be common before the 17th century. Prior to this, the district was described as Newlands and Rowley ward. Both of these names were used interchangeably for some time.
Also in the 17th century, in the Church Warden’s accounts and taxes, occur the first references to the district being divided into quarters. Initially there were four quarters, High, Low, Middle and West. In 1764, the High, Low and Middle quarters came together to form the Chapelry of Whitley, while the West Quarter was linked to Hexham.
[ By Hilary Kristensen, Wagtail Press ]
The modern parish of Hexhamshire is made up of the former parishes of the High, Middle and Low Quarters. It covers a large and mostly sparsely populated area, including the hamlets of Whitley Chapel, Steel, Dye House, Juniper and Ordley. The northern part of the parish falls within the green belt, while the southern and western areas, including Hexhamshire Common, form part of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The population at the 2011 census was 697, and the main economic activity is agriculture.