Hexham residents woke yesterday morning to the sight of 250 Scots descending on the town to settle a feud which started 500 years ago with a raid, an ambush and a captured flag.
But it seems that after five centuries it is time to officially bury the hatchet and this invasion turned out to be a civilised affair.
The people of Hexham and the Borders town of Hawick came together at a special Service of Remembrance and Reconciliation in Hexham Abbey which marked the 500-year anniversary a skirmish which took place following the bloody Battle of Flodden.
In 1514, the Battle of Hornshole saw a raiding party, including men loyal to the Prior of Hexham, ambushed by youths defending Hawick who captured the Prior’s Standard.
The seized flag has been kept by the Hawick Cornet, or standard bearer, ever since and makes an appearance at Hawick’s famous annual Common Riding celebrations.
A replica of the Prior’s Banner was donated by the people of Hawick in 1972 and now flies in the Abbey. Earlier efforts to clear up bad blood saw the towns join together in 1908 for the consecration of the Abbey’s new nave.
But now it seems we’re the best of friends, with the weekend’s reconciliation service followed with a bit of a party for the coach-loads of visitors.
Provost of Hawick Coun Stuart Marshall, who planted a tree and whose civic party, wearing red robes for the occasion, made a gift of a commemorative bench, said he was “absolutely delighted” at the warmth of the reception and sense of friendship.
“There are about 250 of us: we filled three buses and there were 12-14 car loads of people,” he said. “It’s fantastic and we feel very honoured to be here.”
And Hexham Mayor Coun Terry Robson said: “The atmosphere is great; there’s a really good friendship and everybody is enjoying themselves.”
He said Hexham and Hawick put aside their differences long ago but that history was made at the service which begins a new chapter in their relationship.
“There’s a spirit of friendship and I’ve been saying we’ll have to twin our towns,” he said. “We are significant border towns and we share that common heritage. We’d like to build on it and develop that.”
The service was led by the Assistant Bishop of Newcastle, The Right Rev Frank White, and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, The Right Rev John Chalmers, while an honour guard provided by 39 Regiment Royal Artillery accompanied the group and this year’s Cornet, Ross Gibson, on a colourful procession through the Abbey carrying the replica flag into the grounds for the tree-planting ceremony.
Then it was over to the Beaumont Hotel for a taste of local hospitality, including entertainment from a Scottish piper and a Northumbrian piper and an appearance by Nick Short, steward and bailiff of Hexham, in his traditional Northumbrian shepherds’ plaid to recite Northumbrian verses in his role as a Border Bard.
Elsewhere there was bonding over refreshments as local traders laid on food, and a piper and the Hexham Village Ceilidh Band played for the crowds in the Market Place.
The plan now is to build upon the special relationship. Coun Marshall added: “Our towns are very similar. From those who made it down we can see we have a lot in common. I don’t think there’ll be a return to the days of 500 years ago!”