Friday, 6 April 2012

Port of Yarm (NZ417131)

Though it may seem utterly unbelievable today, the town of Yarm, in the very depths of North-East England (and eighteen winding miles from the sea), was once the premier port of the River Tees. The industries of Middlesbrough, Stockton and Billingham – all downstream – now far outstrip Yarm in terms of river traffic, yet for centuries this was far from the case.

Until the building of the bridge at Stockton in 1771, the aging structure at Yarm was the nearest crossing point on the Tees to the sea. Furthermore, Yarm represents pretty much the tidal (and navigational) limit of the river, so the town understandably became an important spot for trade and commerce. However, it probably owes its ancient foundation to its easily defendable position in an inverted ‘U’ in the river’s course.

A royal charter granted in 1207 gave the Yarm its weekly market and two annual fairs; and the Black Friars settled in the town in the 13th century, remaining until the 1580s.  The old stone bridge – still standing – was built in 1400, and the settlement grew and prospered until, essentially, merchant ships became too big to make it up river – with first Stockton, then Middlesbrough taking over the role as the River Tees’ main port. Yarm, however, remained prominent as a coaching stop – as is evidenced, at least historically, by its high number of inns and pubs.

Yarm looks anything but a port these days, yet is still as charming as ever.

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