Yarm and Egglescliffe

Yarm-on-Tees

The River Tees at Yarm forms a northward pointing horse-shoe shaped meander which encloses this attractive little Georgian market town on three sides. For many centuries Yarm was called ‘Yarum’, and later ‘Yarome’, its name deriving from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘gear’ that was pronounced ‘yair’. The word describes a pool for catching fish and would have been formed by a weir with a specially constructed channel to trap the fish.

Yarm High Street and Town Hall
Yarm High Street and Town Hall © David Simpson

The ‘um’ on the end of the original name ‘Yarum’ was a kind of Anglo-Saxon plural, so ‘Yarm’ means ‘fish pools’ or ‘fish weirs’. Yarm may have been a place of importance in Anglo-Saxon times as fragments of several Anglo-Saxon sculptured stones have been found at Yarm’s parish church of St Mary Magdalene including one that suggests the site is the burial place of an Anglo-Saxon Bishop of Hexham.

Yarm High
Yarm High Street © David Simpson

Yarm Viking Helmet

Yarm may have continued to be a place of importance into Viking times. Viking place-names are abundant in the region around Yarm with examples including Aislaby, Girsby and Ingleby Barwick. Viking sculptural features are also commonly found in the district such as those discovered at Crathorne or at the important Viking centre at nearby Sockburn which show the area was important for Viking settlement.

The River Tees at Yarm
The River Tees at Yarm © David Simpson

In the 1950s, a Viking helmet was discovered in Yarm’s Chapel Yard by workmen digging for new sewage pipes. It was speculated at the time that the helmet could be Viking but initially there was not enough evidence to confirm its Viking origins.

In 2020 new contextual evidence and new techniques concluded, following extensive research by Dr Chris Caple of Durham University, that this was indeed a 10th century Viking age helmet of the Anglo-Scandinavian period. This makes it the first Viking helmet to be found in Britain. The famous York Coppergate and Sutton Hoo helmets belong of course to the earlier Anglo-Saxon age.

River Tees at Yarm
River Tees at Yarm © David Simpson

What is more, the Yarm Viking helmet is one of only two near-complete Viking helmets to be found in the world. Evidence suggests that the helmet was buried and contained something stuffed inside that had since rotted away, but the purpose of the burial is not known.

The helmet is currently on display at the nearby Preston Hall Museum at Preston Park just north of Yarm but the intention is to have it on display as a centre piece at Yarm Town Hall which is to be developed as a new heritage centre. It had previously been displayed at the Town Hall before it was moved to Preston Hall.

Yarm Bridges
Yarm viaduct with Yarm Bridge in the foreground, The bridge links Eaglescliffe to Yarm across the Tees © David Simpson

Yarm : Town and Port

Given its tidal location it is tempting to speculate that Yarm may have served as a Viking port of some kind or that at least the river was used here by Viking ships.

For centuries, starting in medieval times the far northern Yorkshire town of Yarm was the most important port on the River Tees and seems to have been engaged in shipping since at least 1182. The town’s commercial and civic status was recognised in 1207 when King John granted Yarm a weekly market and two annual fairs. From here on, Yarm’s prosperity grew.

Bridge Street, Yarm © David Simpson
Bridge Street, Yarm  © David Simpson

Traditionally Yarm fair was an agricultural event noted for its horses (particularly Cleveland Bays), as well as cattle and sheep. The fair was a three day event, with the final day focusing on cheese, a produce for which Yarm was particularly well-known. In modern times Yarm’s surviving October fair is better known for its fairground attractions and rides as travelling ‘showmen’ move their ‘shows’ into the High Street area and fill the tiny town with the bright lights of the funfair.

With its borough status established in the fourteenth century by King John, Yarm had two MPs representing local interests. Unlike Hartlepool and Stockton across on the other side of the Tees in the semi-independent realm of Durham, Yarm was a royal borough rather than one established by the Prince Bishops.

Yarm Town Hall and High Street
Yarm Town Hall and High Street © David Simpson

As a port for so many centuries Yarm traded with Scotland, France, Flanders and even the faraway Faroe Islands. It was a home, at one time or another to ropemakers, brewers, tanners, pipe makers, boot and shoe makers, nailers, clockmakers and shipbuilders. There were also a number of corn mills in Yarm, with five still surviving in the early nineteenth century.

Yarm traded in wool, hides, salt, lead and flour and the banks of the tidal Tees by the town were lively with wharves, warehouses and industries with sailing ships of up to 100 tons burthen (though more typically 60 tons) gathered along its river banks. Trade was two way with lead and agricultural produce from TeesdaleSwaledale and Wensleydale exported and a number of other goods including luxury goods imported from Europe.

Houses nestle beneath Yarm viaduct on the west side of the town
Houses nestle beneath Yarm viaduct on the west side of the town © David Simpson

Many of the brick town houses in Yarm developed as merchant’s houses with some developing as coaching inns utilising Yarm’s important and lively location at a bridging point across the Tees. Away from the High Street the side streets and wynds were more likely to be the homes of the more common folk and workers of the time.

High Church Wynd at Yarm on the west side of the town
High Church Wynd at Yarm on the west side of the town © David Simpson

Pantiles that give the red-roofed character to many of Yarm’s houses were sometimes imported from the Netherlands which was an important place for Yarm’s trade. The thin bricks of many of the houses, though utilising local clay, are of Dutch style which again shows the influence of Yarm’s trading connections to the Low Countries.

Yarm High Street, the west side
Yarm High Street, the west side © David Simpson

In earlier times the wealth of Yarm was so great that it was frequently a target for Scottish raiders who sacked the town five times in the fourteenth century under the leadership of Robert the Bruce. Ironically the Bruce family had once been lords of the manor of Yarm.

Although there were later attempts to develop a port upstream at Worsall the sailing ships rarely advanced beyond Yarm Bridge so the focus of the port was mostly along the river front on the east side of the High Street.

The journey to Yarm for the sailing ships was a long one and it took three tides to reach the port from the mouth of the Tees. As ships grew in size and became unable to navigate far up river, Yarm’s importance declined and the role of the old town was gradually taken over by Stockton from around 1750 and ultimately by Middlesbrough, both of which are much further downstream.

River Tees at Yarm
River Tees at Yarm © David Simpson

Yarm High Street and Town Hall

Yarm’s town centre is dominated by the subtly curving cobbled High Street which runs along the entire length of the loop or meander formed by the River Tees. Many of the buildings along this street have great character, often being Georgian in origin with several dating back to Stuart times or sometimes earlier.

Yarm Town Hall
Yarm Town Hall © David Simpson

At the centre of the High Street is the charming little Dutch-style Town Hall built in 1710, as recalled on the weather vane, and erected by the wealthy Viscount Fauconberg, who was Lord of the Manor of Yarm.

The Dutch influence of the Town Hall architecture is another reminder of Yarm’s important historic trade with the Low Countries. As a focal point for the town, the Town Hall was the seat of the town and port’s governance and justice. Here was situated a magistrates court where justice was once administered not just for Yarm but for nearby Thornaby and Middlesbrough too, in the early stages of the development of those two towns in the nineteenth century.

Looking towards the west side of Yarm High Street
Looking towards the west side of Yarm High Street © David Simpson

Local magistrates of Yarm once included Benjamin Flounders, a JP for both County Durham and Yorkshire who was one of the members of the committee at the meeting in Yarm that confirmed the development of the Stockton and Darlington Railway at Yarm’s George and Dragon pub.

At one time the bricked up arches in the lower part of the Town Hall were open and contained within them a now long-gone market cross. Here too was a weigh house that ensured monetary values and prices were accurately met by the traders.

As at Stockton (and in some ways Yarm High Street and its Town Hall resemble a quaint mini version of Stockton) the Town Hall was once accompanied by a nearby Shambles or market stall but that has long since gone.

Outside the south side of the Town Hall is an elegant cross that forms Yarm’s war memorial commemorating local men who died in both the First and Second World Wars.

Yarm Town Hall and War Memorial
Yarm Town Hall and War Memorial cross © David Simpson

Yarm High Street : East Side

Although the High Street runs along the full length of the meander or peninsula formed by the Tees it doesn’t quite run along its centre as it is situated slightly to the east within the meander.

Yarm High Street : the east side
Yarm High Street : the east side © David Simpson

This means that the built-up part of Yarm on the eastern side is more tightly squeezed between the High Street and the river compared to the western side of the town where the Viaduct is the principal north-south feature.

Exploring the east side of the High Street, the first building we encounter after crossing Yarm Bridge from the Egglescliffe side is Riverside Mews. This is an early nineteenth century building that was once a coach house but has been converted into four cottages.

Riverside Mews, Yarm. A former coach house.
Riverside Mews, Yarm. A former coach house © David Simpson

Proceeding along the street, its neighbour is Bridge House which is a mid eighteenth century building that possibly has an older core. It was once the home to influential Yarm man, the wealthy Quaker philanthropist and JP, Benjamin Flounders. Next door to this is Ridley House, another mid eighteenth century house, with an arched carriageway entrance.

Ridley House, Yarm
Ridley House, Yarm © David Simpson

Just along from Ridley House to the left of the Yarm Guest House is ‘Tom Brown House’, a nice brick house that seems otherwise rather unremarkable but which internally has revealed timber framing dating the building partly back to the late fifteenth century. For the title of ‘Yarm’s oldest house’ it competes with the admittedly more satisfying ‘Hope House’ of Elizabethan origin, in West Street.

Tom Brown House, Yarm
Tom Brown House, Yarm © David Simpson

Sir Tom Brown (1705-1746) was an eighteenth century war hero born in Kirkleatham in Cleveland who later moved to Yarm. He resided in this house, which then served as an inn, with Brown as a publican. It was still an inn until losing its licence in 1908. Brown had fought at the Battle of Dettingen in Bavaria in 1743 where he lost two fingers recovering his regiment’s standard that had been captured from the French.

Galloping through their ranks with the flag wedged in his saddle he received further bullet wounds to his face and neck. He was the last British soldier to be knighted by the king on a battlefield. The British forces in the battle were led by George II. It was the last time a British monarch led an army into battle.

Sir Tom Brown

A little further along from Tom Brown’s House we reach the ‘Ketton Ox’, which is Yarm’s oldest inn dating from about 1670. Yarm High Street once boasted sixteen inns (as early as 1648) as Yarm was an important stopping off point on north-south routes. In the 1820s there was a Royal Mail service linking South Shields to London that stopped at Yarm taking a route via Sunderland, Stockton, Yarm, Thirsk, Easingwold and York. A coaching service from Newcastle to Leeds which stopped at the George and Dragon, took in Durham, Stockton, Yarm, Thirsk, Boroughbridge, Harrogate and Knaresborough.

Ketton Ox, Yarm
Ketton Ox, Yarm © David Simpson

Some of Yarm’s old inns still survive, notably on the east side but the ‘Ketton Ox’ is the oldest. It is named from a famous ox (also called the Duham Ox) that was bred by the brothers Charles and Robert Colling at Ketton Farm near Darlington in 1796.

The inn itself dates back even earlier than that, being over 300 years old. It was at one time noted for cock fighting which continued beyond the mid nineteenth century when the activity was banned. The ‘Ketton Ox’ is said to be haunted, perhaps because its rear partly served as a mortuary in distant times.

George and Dragon Inn, Yarm
George and Dragon Inn, Yarm © David Simpson

On its south flank, the pub is bordered by Silver Street one of the old commercial streets associated with the old port that leads down from the High Street to the River Tees. A little further along the High Street is the George and Dragon, which is another important pub in Yarm’s history.

This pub was the site of the 1820 meeting presided over by Thomas Meynell of Yarm at which the decision was made to build the Stockton and Darlington Railway. A plaque on the outside of the pub commemorates the event.

Stockton and Darlington Railway plaque, George and Dragon Inn, Yarm
Stockton and Darlington Railway plaque, George and Dragon Inn, Yarm © David Simpson

Next door is the Union Arms (presently called ‘Marshalls at the Union Arms’) which is another historic Yarm pub (1762). It incorporates an entrance way into a brewery yard. A few doors along, as we approach Yarm Town Hall, we find the entrance to Chapel Yard.

Brewery Yard, Union Arms, Yarm
Brewery Yard, Union Arms, Yarm © David Simpson

Chapel Yard (where the Viking helmet was found) leads to the riverside and the octagonal Wesleyan Methodist chapel of 1763 which John Wesley (1703-1791) himself described as the ‘most elegant in England’. Wesley would make around nineteen visits to Yarm.

Wesleyan Chapel of 1763, Yarm
Wesleyan Octagonal Chapel of 1763, Yarm © David Simpson

Returning to the High Street, shortly after passing the entrance to Chapel Yard we pass the Town Hall on our right and then reach the entrance to Central Wynd (labelled Central Street) which in truth is a broad alleyway leading to the river. It connects with the intriguingly named Castle Dyke Wynd that takes its name from an ancient defensive earthwork of some kind.

Next along the High Street we encounter the famous Yarm store of Strickland and Holt, a delightful establishment selling a cornucopia of items. It was established in 1854 according to the sign on the exterior (it was actually 1852). Initially specialising in wines and spirits the shop was founded by brothers Charles and Oliver Strickland and later a Mr John Holt joined the company.

Strickland and Holt, Yarm
Strickland and Holt, Yarm © David Simpson

Next door to Strickland and Holt is another of Yarm’s old pubs, ‘The Black Bull’ and a little further along another entrance to an enclosed yard or wynd called Fairfax Court.

There are yet more charming High Street houses and a particularly pleasing brick row of three storey houses along the High Street between the entrances to Mill Wynd and Atlas Wynd as we approach the south end of the High Street.

Atlas Wynd, Yarm
Atlas Wynd, Yarm © David Simpson

Atlas Wynd was once the site of a nineteenth century skinnery that made sheepskins. Hides had long been an important export from Yarm. Just beyond the entrance to Atlas Wynd, at the point where the built-up part of High Street finally ends we reach the Roman Catholic church of St Mary and Romuald. Dating from 1860 it was built by architects Hadfield & Goldie at the instigation of Thomas Meynell. He was the son of Thomas Meynell who presided over the Stockton and Darlington Railway meeting at the George and Dragon.

Further on but set back from the High Street behind the church are the grounds and modern buildings of Yarm School, an independent school founded in 1978. Situated in a riverside setting the school complex includes a large house of 1775 of seven bays and three storeys that was called ‘The Friarage’. Its name recalls the site of a Dominican friary (Blackfriars) established here before 1260 by Peter de Brus, Lord of the Manor. Brus was an influential member of the Brus (or Bruce) family who had strong medieval associations with Yarm, Guisborough, Hartlepool and Skelton.

Roman Catholic Church of St Mary and Rumuald, Yarm
Roman Catholic Church of St Mary and Rumuald, Yarm © David Simpson

There were around 30 friars based at Yarm’s friary and from 1308 the friary had its own church. However, it inevitably fell victim to King Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries in December 1539. It lived on for a time as a home to a Catholic family called Sayers but they replaced it with a new house in 1717 that later passed to Edward Meynell, the father of Thomas Meynell senior. Edward built the present mansion that is now part of the school. Another interesting feature associated with Friarage House nearby is an old dovecot dating from 1620, which is similar to that found near Gisborough Priory.

An area to the south of Yarm called the ‘Spittal’ near a housing area called Levendale is thought to have been the site of a twelfth century hospital dedicated to St Nicholas. This hospital which was a kind of almshouse looking after a small number of poor people was built around 1130 by Robert De Brus II. It had its own chapel but there are no traces of the hospital remaining other than a stone boundary wall running along the Leven Road between Thirsk Road and Hawthorn Grove.

Entrance to Danby Wynd on the west side of Yarm High Street
Entrance to Danby Wynd on the west side of Yarm High Street © David Simpson

Yarm : West Side

Crossing from the south end of Yarm High Street near the Catholic church to the west side of the High Street there is another row of charming shops and brick houses and a pub called the Keys (Cross Keys Inn) as well as a number of adjoining streets called wynds. One of the houses towards the south end of the street was Yarm ‘Manor House’, now a solicitors’ office.

Yarm 'Manor House' © David Simpson
Yarm ‘Manor House’ (foreground far left) on the west side of Yarm High Street © David Simpson

Of great character on the west side of the High Street are the wynds. The first is Bentley Wynd at the south end while further north we have Danby Wynd, High Church Wynd, Low Church Wynd and finally Bridge Street at the far north of the High Street near Yarm Bridge.

Danby Wynd, Yarm
Danby Wynd, Yarm © David Simpson

However, some of the most interesting features on this western side of the town of Yarm actually lie to the rear of the High Street and can be reached along the wynds.

High Church Wynd, Yarm
High Church Wynd, Yarm © David Simpson

A good place to start an exploration of Yarm’s western side is at the south end of the High Street at Bentley Wynd across the High Street from the Catholic church. Bentley Wynd leads into an area called the Old Market.

Yarm Viaduct and Old Market
Yarm Viaduct and Old Market © David Simpson

The Old Market, as its name suggests was the original site of the market place before it moved into the High Street and once formed an area called ‘Marketstead’ that hosted a Thursday market.

Bentley Wynd and the viaduct, Yarm
Bentley Wynd and the viaduct, Yarm © David Simpson

The most striking thing we encounter as we enter the western side of Yarm are the numerous arches of Yarm viaduct which elegantly span the tiny town. The wynd takes us beneath the viaduct into West Street which is the main street on the west side of Yarm running parallel to the High Street. In fact West Street was the original High Street for Yarm way back in earlier medieval times before the thirteenth century.

Bentley Wynd, Yarm
Bentley Wynd, Yarm © David Simpson

A little further along West Street we reach the western end of High Church Wynd where on the corner beneath the viaduct is Hope House, where a plaque suggests this may be Yarm’s oldest house. Dating from Elizabethan times it has much more character than its earlier rival ‘Tom Brown House’ in the High Street.

Hope House, Yarm
Hope House (left), Yarm viaduct (above) and High Church Wynd (right) pictured from West Street in the foreground © David Simpson

High Church Wynd leading back towards the High Street from Hope House is an especially delightful wynd. There are some pleasing cottages, including one named ‘Penny Farthing Cottage’ and there is a curious mark above one of the garages in the wynd marking the maximum height of the devastating flood of 1881.

High Church Wynd, Yarm
High Church Wynd, Yarm © David Simpson

A little further along West Street we find the entrance to Yarm churchyard and the parish church of Yarm itself. At the gate to the churchyard is a plaque commemorating the founding of the Conyers Free School on the site in 1590. It was demolished in 1885. The school’s successor is the Conyers secondary school (not to be confused with Yarm School) situated on the edge of the housing estates at the south end of Yarm.

Conyers school site plaque © David Simpson
Conyers school site plaque © David Simpson

Yarm’s parish church is dedicated to St Mary Magdalene and parts date back to the Norman era. Anglo-Saxon sculptures and a cross have been found on the site which suggest that there was an earlier church here in Anglo-Saxon times. The inscription on the stone cross, discovered by the eminent Victorian archaeologist Canon William Greenwell in 1877, is now part of the collection at Durham Cathedral. The cross seems to indicate that an Anglo-Saxon Bishop of Hexham called Trumberhet (who was a bishop from AD681 to AD 684) was buried at Yarm.

Yarm, church of St Mary Magdalene
Yarm, church of St Mary Magdalene © David Simpson

The Norman church at Yarm was built in the twelfth century by the De Brus family and a tower was added in the thirteenth century that was replaced in the fifteenth century. Although there are significant Norman remains including the west front and Norman windows, much of the old church was damaged by a fire in 1728 and rebuilt in Georgian style in 1730.

Yarm churchyard, St Mary Magdalene
Yarm churchyard, St Mary Magdalene © David Simpson

Within the church is some interesting stained glass by Peckitt of York and wooden pews that are in part the work of woodcarver Robert Thompson of Kilburn known as ‘Mousey Thompson’ for his inclusion of a carved mouse in his work.

Also of interest is a carved stone tomb of an unidentified couple known as the ‘True Lovers’ who lie facing up. The effigies of the lovers are early fourteenth century but the tomb was reused in 1638. Interestingly, the neighbouring riverside walk is called ‘True Lovers Walk’. In the graveyard of the church we can find the burial place of Sir Tom Brown (1705-1746) the hero of the Battle of Detingen.

Yarm Castle
Yarm Castle © David Simpson

Not far from the church in West Street we find Yarm’s most surprising curiosity which is Yarm Castle. It is not a genuine medieval castle as it only dates from 1882. Also it is in fact a rather diminutive fortification, made of concrete and situated on the wall of a house that was home to its creator, a Yarm resident and builder called David Doughty. The miniature Town Hall was added later by his son in the 1930s.

Yarm Viaduct and West Street
Yarm Viaduct and West Street © David Simpson

Yarm Viaduct

Yarm Viaduct is one of the most striking features of the town of Yarm and surprisingly is a rather elegant feature that does not in any way detract from Yarm’s Georgian elegance or its natural setting. In fact the viaduct adds a sense of drama and stage-setting to the townscape of Yarm.

The south end of Yarm viaduct near Bentley Wynd © David Simpson
The south end of Yarm viaduct near Bentley Wynd © David Simpson

The viaduct, which is 760 yards (695 metres) long was begun in 1849 and opened on May 15, 1852. Irish navvies who built the viaduct must have been a regular site in Yarm’s local pubs during its construction. An interesting feature of its construction was the discovery of a deeply buried 22 feet long ancient canoe dug up during the laying of the foundations of the viaduct.

Yarm Bridge and viaduct
Yarm Bridge and viaduct © David Simpson

There are 43 arches making up the viaduct. The arches are mostly of brick though the two wider arches that cross the river itself are built of stone, presumably for sturdiness and aesthetic purposes. The brick arches of the viaduct certainly echo the brick work of Yarm’s houses while the stonework of the arches that cross the river complement that of the neighbouring Yarm Bridge.

Yarm Viaduct and Low Church Wynd
Yarm Viaduct and Low Church Wynd © David Simpson

Built as part of the Leeds Northern Railway, the viaduct linked places such as Thirsk and Northallerton to Yarm and Eaglescliffe Junction and onward to Stockton, Hartlepool and Sunderland. The old Yarm station itself was at the north end of the viaduct on the Eaglescliffe side, unlike the present Yarm Station of 1996 which is well to the south of the town.

Yarm Viaduct
Yarm Viaduct © David Simpson

Designed by engineer, Thomas Grainger along with John Bourne, the huge stone inscription that recalls their name is of a monumental scale and can be seen on the viaduct directly above the centre of the river. It leaves you in no doubt about the individuals involved in its construction. The plaque mentions ‘Engineers: Thomas Grainger and John Bourne’ along with ‘Superintendent: Joseph Dixon’ and ‘Contractors Trowsdale, Jackson and Garbutt’ with the date of the inscription being ‘1849’.

Yarm Viaduct and the prominent plaque to its makers
Yarm Viaduct and prominent plaque to its makers between the two river arches. Note the brick arches (left) and stone arches (right)  © David Simpson

An unpleasant incident associated with the old Yarm station on the Eaglescliffe side of the viaduct involved a train travelling south in bad weather on a dark night in 1855. Stopping at the station, the train overshot the station platform onto the viaduct where a passenger alighting from the carriage fell 74 feet to his death.

Yarm Viaduct, Hope House, West Street and entrance to High Church Wynd beneath the viaduct arch
Yarm Viaduct, Hope House, West Street and entrance to High Church Wynd beneath the viaduct arch © David Simpson

Yarm floods

Yarm’s location within a tight bend of the River Tees resembles the situation of the City of Durham or the town of Warkworth in Northumberland. Yet Yarm differs from both of these in that it does not have a (real) castle for defence and is built on relatively flat land which, over the centuries, has exposed the town to the constant threat of flooding. This isn’t surprising given that no part of Yarm is more than 25 feet (7.6 metres) above sea level.

River Tees at Yarm looking towards Egglescliffe church
River Tees at Yarm looking towards Egglescliffe church © David Simpson

Most notable were the floods of February 17th, 1753; November 16th and 17th, 1771 and that of March 1881 all of which inundated the town. A marker on Yarm’s Town Hall in the High Street marks the height of the flood of 1771 as seven feet above ground but this flood reached 20 feet in some parts of Yarm. This was the great North East ‘St Hilda’s Day Flood’ that destroyed many of the bridges on the Tees, Tyne and Wear.

River Tees ay Yarm
River Tees ay Yarm © David Simpson

The flood of 1753 was witnessed and recorded in a letter by a man from the nearby village of Redmarshall. His letter recalling the event is dated 9th March:

‘About one o’ clock in the morning it came into Yarm, throwing down all the garden and orchard walls, and forcing its way through the windows of the houses in the middle of the street. The people got into their uppermost rooms, where they had the melancholy prospect of a perfect sea in the street: horses, cows, sheep and hogs and all manner of household goods floating….There was one thing rather comical than otherwise happened in the midst of this doleful spectacle. A sow, big with young, had swum till her strength was quite exhausted; a wheelbarrow was carried by the torrent out of somebody’s yard, which the sow being pretty near, laid her nose and forefeet into, and suffered herself to be carried by the flood till she got safe to land’

Yarm Bridge

For centuries Yarm was the lowest bridging point across the River Tees until the building of the first bridge at Stockton in 1771. Coupled with Yarm’s role as a port the bridging point made Yarm a very busy hub for traffic on both land and water.

Yarm Bridge with Yarm Viaduct behind
Yarm Bridge with Yarm Viaduct behind © David Simpson

Yarm is of course a Yorkshire town and is connected to the village of Egglescliffe (historically in County Durham) on the north bank of the Tees by a stone bridge built by Walter Skirlaw, Bishop of Durham in 1400. It replaced an earlier bridge that existed for two centuries that was likely built of timber.

Skirlaw also built bridges at Shincliffe and Bishop Auckland across the River Wear. As a Yorkshireman from the East Riding he may have seen Yarm Bridge as being of particular importance as a link between Durham and Yorkshire’s North Riding. The lands of the Bishops of Durham included Howdenshire in East Yorkshire where Bishop Skirlaw built the magnificent tower of Howden Minster.

Yarm Bridge
Yarm Bridge © David Simpson

During the Civil War there was a battle for control of the important strategic crossing of Yarm Bridge. On February 1st 1643 a Royalist force under the command of General King and General Goring were on their way south to assist troops at York when they were set upon by 400 Parliamentarian troops at Yarm as they attempted to cross the bridge.

The Parliamentarians were defeated but the Royalists soon recognised the importance of this crossing point. A drawbridge was incorporated into the northern part of the bridge with the removal of an arch to restrict movements. On February 14th, 1643 the commander of the Royalist force at Stockton ordered the rector of Egglescliffe, Isaac Basire that the bridge should be drawn every night.

Yarm Bridge
Yarm Bridge © David Simpson

The slightly pointed arches are part of the medieval bridge but the later rounded arch at the Egglescliffe end of the bridge replaced the drawbridge.

In 1803 it was decided that Yarm’s stone bridge should be replaced by a new one built of iron. When the new bridge was complete a celebration was held, at which the mayor of Stockton declared:

“May the almighty protect this undertaking,
and may this bridge stand the test of time”

The unfortunate mayor had to eat his words as shortly before the bridge was to be used by the public on the 12th January 1806 it fell into the river with a “tremendous crash”. Fortunately the old bridge had not been destroyed and here it still stands to this day.

Yarm Bridge
Yarm Bridge © David Simpson

In September 1827 the Duke of Wellington, famed for his part in the Battle of Waterloo was greeted by his friend, the Marquess of Londonderry on Yarm Bridge. From there he headed north to dine with the Marquess at Stockton before heading out to the palatial home of the Marquess at Wynyard Hall.

Yarm Bridge and viaduct
Yarm Bridge and viaduct © David Simpson

Worsall and Aislaby

Low Worsall on the River Tees upstream from Yarm to the east of Middleton St. George was situated at the highest tidal point on the River Tees until the construction of the Tees Barrage at Stockton in 1995. In the eighteenth century, a small agricultural port called Piersport was established at Worsall by Thomas and Richard Pierse. Piersport was used for agricultural products but was never a real threat to Yarm which was the chief port on the river at this time.

The main feature of Worsall today is Worsall Hall which was the residence of Thomas Pierse from 1730 to 1767 when he moved to Acklam Hall. Worsall Hall has a secret tunnel which is said to have been used by smugglers. Not far from Worsall, on the north side of the Tees is the little village of Aislaby. It has a Viking name that means Aislac’s village. This is one of only a small number of Viking ‘by’ place-names on the north side of the river though names ending in ‘by’ are very numerous just south of the Tees in the old Kingdom of Jorvik.

Blue Bell Egglescliffe
On the Egglescliffe side of Yarm Bridge © David Simpson

Egglescliffe or Eaglescliffe?

Egglescliffe on the opposite side of the Yarm Bridge to Yarm is an old village with a name that could mean ‘church on the hill’. Eccles or ‘eggles’ elements in place-names can sometimes refer to some of the most ancient Christian sites in Britain but it’s not clear if Egglescliffe was one such site.

Egglescliffe church
Egglescliffe church © David Simpson

It is easy to imagine that this had once been an important sacred, water-focused site with perhaps superstitious links, standing high above the loop of the river at Yarm with adjacent features such as the Devil’s Hill and Devil’s Hole.

Egglescliffe village
Egglescliffe village © David Simpson

Indeed it’s often unnoticed that like Yarm, Egglescliffe , almost lies within a loop of the river. The Tees is just below Egglescliffe church on its western flank but the river is also just to the east of Egglescliffe below Devil’s Hill. In fact just across the Tees to the south east of Egglescliffe village is an ancient tumulus called Round Hill where the Tees is joined by the River Leven near Ingleby Barwick.

Egglescliffe church tower peeping above the Tees
Egglescliffe church tower peeping above the Tees © David Simpson

‘Church cliff’ would certainly be a good description of the location of Egglescliffe’s old church, however it has also been argued that Egglescliffe may mean Ecgi’s Cliffe or Egga’s Cliffe, the hill belonging to an Anglo-Saxon called Ecgi or Egga.

In fact the earliest known recorded form of the name is ‘Eggasclif’ in 1085 but it may already have undergone a number of transformations by then. In any case recorded names often only reflect a scribe’s interpretation. Other earlier recorded forms include ‘Eggescliva’ (1155) and Egesclif (1161). In the 1190s recorded forms look more like the present name such as ‘Eggleclif’, ‘Ecclescliue’ and ‘Egglescliue’ but there are many almost countless recorded variations of the name throughout the medieval period.

Egglescliffe church and Yarm Bridge River Tees at Yarm looking towards Egglescliffe church © David Simpson
Yarm Bridge with Egglescliffe church tower in the distance © David Simpson

If the church theory is correct then it is tempting to link the name with the nearby settlement of Preston-on-Tees. Its name, like Egglescliffe, is Anglo-Saxon and means the ‘Priest’s farm’ or possibly ‘Priest’s enclosure/settlement’. Perhaps it could refer to an early Christian priest or perhaps even a pagan one.

Egglescliffe village
Egglescliffe village © David Simpson

Egglescliffe church itself seems to have been dedicated to St John the Baptist but there is a degree of uncertainty about this and in some old records it is referred to as the Church of St Mary the Virgin.

Like the church at Yarm there are hints of an an earlier Anglo-Saxon church including a stone pre-conquest cross shaft. Structurally, the oldest features in the church include a partly Norman nave but the building is mostly of later medieval periods including a fifteenth century tower. The interior includes humbly carved woodwork in the furnishings dating from the seventeenth century.

Egglescliffe churchyard
Egglescliffe churchyard © David Simpson

One prominent and characterful rector of Egglescliffe church was Isaac Basire, who in the seventeenth century first displayed the two chained books in the church which are the titled Eikon Basilike (1662) and Bishop Jewel’s Apology of the Church of England (1611). They epitomised Basire’s sympathy for the death of the late executed king, Charles.

The stone effigies of two knights can be seen in Egglescliffe church. One of these is thought to be Sir Thomas de Aislaby of nearby Aislaby village. The other is more certainly that of Sir John de Egglescliffe which was originally situated in the churchyard. Both knights fought at the Battle of Lewes in Sussex in 1264 which was part of a conflict called the Second Barons War.

Egglescliffe village
Egglescliffe village © David Simpson

According to a local legend John De Egglescliffe is said to have captured or killed an eagle that terrorised the local neighbourhood. This sounds like a piece of local folk legend etymology connected to the Eagles’ Cliff interpretation of the name.

Apart from the Blue Bell pub above the bridge (which is supposedly haunted by a fisherman called George Goldie), the old part of Egglescliffe is a surprisingly secluded village situated along Butts Lane, where the villagers in times past practiced their crossbow archery skills on shooting butts. There were once two wells in the village and the village even played host to a little cottage weaving industry in which blankets were manufactured. Egglescliffe is rather a quiet spot today with a pleasant village green and a tiny pub called the ‘Pot and Glass’.

Pot and Glass, Egglescliffe
Pot and Glass, Egglescliffe © David Simpson

Whatever the origin of the name of Egglescliffe may be, the village should not be confused with its larger modern neighbour called Eaglescliffe. According to one local story the name of this place apparently arose after a Victorian misspelling on the local railway station sign, in which an ‘a’ accidentally substituted the ‘g’.

In the 1850s the area around the station (in the Preston area) came to be called Eaglescliffe Junction (it was earlier called ‘Preston Junction’). Just to its south was the junction with the railway that heads through Yarm via the viaduct. Nearby was a farm called Junction Farm, a name that lives on in that of the local Junction Farm Primary School, which is a little further to the south.

Discounting the legend associated with the knight’s effigy in the church there is not, as might be expected, any actual record of Eaglescliffe ever being the domain of an eagle (unless we include the present modern local pub of that name). However, there are some occasional earlier references to Egglescliffe being called Eaglescliffe before the time of the railways though none of these date back before 1639.

Yarm Bridge with Egglescliffe to the right
Yarm Bridge and the River Tees with Egglescliffe to the right © David Simpson

Eaglescliffe (confusingly home to a secondary school called Egglescliffe School) hosted the course of an early branch line of the Stockton and Darlington Railway called the Yarm Branch. This branch line opened in October 1825 less than a month after the main railway opened. The Yarm branch railway brought coal into Egglescliffe, from where it could be delivered across the bridge to Yarm.

A few weeks after its opening, coaches also brought passengers along the line into Yarm but these services ceased after 1833 to focus on coal. The branch line finally closed in 1871 by which time it no longer served a useful purpose as it was now eclipsed by the new Leeds Northern Line from Eaglescliffe Junction that passed through the area via Yarm viaduct.

Stockton and Darlington Railway Cottage at Eaglescliffe
Stockton and Darlington Railway Cottage at Eaglescliffe © David Simpson

Between Egglescliffe School and Yarm Bridge on the Urlay Nook Road is a former Stockton and Darlington Railway Agent’s property of around 1825 now called Layfield House and labelled ‘D13’ by the S&D railway company. Curiously its upstairs windows are fake and are only painted on. Just behind the building there were once coal drops at a spot called ‘Hole of Paradise’ where the coal was offloaded for the Yarm consumers to collect. As we have noted the course of the old Stockton and Darlington Railway was not the same as the present railway and associated viaduct through Yarm, which came later.

A little bit below the railway cottage and the Hole of Paradise site is the Cleveland Bay pub (once called the Railway Inn). The pub is on the Eaglescliffe side but faces the approach to Yarm Bridge. It is named from a famous breed of horse originating in the Cleveland district of Yorkshire. Here the road from the bridge splits in two with the Yarm Road on its east side heading to Stockton and Preston-on-Tees. On the pub’s west side is the Urlay Nook Road which leads to Urlay Nook, Redmarshall, Elton and Middleton St George.

The Cleveland Bay, Eaglescliffe © David Simpson
The Cleveland Bay, Eaglescliffe with the Urlay Nook Road to the left and Yarm Road to the right © David Simpson

From the Urlay Nook Road in Eaglescliffe a road leads directly north crossing the railway from Darlington to Stockton by a level crossing at Allens West Station. From here the road heads north to the village of Elton near the A66 on the outskirts of Stockton.

Allens West station opened during World War Two and was initially called Urlay Nook Halt. It served a Royal Navy Depot and later the Ministry of Defence but is now a local passenger station. It is more or less located on the site of ‘Yarm Branch End’ where the 1825 Yarm Branch of the Stockton and Darlington Railway was linked to the famous line.

Allens West, Eaglescliffe
Allens West, Eaglescliffe © David Simpson

Urlay Nook, on the north west side of Eaglescliffe was once the site of Teesside’s first chemical works established in 1831 and situated alongside the Stockton and Darlington Railway. Here the Urlay Nook Road ends where it splits to continue north to Long Newton or west to Middleton St George and Teesside Airport.

The name of Urlay Nook was first recorded in 1220 as Lurlehou and seems to mean ‘hill spur belonging to Lurla’. Later the ‘L’ was dropped as it was called Urlawe by 1509. The word nook was added sometime around 1749 or earlier when the form ‘Urlingnook’ is recorded.

Egglescliffe village
Egglescliffe village © David Simpson

Preston Hall and Park

The Yarm Road area of Eaglescliffe (and Preston) which links Yarm to Stockton developed in the nineteenth century with a number of large houses built along its course associated with industrialists and shipowners from Stockton.

These influential men included John Fowler, Chief Engineer to the Tees Conservancy Commissioners. It was Fowler who instigated the plans for the construction of the two breakwaters – the South Gare near Redcar and North Gare near Hartlepool at the mouth of the River Tees in 1861. The first of these was completed 1863-1888 with the shorter North Gare completed 1882-1891.

Just off the road to the north east of Eaglescliffe in the well wooded Tees valley, is Preston Park and Preston Hall. Preston is mentioned in The Boldon Buke, County Durham’s equivalent of the Domesday Book in 1183, when the land was farmed by Adam son of Walter de Stockton, Orm son of Cockett and William son of Utting. Later owners included the De Setons, Sayers and Withams.

In 1722 Preston became the property of Sir John Eden of Windlestone, County Durham and then in 1812 the property of David Burton Fowler. It was Burton Fowler who commenced the construction of Preston Hall in 1825. This was also the year of the opening of the famous Stockton and Darlington Railway, which ran close to the grounds of the hall. On the opening day of the railway, a famous race between a stagecoach and the Locomotion Number One is thought to have taken place along this particular stretch of the line. The victor is unrecorded.

Preston Hall near Eaglescliffe
Preston Hall near Eaglescliffe © David Simpson

Preston Hall was sold to the local shipbuilder Robert Ropner (from whom Stockton’s Ropner Park is named) in 1882 and in the following century passed into the hands of Stockton Borough Council, who opened the hall as a museum in 1953. The museum has an outstanding collection of weapons, armoury, furniture, toys and costumes.

The impressive array of armoury largely came from the bequest of Colonel Gilbert Ormerod (1879-1925) but the museum is best known for its Victorian period rooms and a period street which are surprisingly not as well known as those of the museums at York or Beamish. The shops in the museum street include a Grocers, Tobacconist, Taxidermist, Confectioner, Draper, Pawnbroker, Ironmongers, a Chemist and a Bank.

The most outstanding exhibit is the beautiful atmospheric painting by the French artist Georges De La Tour (1593-1652) entitled The Dice Players. The Dice Players was purchased by the avid collector Edwin Clephan, the son of a baker in Silver Street, Stockton. Mr Clephan later moved to Leicester but in a deed of 1911 his art collection passed to his daughter Miss Annie Elizabeth Clephan. In 1930 the entire collection of paintings was left to the people of Stockton by Miss Clephan in memory of her father.

The paintings were stored at Preston Hall for many years and it was only during a routine inspection of the collection in 1972 that the importance of The Dice Players painting came to light. This was a remarkable discovery and is one of only two examples of De La Tour’s work in this country, with the other one located at Hampton Court.

Yarm Town Hall clock and weather vane with the date '1710'
Yarm Town Hall clock and weather vane with the date ‘1710’ © David Simpson

Stockton-on-Tees | Hartlepool 

Billingham Norton

Sedgefield | Castle Eden and Crimdon

Darlington Croft, Sockburn and Sadberge

Middlesbrough Around Middlesbrough

Guisborough and Cleveland | Cleveland Coast

YouTube : Viking history of the River Tees

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North East England History and Culture