Yarm : the first Tees port
The River Tees at Yarm forms a northward pointing horse-shoe meander which encloses this attractive little Georgian market town on three sides. For many centuries Yarm was called Yarum, a name deriving from the Anglo-Saxon word Gear. Pronounced ‘yair’, this was a pool for catching fish and would have been formed by a weir with a specially constructed channel to trap the fish.
The ‘um’ on the end of the original name Yarum was an Anglo-Saxon plural, so Yarm means ‘fish pools’ or ‘fish weirs’. Yarm may have been a place of importance in Anglo-Saxon times and there are traces of what are believed to be Anglo-Saxon stones in Yarm’s parish church of St Mary Magdalene.
The Yarm Viking Helmet
Yarm as a port
Yarm High Street pubs
Yarm’s town centre is dominated by a cobbled High Street which runs along the centre of the loop formed by the Tees. At the centre of the High Street is the little Dutch style Town Hall built in 1710 by Viscount Fauconberg, who was Lord of the Manor of Yarm. The High Street once boasted sixteen inns as Yarm was one of the most important coaching stops on the north-south route.
A number of Yarm’s old inns still survive including the ‘Ketton Ox’, named after a famous ox bred near Darlington. This inn was at one time noted for cock fighting. The ‘George and Dragon’ was the site of the 1820 meeting at which the decision was made to build the Stockton and Darlington Railway. At the northern end of the High Street, across the Tees into Eaglescliffe is the ‘Cleveland Bay’ which commemorates a well known breed of horse, originating from the hills to the east of Yarm.
Yarm’s location within a tight bend of the River Tees resembles the situation of the City of Durham and the town of Warkworth in Northumberland. Yet Yarm differs from both in that it is built on flat ground which, over the centuries, has exposed it to the constant threat of flooding. Most notable were the floods of 1753, 1771 and 1783 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. It is seven feet above ground. The flood of 1753 was witnessed and recorded in a letter by a man from the nearby village of Redmarshall. The letter 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 is connected to the village of Egglescliffe on the north bank of the Tees by a stone bridge built by Walter Skirlaw, Bishop of Durham in 1400. During the Civil War there was a battle for control of this important strategic crossing of the Tees. 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 had been incorporated into the northern arch of the bridge to restrict movements and 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.
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.
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 the eighteenth century, a small agricultural port called Piersport was established here 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 village of Aislaby, a Viking place name which means Aislac’s village. It is one of only a small number of Viking ‘by’ names on north side of the river.
Egglescliffe or Eaglescliffe ?
Until the building of Stockton bridge in 1771 Bishop Skirlaw’s bridge was the most easterly crossing point of the Tees. Egglescliffe on the opposite side of the bridge to Yarm is an old village with a name that could mean ‘church on the hill’. This would certainly be a good description of the location of Egglescliffe’s old church, however it has also been suggested that Egglescliffe may mean Ecgi’s Cliffe, the hill belonging to an Anglo-Saxon called Ecgi.
If the church theory is correct then it is tempting to link the name with the nearby settlement or Preston-on-Tees. Its name, like Egglescliffe, is Anglo-Saxon and means the ‘Priest’s farm, enclosure or settlement’.
Whatever the origin of the name of Egglescliffe may be, it should not be confused with its larger modern neighbour called Eaglescliffe. According to one story the name of this place apparently arose after a misspelling on a local railway station sign, in which an ‘a’ accidentally substituted the ‘g’. There is not as might be expected, any record of Eaglescliffe ever being the domain of the eagle.
From Eaglescliffe a road leads directly north crossing the railway from Stockton to Darlington by a level crossing at Allens West Station and heads north to the village of Elton near the A66 on the outskirts of Stockton.
A road to the north west of Eaglescliffe leads to nearby Urlay Nook, which was once the site of a chemical works established in 1831 that was situated alongside the Stockton and Darlington Railway. From here the road continues north to Long Newton or west to Middleton St George and Durham Tees Valley Airport.
The name of Urlay Nook was first recorded in 1220 as Lurlehou and seems to mean the ‘hill spur belonging to someone called Lurla’. Later the ‘l’ was dropped – it was called Urlawe by 1509 – and the word nook was added sometime around 1749 or earlier when the form Urlingnook is recorded.
Preston Hall and Park
Along the road to Stockton to the north east of Eaglescliffe in the well wooded Tees valley, is Preston Park and Preston Hall. Preston on Tees 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 Setons, Sayers and the Withams.
In 1722 Preston became the property of Sir John Eden of Windlestone, County Durham and in 1812 the property of David Burton Fowler. It was David 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 Preston. 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 was sold to the local shipbuilder Robert Ropner 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, furniture, toys, costumes and armour but is best known for its Victorian period rooms and a period street which are surprisingly not as well known as those 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 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, the other is at Hampton Court.
Our YouTube channel explores the Viking history of the River Tees.