WHAT factory, we asked a couple of weeks ago, is the chimney in the foreground of this wonderful 1950s picture of Yarm railway viaduct?

William Burrows replied that it was Wren’s Vinegar Brewery.

“In the late 1940s/early 1950s, I lived at home in the newly-built Reeth Road, Hartburn, across from the Wren family, and I was friends with David Wren whose dad ran the business, although I believe even then it may have been in decline,” he said.

Loading article content

We’d never before considered vinegar. Nowadays, you just buy it in a bottle in a supermarket without a thought. In times gone by, though, most local areas had their own vinegar factory where vinegar was made – not just made, in fact, but brewed, like beer, from malt (which is dried, germinated grains of barley).

The building on the Durham bank of the Tees to the west of the Yarm railway viaduct was initially a paper mill. It employed 40 people, and even exported brown paper and felt to India.

When it closed, Cecil Wren bought it in 1904 and established his vinegar brewery there – he brewed ale and then fermented it into vinegar. Big white letters on the riverside frontage and around the tall chimney announced to the world that this was the home of Wren’s Vinegar Brewery.

Did the Yarm vinegar brewery serve all of the Tees Valley and south Durham? When Memories discussed the vinegar brewery on BBC Tees on Thursday lunchtime, a listener from Hartlepool called in to say that his corner shop used to have a barrel of Yarm vinegar and his mother would send him down the road with an empty bottle whenever she needed some.

Where were there other vinegar breweries? Does anyone have any local vinegar bottles?

Wren’s Vinegar Brewery closed in 1971 and the site was cleared in 1972. It then became involved in a planning wrangle that lasted more than 20 years. Developers wanted to build a marina there, and after that there were plans for 30 or more houses. But Stockton councillors blocked the developments because they wanted to create a “green buffer” along the edge of the Tees.

In 1993, the council was forced to buy the land which now forms part of the green backdrop to the viaduct – although if you walk along there, apparently you can still see the vinegar brewery’s brick foundations.