YARM is a place that’s full of historic charm.

Until 1771, it was the lowest crossing point on the River Tees – that means it was the first crossing point you came to as you moved inland from the sea.

It was a “crossing point” because in the earliest times, there was a ford at the top of the picture by which you could pick your way across on foot to the Blue Bell Inn on the Durham side. In the 12th Century, a wooden bridge replaced the ford and then in 1400, Bishop Walter Skirlaw, the great bridge-building Bishop of Durham, built the first stone bridge.

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This bridge was wide enough for centuries, and important enough to be fought over in the English Civil War in the 17th Century. The Parliamentarians held Yarm, and the Royalists controlled Stockton, so the Royalists knocked out the first arch of the bridge on the Durham side and turned it into a drawbridge, which prevented the Parliamentarians from crossing.

On February 1, 1643, the Royalists swept down from Egglescliffe across the bridge, captured or killed many of the 400 Parliamentarians, and rode on to York.

It wasn’t until Yarm’s heyday in the 18th Century that the bridge was deemed too small. In 1799, the people of Yarm approached John Carr of York, the greatest bridge-builder of his century, and asked for an estimate to double the width. However, they got a cheaper quote from another bridge-builder who, for £8,000, promised to throw a 189ft long single span bridge made of iron over the Tees.

The iron man started work on September 3, 1803, and had completed the job within two years. Proud of their new iron bridge, the people of Yarm set January 12, 1806, as the formal opening date so they could prepare a celebratory feast.

But on January 11 – the day before – the iron bridge fell down. As it weighed 250 tons, it must have made quite a splash.

So cap in hand, the people of Yarm returned to Mr Carr. His health had deteriorated in the intervening six years – he was 83, and wracked with bowel, eye and ankle problems plus rheumatism – but he worked out a plan. He died in 1807 with the bridge incomplete, although it was finished to his designs in 1810.

But hold your horses – what is that big white building on the Durham side of the road bridge? The one that forces the road to make a sharp sweep around it?

Why, forget all the nonsense you read in last week’s Memories (and thanks to everyone who has helped us with this), this is Wren’s Vinegar Brewery.

In 1832, a paper mill opened on this site. It was badly damaged by fire in October 1846, but was back working by 1848, when Thomas Wren built a flour mill beside it. Another fire ripped through the mills in 1860, but in 1904, 29-year-old Cecil Wren bought the paper mill and converted the site into a vinegar brewery. From here, he supplied vinegar to much of the Tees Valley.

He also described himself as a sauce manufacturer and a mustard miller, plus he had a sideline selling hot water – on washday Monday morning, the women of Yarm would buy two buckets of boiling water for a halfpenny to help with their laundry, although they had to carry them across the bridge.

Mr Wren died in 1971 aged 96, and the brewery closed. Durham County Council demolished it and redesigned the bridge approach road so the dangerous curve was removed.

In the brewery were several 15ft tall oak vats which each held 3,000 gallons of vinegar. They were constructed in an unusual way, with bulrushes being tacked between the joints to make them watertight (well, vinegartight).

Before demolition, William Wade, of Yarm, bought some of the wood from the vats and cleverly turned it into a dining table, sideboard and corner cabinet. These unique pieces of local history still grace his home and take us back to the days when vinegar was brewed on the banks of the Tees.

STAYING with our 1950s aerial picture, if we move our eyes left (west) from the vinegar brewery and the road bridge, we come, of course, to the fabulous railway viaduct. Built from 1849 to 1852 for £44,500, its 42 arches are 750 yards long.

In its left-hand shadow is the factory with a chimney which last week we wrongly identified as the vinegar brewery.

This was Walker’s Tannery, where cowhides were turned into leather. Tanning was a notoriously odorous industry which is why, like here, it was located on the outskirts of a town.

The hides were first of all washed and then soaked for hours, even days, in rectangular pits full of lime liquor. It was an alkaline solution which helped remove the skin and hairs. A cheaper alternative to lime liquor was human urine, which had the same chemical pH level, but only added to the malodorous nature of the business.

Finally, the hides were stepped in a solution made from oak bark. The tannin in the bark turned them into leather, and gave the tanning process its name.

“In the same area as the tannery was Yarm Pottery,” says JE Tyson. “I remember going there with my mother who bought a teapot in the shape of a country cottage, long gone.”

We think the tannery and pottery buildings lasted until 1980. Although there were plans to build houses on the Durham bank, these were abandoned in the early 1990s, and the trees were allowed to recolonise the industrial landscape – indeed, a noticeable feature of this picture is how few trees line the bank beneath Egglescliffe on the right hand side.

WE are hugely indebted to Mr Wade for much of today’s information. For nearly 60 years, he worked in and then managed H & JC Hird’s fellmongery business, which you can see in the aerial photo on the riverfront in the right hand corner – it has now been replaced by housing.

Hird’s dealt primarily in sheepskins, although Mr Wade does remember the time when they acquired the skins of two bears, polar and grisly, which had once been in Flamingoland zoo. The polar bear’s skin was converted into a cricket bag and the grisly was used to reupholster antique chairs.