ACCORDING to an old saying, Durham City was famed for seven things - wood, water and pleasant walks, law, gospel, old maids and mustard.

This saying probably originated in the 18th Century when Durham's mustard achieved great fame.

Mustard was introduced into England in the 12th Century and in early times seeds were coarsely ground at the table using a mortar and it was eaten in this rough state.

It had reached the North-East by about 1486 when monks on the Farne Islands (a monastic cell tied to Durham Cathedral) are known to have used quern stones in the grinding of "mwstert".

In those early days, it was used primarily to disguise the flavour of rotten meat and it was not until the late 1600s that it came to be recommended in its own right.

At that time, the town of Tewkesbury was primarily noted for mustard making, but in those days it was a much weaker substance and it was not until 1720 that English-style mustard, resembling what we know today, really came into being.

English mustard was born largely due to the vision and energy of a Durham City woman by the name of Mrs Clements.

Her forename has, despite her remarkable achievements, eluded all historians that have strived to tell her story.

In 1720, she invented a new method of extracting the full flavour from mustard seed. Her methods were secretly guarded but involved grinding the seeds in a mill and passing them through several processes similar to those used in the making of flour from wheat.

This resourceful woman soon recognised the potential of her invention and travelled the country collecting orders.

She regularly visited London where her product tickled the palate of none other than King George I, whose liking for the mustard brought Mrs Clements numerous orders from people who wished to follow royal fashion.

It is said that Mrs Clement's mustard mill was situated at the rear of a property in Saddler Street (now a clothes shop that was once the House of Andrews stationer), but this is not certain.

Mustard seeds were certainly grown on local farms in the early days, including Houghall Farm, near Shincliffe. It must have been a lucrative trade because mustard crops worth up to £100 an acre were occasionally known.

The manufacture also stimulated other industries and it is known that a Gateshead pottery specialised in supplying pots for mustard export.

In the 18th century, the name of Durham came to be synonymous with mustard and, in local slang, Durham people came to be known as knock-kneed Durham men from the alleged grinding of mustard between their knees.

Later in the century, rival mustard firms sprang up around the country, including London where Messrs Keen and Sons manufactured the product from 1742, supplying it to taverns and chophouses.

Though later acquired by Colmans of Norwich (who made mustard from 1814) the London firm is still remembered in the saying "keen as mustard".

By 1810, the London Journal recorded that the once frowned upon condiment of "mustard seed is now used and esteemed by most of the quality and gentry". However, by this time, Durham had lost its mustard monopoly.

Meanwhile, Mrs Clements' daughter, who was heir to the family business, married local man Joseph William Ainsley whose family had been involved in Durham flour-making since 1692.

The Ainsley family became the main name in Durham mustard making and their business was situated in Silver Street - number 22. This location, and not Saddler Street, may have been the original site of Durham's mustard factory.

The Ainsley family history is not totally clear, but at the beginning of the 19th Century the business passed into the hands of a son or grandson, also called Joseph William Ainsley. Another family member, possibly a brother, called John, worked at a flour mill at Crook Hall. This mill seems to have been involved in making mustard for the Silver Street premises.

Following Joseph Ainsley's death in about 1830, his widow, Eleanor, carried on the business but later married John Balmborough who became proprietor in the 1840s or 50s.

At about this time, a new mustard business also opened in the city, this time in Saddler Street and was operated by William Ainsley who was, it is believed, the son of John, from Crook Hall flour mill.

Balmborough was clearly threatened by this rival firm and his advertisements went to great lengths to emphasise that he was the true heir to the Ainsley name.

William Ainsley however was a successful entrepreneur noted for his printing and stationery business at 1 Saddler Street. He moved to larger premises at 74 (later the House of Andrews) after branching out into mustard.

A William Ainsley advertisement of 1865 only lists mustard as a footnote to a number of enterprises that included gunpowder-making, but it must have affected Balmborough's business.

By the early 1870s, Saddler Street was too small for the business and Ainsley moved to Waddington Street in the northern part of the city. In 1874, he died and was succeeded by his sons, William and John Ainsley, trading as William Ainsley and Brother. Balmborough also died during this period and the Silver Street business closed.

A new Durham mustard business was launched in 1888 operated by John Simpson and James Willan, initially in Providence Row and then in Gilesgate's Station Lane, but it barely lasted a decade.

Simpson, who died in 1908, spent his final years as a timekeeper at the city's gas company.

William Ainsley died in 1896 and the Ainsley firm lasted only two or three years into the following century.

Durham's mustard-making trade fell into the hands of Colmans, the Norwich firm most closely associated with mustard-making today.