Tadcaster - The West Yorkshire town celebrates its beery heritage

Tadcaster, with its beery heritage, stoutly retains a solidly down-to-earth workaday feel says Terry Fletcher

A town with taste

Tadcaster, with its beery heritage, stoutly retains a solidly down-to-earth workaday feel says Terry Fletcher

You’re never far from a pint in Tadcaster. The town may straddle the River Wharfe but it floats on beer; lots of it. Approaching along the A64 from Leeds or York the skyline is dominated by the twin chimneys of the rival John and Samuel Smiths breweries while the heady whiff of the mash tun often wafts through the centre. ‘Tad’ is proud of its beery heritage. The two breweries are not tucked away out of sight but stand just 100 yards apart in the very heart of the High Street. John Smith’s sports the more distinctive chimney with its decorated stonework and flared crown but Sam’s ‘Old Brewery’ boasts the more imposing fa�ade, fronted with the sort of columns that anywhere else would not look out of place on a market town bank. Measured against them the Tower brewery, formerly owned by Bass but now part of the American Molson/Coors conglomerate, on the road out to Boston Spa, seems positively bashful.This pride in its role as the brewing capital of Yorkshire gives Tadcaster its distinctive character as well as its comforting aroma. While neighbouring towns and village have preened and primped themselves to become well-heeled dormitories for Leeds and York, a dozen or so miles in either direction, Tadcaster stoutly retains a solidly down-to-earth workaday feel. There is no shortage of attractive buildings of mellow red brick or the creamy soft local limestone but there is not the slightest hint here of anything being preserved in aspic. This is a town that lets you know that people don’t just live here; they make their living here too.It is an individuality echoed along the High Street, which has managed to avoid the suffocating embrace of the chain stores which have left so many other communities looking like boring clones of one another. Apart from a token Sainsbury’s almost apologetically hidden away down on the other side of the river, most of the over-familiar names are conspicuous only by their absence. Instead there is a collection of small local businesses selling everything from fine food to toys and books to wedding dresses. There is even that rarest of retailers, an old-fashioned ironmonger that the DIY superstores have not managed to kill off.Tadcaster is also proud of its history. The Romans came here and called it Calcaria after the local limestone, a name now echoed in a local pub. A heritage trail has been laid out to take in the most striking landmarks and there is a pleasant riverside stroll down to The Viaduct. With its eleven arches and elegant river crossing it makes an imposing sight but today stands largely as a hubristic monument to over-ambition.In the 1840s George Hudson, the Victorian speculator nicknamed The Railway King, conceived the viaduct to carry his proposed York to Leeds line. The viaduct rose majestically but the promised line never followed. Before it could be built the railway bubble burst and the viaduct, grand enough to grace any main line, never carried anything more important than a siding for good wagons.Also by the river stands St Mary’s Church, a largely 15th century gem which also includes impressive stained glasswork by William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones. It too hides a secret. The earliest stones date from the 12th century but it had to be rebuilt after being burned by Scots raiders. However it was badly sited and flooded so often that between 1875 and 1877 it was painstakingly dismantled, stone by stone, and rebuilt five feet higher.Yet even this is not the town’s most intriguing building. Just opposite is the timbered Ark, which is said to be the town’s longest occupied building and today serves as council offices. In the past, however, it was a religious meeting house and is said to have been used by the Pilgrim Fathers to plan their voyage to the New World. With their own independent spirit they would have admired modern Tadcaster, standing at the heart of Yorkshire but very much on its own terms.

My kind of townRichard Sweeting bows to no one in his love of Tadcaster. He was not just born and bred in the town but can trace his family’s roots there for at least six generations and has twice been elected mayor. ‘I would not dream of living anywhere else,’ he says.‘It’s a very traditional Yorkshire town with traditional Yorkshire people who call a spade a spade but there is a great warmth and sense of community here. Its close knit and people look after one another, something that has been lost in a lot of other places.‘The breweries help to foster that because so many people are employed in the same industry. A lot of the lads I went to school with still work there.’

Getting there: On the A64, roughly midway between Leeds and York, and north of Selby.Where to park: On street parking plus a large car park just off the High Street in the centre of the town.What to do: Small locally-owned shops plus a wealth of attractive buildings. A Town Trail with information panels takes in the best of them, including The Ark and St Mary’s Church. Also pleasant riverside walks along the Wharfe.

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