PHOTO: The traditional Boxing Day West of Yore Hunt meet in Masham Market Place.

The pretty little market town of Masham (pronounced Massem by the locals) lies in Lower Wensleydale and is probably best known for its two craft breweries – Theakstons and Black Sheep. Both offer guided tours and beer tastings, so are popular tourist attractions.

Masham is unusual in that it was granted the right to it’s own ‘Peculier’ Court in the Middle Ages – the Archbishop of York didn’t want to have to make the long journey north every month to preside over the ecclesiastical court, which in those days dealt with a wide range of misdemeanors from not attending church on Sunday to adultery, fornication and incest.

After the dissolution of the monasteries, Henry VIII granted jurisdiction of this court to the masters and fellows of Trinity College Cambridge. College House, still standing in College Lane, was the former Peculier Courtroom of the Prebend of Masham. The Peculier also lives on in the ‘Four and Twenty’ which now functions mainly to aid charitable causes – and of course, in the famous Theakston’s Old Peculier Beer.

The town also has a few hidden secrets underground. The Little Market Place in front of the town hall was probably the site of an early Christian church. In 1988, human skeletal remains were discovered during the building of the new public toilets near this location and excavations yielded 58 burials. The original burial ground is thought to extend under many of the present surrounding buildings and was in use between 679 and 1011 AD and the bones have been genetically linked to both Angles and Danes. The skeletons have been given a Christian burial in a marked grave in the present Masham Churchyard. Current work to build a new reception area for the doctor’s surgery has also yielded up human remains, and an archaeologist has been appointed to ensure all finds are preserved.

Another underground secret is beneath Silver Street, which links the Market Place to Leyburn Road. Some time after 1800 the street was rebuilt on arches some 10 feet above the old street level. It is still possible to get under the arches and see the original house and shop fronts.

Also on Silver Street is an excellent wine shop called Corks and Cases that used to be The Bull public house. This was Theakston’s original pub and has a cellar linked to the old brewery via an underground passage along which beer barrels could be rolled.

Yet another arched underground passage links the cellars of the White Bear Hotel to an old artesian well, which originally supplied the old Lightfoot’s Brewery with fresh water. This is probably the most impressive underground space in Masham, and was even used as a subterranean nightclub during the 1970s.

These examples show how even a small town like Masham has a fascinating history hidden beneath our feet. A Yorkshire Blue Badge Guide can help you unlock these secrets.

John Darby, Yorkshire Blue Badge Guide

Visit Masham Website