Masham

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Masham (pron.: /ˈmæsəm/ MASS-əm) is a small market town and civil parish in the Harrogate district of North Yorkshire, England. It has a population of 1,235. Situated in Wensleydale on the western bank of the River Ure, the name derives from the Anglo-Saxon “Mæssa’s Ham”, the homestead belonging to Mæssa. The Romans had a presence here, but the first permanent settlers were the Angles. Around 900 AD the Vikings invaded the region, burning and laying waste to the church and causing great suffering in Masham. They also introduced sheep farming, something for which the town is well known today.

The nearest railway stations are Thirsk and Northallerton. Both are on the TransPennine Express line; Northallerton is also on the East Coast Main Line.

Masham was historically a large parish in the North Riding of Yorkshire. As well as the town of Masham the parish included the townships of Burton-on-Yore, Ellingstring, Ellington High and Low, Fearby, Healey with Sutton, Ilton cum Pott and Swinton. In 1866 the townships became separate civil parishes. Masham Moor was an area of moorland to the west of the parish bordering the West Riding, common to the parishes of Masham and East Witton. It was divided between the parishes of Healey, Ilton cum Pott and Colsterdale in 1934.

The area of the ancient parish, except Burton-on-Yore, was known as Mashamshire from the 12th century or earlier.

St Mary’s Church was most likely founded in the seventh century and stood somewhere near the present town hall on what used to be known as Cockpit Hill. The graveyard yielded 36 burials in a recent excavation. The present church — while having some Anglo-Saxon stonework and the stump of an eighth-century prayer cross — is mainly Norman with fifteenth-century additions. Masham was given to York Minster in the mediaeval period but, as the archbishop did not wish to make the long journey north to oversee the town’s affairs, the parish was designated a peculiar.

Between 1875 and 1963 the town was served by the North Eastern Railway built Masham branch railway.

The market place is by far the largest in the district. It is tightly bordered on its south and west sides by ranges of two- and three-storey buildings. To the south-east, lies St Mary’s Church, Masham with its large churchyard.

Of note for a relatively small town is that it is home to two working breweries, Black Sheep Brewery and Theakstons, situated only a few hundred yards from one another. It is also home to one of the oldest markets in the UK, receiving its first market charter in 1250. Wednesday and Saturday are market days, popular among both locals and visitors. Masham’s importance as a major sheep market is the reason for the huge market place and its beautiful Georgian houses. The market originally thrived because of its nearness to Jervaulx and Fountains Abbeys, with the monks’ large flocks of sheep. The annual Sheep Fair is in September.

Masham is home to the Masham Steam Engine & Fair Organ Rally. It was started in 1965 to try to raise money for the local town hall and it has gone from strength to strength ever since. The organisers are the Masham Town Hall Association. The Black Sheep Brewery sponsors popular annual folk festivals; previous performers have included Hugh Cornwell (of The Stranglers). A cultural highlight is Masham Arts Festival every two years. The next one will take place in 2013. The annual Sheep Fair is in September.

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