Yarm is a real jewel in the crown

IT is often said that the traditional High Street has had its day, but high-quality independent retailers are thriving in the upmarket Teesside town of Yarm, as Joanne Welford discovers.

DRAW up any shopping list and chances are, you can fill it with a walk down Yarm High Street.

From a Vivienne Westwood designer suit to a simple greetings card, you’ll find it all in the myriad of boutiques, shops and galleries that flank the Teesside town’s historic cobbles.

Alternatively, if socialising is top of your list, you could just as easily fill the same list with the same walk thanks to the upmarket cafes, restaurants and bars that also fill the town.

For over the past few years, Yarm has gained a reputation for being a chic and cosmopolitan destination – to live, work and play.

Sitting prettily in a loop of the River Tees it has a history that goes back to the Domesday Book which includes being the head of the tide and once the most important port on the river.

Ask anyone who knows Yarm to sum it up and chances are, you’ll find the words thriving and cosmopolitan in there somewhere, even at a time when most retailers are finding the going tough.

And it isn’t hard to see why. Drive down the High Street on any day from a wet Wednesday to a sunny Saturday and it will be thronging with shoppers, day-trippers or ladies doing lunch. It’s a scene most retail commentators would typically associate with Royal Tunbridge Wells or an affluent Cheshire neighbourhood rather than a town just seven miles from Middlesbrough.

To one side, there’s the river with its pretty views, walking and fishing spots. Spanning the town centre you’ll find a diverse range of properties from character cottages to penthouse apartments, family homes to pads for millionaires.

“Yarm is a cosmopolitan market town,” says Jason Hadlow, chair of Yarm Town Council.

“It has a cafe society and is very vibrant. Every shop on the High Street is let and we were named High Street of the Year.

“It is the gateway to North Yorkshire – and somewhere that maintains its traditional values.”

Yarm sits in the borough of Stockton-on- Tees and has done ever since a boundary change in the early Seventies – it does, however, says Coun Hadlow, very much see itself as part of North Yorkshire.

Affluent and aspirational, it is also seen as a desirable place to live – attracting some of the region’s footballers who make it their home, including former Middlesbrough and England manager Steve McClaren.

“Yarm is a place where people want to live,” said Coun Hadlow, “that’s perhaps why property prices are still as firm as they were.

“Yarm has a beautiful riverside landscape, something we aim on enhancing. It is a fantastic destination.”

The Georgian buildings that flank the High Street and its impressive railway viaduct are testament to the place Yarm has in the history of Teesside.

In 1207, King John granted Yarm a market and two annual fairs and its wealth grew from there.

It was also home to the meeting that planned the world’s first passenger railway – the Stockton and Darlington Railway – in February 1821.

Recent years have seen the town council resurrect Yarm’s annual gala in a bid to celebrate the town’s history and heritage, Yarm also holds an annual fair in the autumn.

In 2007, Yarm was voted as having the best high street in Britain in a poll of BBC Breakfast viewers. That’s no mean feat considering that many of the country’s high streets have taken a hard hit in the recent economic climate.

So what keeps the Georgian town going? Florist Diana Kaye thinks the appeal is down to Yarm’s uniqueness.

She has had her shop of the same name on Yarm High Street for 30 years and recently opened an arm of the business within Fenwick in Newcastle.

Last year, she beat more than 10,000 other shops to be named UK Retail Florist of the Year.

Yarm’s bustling cobbled High Street is one of its chief assets – and Diana says more should be done to support it.

It has taken a hit, thinks Diana, but the fact that it is still surviving and busy is testament to its appeal.

Recent suggestions of introducing parking charges, though, have come under fire from the town’s traders – Diana included – who believe they will have a detrimental effect.

“I’ve been here 30 years, I’ve never worked anywhere else,” said Diana. “I started as a Saturday girl working with flowers and loved them.

“I would shout from the rooftops how wonderful Yarm is, it is a lovely place with a lovely community. We still have people coming down the high street who walk past and want to pass the time of day.

“Yarm is a jewel in the crown, you can come here for a day, get a few specials, a few different things, browse around, there are lovely restaurants – the high street has a very civilised feel. It is unique to this area.”

Factfile

YARM, originally called Yarum, gets its name from an Anglo Saxon word meaning fish pools or fish weirs.

The town sits in a loop of the River Tees and boasts a wide cobbled High Street flanked by Georgian buildings.

The 43-arch railway viaduct at one end is protected by conservation status.

Yarm is known for its designer shops, chic boutiques, cafes, bars and restaurants which attract shoppers and tourists alike – and give the town a vibrant nightlife.

BBC Breakfast viewers voted it the country’s best High Street in 2007.

In 1207, King John granted Yarm a market and two annual fairs and its wealth grew from there.

Once the highest port on the Tees, merchant vessels travelled up river to Yarm from the North Sea to unload. As ships grew in size and became unable to navigate far up river, Yarm’s importance as a port declined – giving way to Stockton and Middlesbrough.

Its George and Dragon Inn housed the meeting to plan the world’s first passenger railway – the Stockton and Darlington Railway – in February 1821.

A fair is held in High Street in the third week in October – once a commercial fair now a fun fair.

The parish now sits in the borough of Stockton-on-Tees and Yarm’s population is estimated at 8,679.

Gallery is a picture of success

ANDY and Maureen Close own Platinum Galleries on Yarm High Street.

The family-run business sells and deals in contemporary and fine art, stocking pieces from leading artists.

Recent winners of the Art Retailer of the Year by the Fine Art Trade Guild, Platinum has also just hosted a VIP visit from Rolf Harris – one of the few stops he made on a nationwide tour.

Andy and Maureen chose Yarm to open a gallery partly because of its affluence.

"We like Yarm because of the uniqueness of the shopping, it has a lot of individual shops – many are clothes shops and boutiques but not all!" said Andy.

"A lot of our business comes from the local area – Eaglescliffe, Yarm, Hilton and the surrounding areas."

Rolf Harris’s rare personal appearance was a definite nod to Platinum – and prompted fans of all ages to queue outside the High Street gallery for the VIP event.

Working in Yarm is a joy

PADDY Morton manages Strickland and Holt, a family-owned individual department store which sells everything from designer goodies to greetings cards.

The business was founded in 1852 and is a well-known name on Yarm High Street.

A survey of its shoppers a few years ago revealed 55% of trade is from people local to Yarm, 20% comes from people who live within 15 miles of the town and the remaining quarter from outside the region.

"A lot of people come to visit relatives in Yarm and visit us," said Paddy.

"Our customers are lovely and it makes working here in Yarm a joy. People enjoy coming here."

The store’s vast collection of greetings cards are probably what they sell most of, he added, but coming close is their very own salad dressing which customers often have packaged up and sent as gifts all over the world.

Strickland and Holt is also home to Poppy designer childrenswear – a label specialising in traditional style outfits and accessories for girls and boys stocked by some of the country’s leading department stores, including Harvey Nicholls and Fortnum and Mason.

Made in the store, the label has been spotted on the children of celebrities, including Charlotte Church and Gavin Henson.

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