Tadcaster was founded by the Romans, who named it Calcaria from the Latin word for lime, reflecting the importance of the area's limestone geology as a natural resource for quarrying, an industry which continues into the present day and has contributed to many important buildings including York Minster.
Calcaria was an important staging post on the road to Eburacum (York), which grew up at the river crossing.
In the 11th century William de Percy established Tadcaster Castle, a motte-and-bailey fortress, near the present town centre using stone reclaimed from Roman rubble. The castle was abandoned in the early 12th century, and though briefly re-fortified with cannon emplacements during the Civil War, all that remains is the castle motte. The outline of the long demolished southern bailey still impacts the geography of surrounding streets.
The oldest building still in active use in Tadcaster is The Ark, built in the late 15th century, though it has been enlarged and altered many times since. Two carved heads on the front of the building are thought to represent the heads of Noah and his wife, hence the name. Throughout its life, the Ark has been a meeting place, a post office, an inn, a butcher's, a private house and a museum; it is currently the Town Council offices.
The Churchof St Mary The Virgin was first built around 1150, though a wooden structure did exist prior to this. Destroyed by the Scots in 1318 in one of many incursions subsequent to the Battle of Bannockburn, St Mary's was rebuilt between about 1380 and 1480 but constant problems with flooding led to the structure being taken down stone by stone and rebuilt between 1875 and 1877 with the foundations raised by 5 feet; only the tower was left untouched. In 1897 a new north aisle was added.
Tadcaster has long been associated with the brewing industry due to the quality and accessibility of the local water. Rich in lime sulphate after filtering through the Yorkshire limestone, in the right conditions freshwater springs - known locally as popple-wells - can still be seen bubbling up near St Mary's church. Tax registers from 1341 record the presence of two thriving breweries or brewhouses in the town. Today it is second in importance only to Burton upon Trent as an English brewing centre.
Three breweries have survived into the present day: The Tower Brewery (Coors, formerly Bass), John Smith's and Samuel Smith's Old Brewery, which is also the oldest brewery in Yorkshire and the only remaining independent brewery in Tadcaster. A fourth stood by the river on the site of the present central car park. Sam Smith's dray horses are a common sight on the streets of the town.OS grid reference SE 485 435
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