BEER and Tadcaster have been as synonymous as fish and chips since 1341 and with good reason, the springs around the Wharfe yield some of the best brewing water in the country. But there is more to this town than ale, as Paul Chrystal and Mark Sunderland's picture essay: Tadcaster Through Time explains.

We learn that during the stage coach heyday this was an important watering hole on the London to Edinburgh road, and that probably explains the town's plethora of inns and taverns.

Paul and Mark also remind us the Romans recognised Tadcaster's importance as a natural resource for quarrying, naming it Calcaria from the Latin word for lime. Indeed many notable buildings have been hewn from this stone, the most famous being York Minster.

But for impressive properties look no further than Tadcaster itself. None are finer than the Ark, a15th century half-timbered Wealden building that looks rather out of place in North Yorkshire.

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The two carved heads are thought to be Noah and his wife, hence the name. During its long life, the Ark has been a meeting place, post office, inn, butcher's shop, private house and a museum. Currently it's the Town Council offices.

Then there is St Mary's Church, famous for its William Morris stained glass window. Although only 140 years old, the church has a much longer history. Originally built around 1150 and destroyed by the Scots in 1318, St Mary's was first rebuilt between about 1380 and 1480. But the 19th century reconstruction had nothing to do with marauders and everything to do with nature.

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Because while the river may be Tadcaster's raison d'être, it's also the town's bête noire and constant problems with flooding led to the structure finally being taken down stone by stone and put back together between 1875 and 1877.

Paul and Mark's book illustrates the town's long battle with the Wharfe perfectly with a photograph showing improvised sailing along Bridge Street in 1950.

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Another way of dealing with the river was the eleven arch railway viaduct. But the book tells us it was never put to the use it was intended for. Built as part of the proposed line from Leeds to York, construction was authorised in 1846 and much had been completed when the collapse of railway investment in 1849 led to the line being abandoned.

For all this grandeur, though, half of Tadcaster's charm lies in the everyday and ordinary. Take the institution that is Allen's ironmongers. The book shows two pictures separated by a century and a half, but the fireworks advert aside, hardly anything seems to have changed.

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Indeed, so interesting are the shops here, that Paul and Mark have devoted a whole chapter to them. But, of course, another complete chapter is given over to what made Tadcaster famous in the first place: beer, breweries and pubs – lots of pubs. Apparently in 1837 there were 35 inns and beer houses; that's one for every 20 male inhabitants.

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The Travelling Man pub

The final picture is of a curry house sign and there can't be many local histories that conclude with one of those. Then again in a town so heavily associated with beer, maybe that's a actually a fitting way to end.

Tadcaster Through Time by Paul Chrystal and Mark Sunderland is published by Amberley, price £14.99 The photos reproduced in this article were kindly supplied by the authors via Amberley.