Masham has a population of 1,205 (2011 census). Its name is Anglo-Saxon in origin, coming from Maessa's Ham, meaning homestead or village belonging to Maessa.
A settlement was built here by the Angles, probably because the site is close to the river Ure, but rises just high enough above it to be safe from flooding. It is also on the old Roman road from York to Wensleydale. (Signs of a Roman presence, likely a marching camp, have been found at Roomer Common).
In about 900AD, Vikings invaded, and destroyed the church at Masham. The present church has the stump of a prayer cross from the 700s, but most of the structure is Norman, with some additions from the C15th. It was the Vikings who introduced sheep to the region.
The most striking feature of Masham is its very big market place. The town was granted a charter for a market in 1250, and the market place needed to be large to accommodate the many sheep brought here by the monks of Jervaulx and Fountains Abbeys. There's a market on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Masham is known for it breweries - Theakstons and Black Sheep. The Theakson family had brewed Theakstons beer in Masham for six generations, but the Theakstons brewery was taken over by Scottish & Newcastle. Rather than work for a multi-national, Paul Theakston set up a new brewery in an old building (the former premises of Lightfoot's brewery) in Masham, and the Black Sheep Brewery was born in 1992. Black Sheep is available in many of the pubs in and around Masham. The brewery also has a visitor centre.
The Theakston family regained control of Theakstons in 2003, and this brewery also has a visitor centre. Their best known beer is Old Peculiar.
Events in Masham include the Steam Engine & Fair Organ Rally, and the bi-annual Arts Festival.