Coatham was a Yorkshire salt and fishing port from the 12th to the 16th centuries. The salt was prepared by the evaporation of sea water at the saltings in Coatham marsh. Ughtred the Fleming was an early tenant. Several Yorkshire monasteries obtained their own saltwicks or saltcotes here, including Fountains Abbey, Byland Abbey, Newbrough Priory and Rosedale Priory. They left earthworks which were still visible in the early 20th century. A track from Coatham to Kirkby Moorside was known as the salt road.
Ships called from far afield for both fish and salt. The Barons de Brus of Skelton took tolls and also had the right to a levy of haddock from each fishing boat landed there. One of these lords gave the catch of seven fishing boats to Guisborough Priory. Byland Abbey could buy fish there, without paying toll, provided that the fish were for the monks or the sick. Alan de Wilton gave five septs of salt a year to the distant Priory of Ellerton in Spalding Moor. A St Lawrence fair was chartered in 1257.
Scots and Bay salt imports closed the workings. Coatham sank into quietude. This was broken one Saturday in 1615, when there came on land there
"a mighty fish, the length where of nineteen yards, the body in compass twenty yards, the nose end in compass eight yards".
The tail was over the end four yards. Betwixt the eyes was four yards. The tail was cut off at ten yards, but even then four oxen, could hardly pull it away. It settled in the sand, the stream of oil, like a pretty river. It was sold for a great sum.
About 1772, a New Inn was built at East Coatham, "for the accommodation of sea bathers". This was let with 120 acres of land, including salt marshes, in 1777, by which time it had "bathing houses". William Hutton visited Coatham in 1810 to find three score and ten fisherman's houses in half a street. Coatham house was still let for the bathing season in 1819 by which time Redcar was beginning to dwarf its smaller neighbour. Race meeting held on ten miles of sands brought fame and fortunes. An 1800 foot Coatham promenade pier built in 1875 was twice wrecked and not rebuilt. but there was a Grammar School, a Convalescent Home and a Grand Hotel, with terraces on the Esplanade, and golf links.
A verse placed early Coatham in its Cleveland context-
Coatham, where Cleveland nymphs and naiades meet,
Next fishy Redcar, view Marske's sunny lands,
And sands beyond Pactolus golden sands,
Till shelvy Saltburn, clothed with seaweed green,
And giant Huntcliff close the pleasing scene.