Cook's Cottage

Captain Cook’s father retired from Aireyholme Farm in 1755 and bought this site for ‘twenty-six lawfull shillings’. He built two cottages, living in one with his wife Grace while renting out the other. After Grace’s death, James Cook senior left the village in 1772 to live closer to his daughter Margaret in Redcar.

Changes were made over the years, including an extension to the western cottage. In 1907 the Dixon Brothers, who owned a grocery shop on Bridge Street, acquired the two properties, which they rented out. Virtually all of the western cottage was demolished in 1928 to widen Easby Lane.

Cook's Cottage

Although the Dixons carried out various ‘improvements’, by the 1930s the remaining cottage was unoccupied and unwanted. It was put it up for auction as ‘the home of Captain Cook’s early days’ even although it was well-known locally that Captain Cook had never lived there. The only time that Cook entered the cottage was in December 1771, when he came to Ayton to visit his father but stayed with William Wilson at Ayton Hall.

The auction only produced one bid, of £300, from a Middlesbrough man. The condition of sale that the building should remain locally was withdrawn, and it was bought on behalf of the State of Victoria in Australia for £800. Detailed drawings were made by architects from York, who attempted to return the building to what they imagined would have been its original state. It was dismantled and transported to Australia where it was rebuilt in Fitzroy Gardens, Melbourne. Suitable furniture was bought from an antique shop in York.

There was much speculation at the time that the Australians had ‘been sold a pup’ and that they really believed that it had been the home of the young James Cook. This belief lingers to the present, although the Australian authorities have gradually moved the apostrophe in their description of the property, with Cook’s Cottage becoming Cooks’ Cottage over the years.

The footprint of the cottage is marked out on the ground, and the outline of the end gable wall of its outhouse can be seen in the existing wall at the rear of the site. The iron railings around the garden were put up after the road widening in 1928.

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Gribdale Gate

The surrounding moorland was laid down in the Jurassic Period, making the North York Moors National Park the original Jurassic Park! To the north, Ayton Moor has many prehistoric sites. A Neolithic chambered cairn there continued in use into the Bronze Age, and there is much evidence of Iron Age settlement.

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High Green

For many years treeless and used as rough pasture, the High Green is now the centre of the village. The far side of the green is dominated by the former Ayton Friends’ School, opened by the Quakers in 1841 as the North of England Agricultural School. The school began in the property with the imposing porch (previously this had been the house of Philip Hesleton, the merchant who ran the village linen industry in the 18th century).

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Low Green

Great Ayton grew up as a village around Low Green, with its Church, Manor House and Corn Mill, three key buildings of an early settlement. The Domesday survey includes ‘Aytun’ and All Saints’ Church. Northerners had an unfortunate habit of rebelling against the monarchs in the south. Two Ayton men paid for their involvement in the 1489 rebellion by being hung in chains from the walls of York. Following the Rising of the North in 1569, many Aytonians were fined and some probably executed.

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The Obelisk

Before the cottage was taken to Australia, the Government of Victoria wished to place a memorial on this site. The initial idea was for a block of stone from the promontory of Point Hicks, believed to be where Lieutenant Zachary Hicks of the Endeavour first sighted the new continent.

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The Mill Race

A corn mill was an important part of the medieval village. Ayton Mill stood on what is now Mill Terrace, and dated back at least to the 13th century. The mill race carried water to power the mill, from upstream of the dam in the River Leven. At this point, the race crossed Goat Lane (now Easby Lane) by a ford, but in 1932 the water was taken under the road surface.

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Waterfall Park

The River Leven winds its way through Great Ayton. In the past there were three water-powered mills in the village, the earliest being Ayton Mill.

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