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.
There has been a farm at Aireyholme since Viking times, and the young James Cook lived there for nine years while his father was employed by the tenant farmer. Foundations of a building where the Cook family possibly lived have been found near the farmhouse.
The Captain Cook Monument was built on Easby Moor in 1827, after much debate about a suitable memorial to the great explorer, and was paid for by a Whitby banker. Not far from the Monument is a plaque commemorating the Lockheed Hudson from Thornaby Aerodrome which crashed there in 1940 due ice forming on its wings. There was only one survivor from the crew of four.
After James Cook left the area, these hills became a centre of industry. A large alum works was set up on Ayton Banks in 1766, with the Boil House to process the alum next to Gribdale Terrace. Alum was a valuable commodity, used in dying wool and tanning leather. The Ayton Banks site was only operated for nine years; it was uneconomic because of the high transport costs inevitable with such a remote site.
In the 19th century whinstone, a very hard igneous (volcanic) rock, was excavated in several sites around Great Ayton. Gribdale Terrace, downhill from this car park, was built to house whinstone miners. The Gribdale whinstone mine ran just under the surface and, at the sharp bend in the road near Gribdale Terrace, it was not unknown for the ground to collapse into the mine! A narrow-gauge tramway carried the whinstone down to Ayton Station, where it was knapped into setts for road surfacing and taken away by the North Eastern Railway.
Jet, a black mineral used in jewellery and made popular for ladies in mourning following Prince Albert’s death in 1861, was mined on Ayton Banks and at Roseberry Common. Most jet mines were small tunnels driven horizontally into the hillside, but there were some open-cast mining sites.
By the end of the 19th century, ironstone was being mined. The workings were extensive, and it was said that you could walk from Guisborough to Ayton entirely underground. There were three mines around here, Roseberry, Ayton Banks and Ayton (Monument). Ore was taken to the Middlesbrough blast furnaces by the railway. Traces of the mine buildings of all three remain to this day. Ore from Roseberry Mine was taken in wagons to an incline down Cliff Rigg, and hence to the main railway.
In Cliff Rigg Wood some of the concrete foundations for the pylons supporting the aerial ropeway, built to take ore from Ayton Banks mine to the main railway line, can still be seen. The brick Transformer house for supplying electricity to Ayton (Monument) Mine is still standing, along with the incline used to get the wagons down to the main railway line. By the end of the 1920s ironstone mining had ceased.