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.

Ayton, which had been in the hands of the Neville family, were then confiscated by Queen Elizabeth and sold to the Coulson family. Through marriage, the Skottowe family then acquired the village and it was Thomas Skottowe who paid for the young James Cook’s education in the village school.

Low Green

The young James Cook would have seen the view of the village as drawn by George Cuit about 1788. Many aspects of the view are little changed since Cook’s time. This cannot be said of All Saint’s Church where the 15th century tower was replaced by a simpler structure in 1788 which was then demolished in 1880 with the stone being used to build a wall around the graveyard. At the same time the length of the nave was reduced by half; this was at the time Christ Church was completed on Guisborough Road. Parts of All Saints’ date from the Normans, such as the entrance into the nave, although there is evidence of a prior Saxon church. Captain Cook’s mother and some of his siblings are buried in the churchyard. The inscription on the headstone claims that Cook was killed at Owhyhee on 14 December 1779, but should read 14 February 1779.

Ayton Hall, which can be seen from the churchyard, is a handsome Georgian building. William Wilson, a celebrated Commodore of the East India Company, retired here in 1762. The present Manor House, outwardly also Georgian, is believed to have been built around a much-earlier house.

Marwood School was opened in 1851, as a Grammar School with tuition fees of two pennies a week.

The stone bridge, a characteristic feature of the village, was built in 1777 with two arches. Increasing traffic resulted in its replacement by the present bridge in 1909. The inscription on the parapet originally had the words ‘Great Ayton’ but these were removed in the Second World War in an attempt to confuse any enemy troops arriving in the village!

The view of Roseberry Topping changed in 1912 when a rockfall produced the ‘Matterhorn’ profile seen today. Previously the hill had been likened to a volcano, Cleveland’s ‘Vesuvius’. Roseberry Topping certainly was never a volcano but is an ‘outlier’, separated from the nearby high ground by erosion. The Topping’s geology, with a hard sandstone cap, is identical to the adjacent moorland.

The path on either side of the footbridge at the bottom end of Low Green is paved with whinstone setts. The extraction of whinstone, a hard volcanic rock, was an important industry in the village for centuries. Further down Yarm Lane, the wooden-slatted drying shed of Jackson’s Tannery can be seen. It is all that remains of Great Ayton’s once-extensive leather tanning industry.

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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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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.

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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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