Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Chapter X
Chapter XI
Chapter XII
Chapter XIII

Return to History

THE village of Great Ayton is situated in the North East of Yorkshire, at the foot of the Cleveland Hills. The river Leven, which empties itself into the Tees at Leven Bridge, flows through it. The population, according to the census of 1891, is 1,727, a few less than in 1881.

Cleveland is a district in Yorkshire formerly noted for its agricultural productions, and for a breed of coach horses named from their colour “Cleveland Bays.” It is bounded on the East by the German Ocean, its principal ports being Middlesbrough, Stockton and Whitby. Yarm and Cargo Fleet were formerly important places; the latter was the port for this district, and is situated about two miles south of Middlesbrough, which, on the formation of the railway, rapidly superseded and finally almost obliterated it. Many large vessels were accustomed to receive and discharge their cargoes here with the aid of lighters from Yarn and Stockton; hence the name of the place. Two-thirds of the whole produce of Cleveland was shipped from this place principally by coasting vessels to Newcastle, London, &c. Eighty years ago the trade carried on here was said to amount to the value of £1,000 daily throughout the year; the chief articles of export were corn, butter; cheese, pork and bacon, while the imports were timber, hemp, flax, iron, coals, and lime. What a change 80 years have made! The articles that were then exported are now largely imported, whilst to bring iron to Middlesbrough would be as great an absurdity as carrying coals to Newcastle. On account of the decline in the value of grain, Particularly wheat, which is especially adapted to the heavy soil of Cleveland, land once cultivated has become clothed with furze and bracken, whilst a considerable portion under the plough has been converted into pasturage.

The tenacious character of the soil may be inferred from an old couplet:-

“Cleveland in the clay,
Bring in one sole, take two away.”

The village of Great Ayton appears to be one of some antiquity. The old church probably dates from Norman times. In the Domesday survey the place is named “Ayton Magna.” In place of the old church a handsome freestone edifice, in modern Gothic style, was erected in 1876 at a cost of over £5,000. The principal architect of the new building was an Ayton scholar, John Ross, of the firm of Richardson, Ross & Co., at that time the leading architects in the district. The stately mansion of Grey Towers, at Nunthorpe, was erected by the same firm. It is faced with whinstone and forms a striking object in the views from the surrounding hills.

The village formerly was familiarly known by the name of “Canny Yatton under Roseberry Topping.” The isolated peak with which its name was so frequently associated, is one of the most picturesque prominences of the Cleveland Hills, though by no means the highest point, being only a little over 1,000 feet, on account of its peculiar appearance it can be recognised for many miles round. The name is said to be of Celtic origin, and was originally “Ros-Bari,” or promontory of the ship, probably because it was such an excellent land mark for home-bound vessels. From the summit there is a splendid view, in clear weather, over the county of Durham to the north-west, hounded by Mickel Fell, and south-west, Richmond racecourse is distinctly visible, whilst beyond are Wensleydale Hills. Pennel standing prominently forward. There is also an extensive view of the sea. The summit is sandstone of the oolite formation, whilst below are seams of ironstone, jet rock and alum shale. All except the top and perpendicular crag is covered by green sward in which grows the mountain thyme interspersed with fern and bracken. A delightful place for a walk; it is about a mile and a half from the school, and can be approached either via the station and Airyholme farm, or past Cleveland Lodge and over Cliffridge. There is generally a strong breeze on the top and it is cool even in the height of summer.

The next most prominent hill, overlooking the school, is Easby bank, on which Captain Cook’s monument is built. We here come to the glorious moorland, extending for many miles and clothed with heather, which is locally termed “ling;” it would not be difficult to wander through it for a distance of 15 or 16 miles almost in a straight line. Interspersed amongst this barren moorland are beautifully sheltered valleys, which are usually called dales. These frequently contain land of great fertility, with here and there a farmhouse with outbuildings for the live stock. On the south side of Easby moor we have Kildale, while on the north is the small dale of Lonesdale.

Cook’s monument is a conspicuous object from the village and neighbourhood; it is a plain obelisk, 12 feet square at its base, and 51 feet high; a cast-iron inscription on one side informs the tourist of the many virtues of Captain James Cook, F.R.S., who was born at Marton, a village between Ayton and Middlesbrough, in the year 1728, and was massacred at Owyhee in 1779, “to the inexpressible grief and disappointment of his countrymen.” It was erected, in 1827, by the Lord of the Manor.

Cook’s father was a farm servant who, when James was 8 years of age, came to live at Ayton; here he obtained the groundwork of the education which was such a valuable lever to his future advancement. The late John Richardson, of Langbaurgh, used often to narrate his conversation with people who knew Cook as a boy - one of these is characteristic - the narrator was at school with him, and was proud to tell that James always worked his arithmetic sums so well that he never made a mistake. The house, in which his parents lived, is standing at the lower end of the village. In the churchyard there is a tombstone erected to the memory of his mother, Grace Cook.

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