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Hidden in a quiet corner of a graveyard -a famous explorer remembered.

Updated on February 9, 2017

Village on the edge of the Moors

The village of Great Ayton stands on the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors at the foot of the Cleveland Hills and nestles in the shadow of Roseberry Topping, a distinctively shaped hill which rises to over 1000 feet.

The village has a rich history which can be traced back to Neolithic times, however there is an interesting 12th century church whose churchyard holds an intriguing and not so well known secret.

It was also the childhood home of the famous explorer, Captain James Cook, born in 1728 who lived and spent his formative years there from 1736 until leaving the village in 1745.

Great Ayton, North Yorkshire

A markerGreat Ayton -
Great Ayton, Middlesbrough, North Yorkshire TS9, UK
get directions

A 12th century church

All Saints' Church - the exterior

The actual church visible today was built in the 12th century between 1175 and 1200 and from the outside remains largely unchanged. However, fragments found of a stone cross and stone crucifix dating back to the 8th century and the Saxons provide evidence that there was an earlier church on the site which was probably destroyed by the later Viking invasion.

The porch was added later during the 13th century, and the large windows facing to the south date from the late 18th century. A tower originally standing at the western end of the knave was rebuilt in the late 18th century before being finally demolished in 1880 to provide more space for burials in the church yard. A small vestry was added to the north side of the chancel in 1849.

The church interior

18th century pews and a three decker pulpit

The present interior of the church dates from the 18th century when substantial refurbishment was carried out. The old pews were removed and sold and new pews with doors and lined with green baize installed. An upstairs 'L' shaped gallery (now removed) to seat a privileged few was added along the north and west walls with a separate entrance in the north wall (now blocked up). A three tiered or three decker pulpit (middle right of picture) with overhead sounding board and altar table date from 1759.

The church is candlelit and still used for worship from July to the beginning of October, Sunday evenings at 6pm and Wednesday mornings at 10am.

It is also open for visitors from April to October from 2pm - 4.30pm each afternoon and from 10.30am - 12 noon on Tuesdays, though visitors are advised to check in advance.

Inscribed on a headstone

A famous son

The famous 18th century explorer Captain James Cook, born in 1728 in the village of Marton, moved with his family to Airey Holme Farm in Great Ayton at the age of 8. He attended the local school, his studies financed by Thomas Scottowe his father's employer and landlord, until leaving the village in 1744 aged 16 to be apprenticed to a grocery and haberdashery shop in the fishing village of Staithes. From these beginnings Cook went on to join the merchant navy and Royal Navy and undertake his voyages of exploration.

In the churchyard there is a gravestone which bears testament to the years spent by the family in great Ayton. The full inscription on the gravestone reads:

In memory of Grace Cook who died Feb 18th 1765, aged 63 years

And of James Cook who was buried at Marske

April 1st 1779

The above James and Grace Cook

were the parents of the

celebrated circumnavigator

Captain James Cook

who was born at Marton Oct 27th 1728

educated in this village

and killed at Owhyhee Dec 14th 1779.

(Note the early spelling of Hawai - "Owhyhee")

About the author

Antony was born in the small coastal town of Saltburn-by-the-sea, and lived in Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire before returning to his native Yorkshire. He has spent his adult life in the north of England working for a UK Bank and two Government Agencies.

Now living in Yorkshire between the Dales and the Moors Antony enjoys writing and taking photographs. He has written and published two ebooks bringing together some of his short stories and humorous anecdotes, and been published in The Yorkshire Dalesman.

His interests include walking, photography, history, travel, reading and watching cricket

© 2012 Antony J Waller

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