‘River settlement’. Atun(a)1086, 12th century, Aton(a)12th– 1508, Haiton1202. Old Norse “a” replacing Old English “ae” + tun. Modern English great + the place name. Sometimes Canny Ayton (or Canny Yatton”), referring to its pleasant situation.
See “The Cambridge Dictionary of English Place-names” V.Watts (2004)
Under the heading “Lands of the King” it says:
“In Atun, Haward (had) 2 carucates of land for geld. Land for 1 plough. 10s.”
(A carucate was roughly 100 acres. Geld was tax that had to be paid.)
Under the heading “Lands of the Count” it says:
“In Atun, 6 carucates for geld, and 3 ploughs can be (there). Norman had 1 manor there. Now Nigel has (it) of the Count. On the demesne (there is) 1 plough, and (there are) 8 villeins with 2 ploughs. A church, and 6 acres of meadow. T.R.E. it was worth 40s.; now (it is worth) 30s.”(The Count was Count Robert de Mortain. T.R.E. means “In the time of King Edward the Confessor”)
Under the heading “Land of Robert Malet” it says:
”In the other Atun (Great Ayton), Aschil had 2 carucates of land for geld, where 1 plough can be. Robert has (it) now, and it is waste. T.R.E. it was worth 10s.”
Based on William Farrer’s translation in “The Victoria History of the County of York” vol.2 (ed.) W.Page (1912)
There were three distinct manors in Great Ayton at the time of the Domesday Book. By far the largest of these was held by the Fossard family until it came into the hands of the Mauley family. During the 13th and 14th centuries the Mauleys’ subtenants were the Meynell family of Whorlton Castle. The Meynells in turn had subtenants in Great Ayton. These were the Stuteville family, who held property in several parts of the North Riding. In 1276 the Stuteville lands here passed to Baldwin Wake and his descendants. From the Wakes, the manor passed to the Neville family, one of the greatest landowning families of England.
See “Victoria History of the Counties of England: Yorkshire North Riding” vol.2 (ed.) W.Page (1923)
An Early Mention
One of the people presented to the Magistrates at the Helmsley Quarter Sessions in July 1608 was “Chr. Carter of Great Ayton, blacksmith, for having and using a weight called vi pound weight, two ounces short as tried by the Clark of the Markett &c.”
An early mention in literature can found in “A Six Months Tour Through the North of England” vol. 2, A.Young (1771) “Upon descending into Cleveland, one circumstance must strike every traveller; the admirable manner in which all the farmhouses are built. . . At Ayton I stopped to view the experimental agriculture of Mr. Wilson. It consists chiefly of trials of the drill husbandry. His drill plough is of his own invention. . . At this town is an allom-work, which employs 30 or 40 hands .. . “
The Lay Subsidy of 1301
26 properties were liable for this tax on moveable goods. If Ayton fitted the pattern of many medieval villages, the unrecorded dwellings that were exempt from tax might possibly have totalled 50 or more. The top taxpayer was Lady Wake, who paid almost 10 shillings out of a total for the village of £5. The tax returns suggest a prosperous village in that almost everyone who was liable for tax had to pay in shillings and pence. In many Cleveland villages a number of those taxed paid only a few pence.
All Saints Church (12th century nave, 13th century chancel and porch)
Postgate School (1704)
Presbyterian Chapel (1743)
Friends School (1842)
Christ Church (1876)
Great Ayton Hall (c.1690 with later features added)
A Few Lost Buildings
Angrove Hall (c.1760) demolished in 1832.
The Toll Booth, demolished before 1854.
The Shambles, still standing in the 1840s.
Linen mill (1823) demolished before 1849.
Some People of Note
William Wilson (1715-1795) A commodore in the East India Company who became an experimental farmer at Ayton.
James Cook (1728-1779) A Marton-born explorer who went to school in Great Ayton. He is famous for his voyages around the world in 1768-71, 1772-75 and 1776-9.
Fotherley Pannell (1748-1826) A Stokesley-born physician who practised in Northallerton, but spent much of his life in Great Ayton. He produced a thesis on tuberculosis.
Thomas Richardson (1771-1843) A businessman from Great Ayton who made his fortune in London. He was behind the establishment of the Friends’ School and the British School. He was a founder director of the Stockton and Darlington Railway and one of the Owners of the Middlesbrough Estate.
Alexander Maingay (1836-1869) A botanist and doctor from Great Ayton who worked for the East India Company. He collected botanical specimens, some previously unknown.
Jack Hatfield (1893-1965) An Ayton-born swimmer who represented his country at the Olympic Games in 1912, 1920,1924 and 1928. He won 3 medals at the Olympics and held the world record for the 400 metres freestyle for 7 years.
Jack Charlton (1935- ) A footballer from Ashington who played in England’s World Cup winning team in 1966. While he was manager of Middlesbrough F.C. he lived in Great Ayton.
Nicholas Patrick (1964- ) A Saltburn-born astronaut who lived in Great Ayton as a boy. He flew in the American space shuttles “Discovery” in 2006 and “Endeavour” in 2010.
Harry Tanfield (1994- ) A cyclist from Great Ayton who won the men’s individual pursuit at the 2018 National track Championships. He won the first stage of the Tour de Yorkshire in 2018.
Charlie Tanfield (1996- ) A cyclist from Great Ayton who won the gold medal for the men’s individual pusuit event at the Commonwealth Games in 2018. The brother of Harry Tanfield.
The Hearth Tax of 1673
Great Ayton was a sizeable village in 1673 with 63 houses liable for the Hearth Tax and a further 11 exempt as being below the tax threshold. 57 of the taxed properties and all 11 of the untaxed dwellings had 1 or 2 hearths. 3 houses had 3 or 4 hearths and 2 houses, belonging to “Ja Stockton” and “Rd Taylor” had 5 hearths. The largest property was the 6-hearthed house belonging to “Jo Coulson esq”. Sir John Lowther, a Cumbrian baronet, owned a property with 2 hearths in Great Ayton.
Based on “The Hearth Tax List for the North Riding of Yorkshire, Michaelmas 1673”, Ripon Historical Society (2011)
White’s Directory of 1840 declared “Great Ayton is a large and well built village, with several neat mansions, two oil mills, a corn mill, two tanneries and several linen weavers”. There were at least 9 grocers (4 of whom were also drapers), 4 butchers, 8 shoemakers, 4 tailors, 4 blacksmiths, a saddler, 5 wheelwrights, 2 linen manufacturers and a nail maker. There were 3 inns on the list, as well as 2 brewers, 2 academies, a solicitor and a surgeon. 21 farmers were named as being within the parish. By the time of Ward’s 1936 Directory there were still 4 grocers and 3 drapers in Great Ayton, with at least 4 butchers, 2 fruiterers, a confectioner, a milliner, 2 tailors, a newsagent, 2 bootmakers, 3 blacksmiths, a saddler, a coal merchant and a watch maker.
A Selection of Dates
1183 Robert de Meynell granted the church of Great Ayton to Whitby abbey.
1353 There was a fulling mill at Ayton at this time.
1658 The open fields were enclosed.
1663 Rev. George Evanke was deprived of his living for refusing refusing to conform under the Act of Uniformity. His farewell sermon was published as a printed book in 2010.
1700 Some land was purchased to build a Quaker meeting house.
1704 Michael Postgate opened a schoolroom in Great Ayton. This was the school that Captain Cook attended as a boy.
1713 A Great Ayton will referred to a loom in a workshop. Linen weaving was beginning to be important in the village.
1743 The Presbyterian chapel in Back Row was built.
1765 There were alum works at Ayton Bank.
1770 Ralph Jackson was made a surveyor of highways. He began using whinstone quarried from Langbaurgh Rigg for highway repairs. Quarrying continued there for almost two centuries.
1780 A brick and tile works was established.
1785 The Postgate School was rebuilt.
1795 James Davison was operating a cotton mill in the village at this date.
1801 There were three linen manufacturers in the village at this time.
1810 A Wesleyan Methodist Chapel was dedicated around this year.
1822 The Primitive Methodist chapel on Guisborough Road was dedicated.
1827 Captain Cook’s Monument on Easby Moor was erected in this year.
1841 The North of England Agricultural School, that became known as the Friends School, was founded.
1843 The British School was built.
1851 The Postgate School closed.
At the Census, there were only 7 weavers left in the village. The last reference to a weaver in the parish register was five years later.
1859 Four almshouses were built by Thomas Richardson.
1862 A new Wesleyan chapel was dedicated.
1868 Great Ayton railway station came into use.
1873 St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic church was built.
1881 Roseberry Ironstone Mine began production.
1895 A new Primitive Methodist chapel was built to replace the older building..
1908 Ayton Monument Mine was opened. Ayton Banks was opened.
The Edward Kitching Council School was opened. It was replaced by the Roseberry School in
1910 The Conservative Club was founded.
1921 Great Ayton Cricket Club was formed around this time.
1924 Mining ended at Roseberry Ironstone Mine.
1925 The Suggitt family began making ice cream.
1931 Ayton Monument Mine ceased production.
1940 An anti-aircraft battery was set up north east of Great Ayton.
A German parachute mine fell in fields to the south of the village.
An R.A.F. Lockheed Hudson bomber from Thornaby crashed on Easby Moor after flying low over Great Ayton. Ice on the windscreen and wings was blamed.
Three of the four crewmen were killed.
1955 The Workingmen’s Club moved into newly built premises.
1960 A hidden wartime Auxiliary Unit Operational Base was found near Great Ayton.
1967 Roseberry Primary School was opened.
1971 The Roman Catholic church of St. Margaret Clitherow was consecrated.
The British School became a library.
1996 The village bowling green was laid out.
1997 The Friends School closed.
2001 Great Ayton Community Archaeology Project began.
2002 A two-year archaeological survey of Ayton Banks alum works began.
2006 Great Ayton became champions of the North Yorkshire and South Durham Cricket League.
2012 Local residents saved the village library by taking it over as a Discovery Centre.
2017 Great Ayton Cricket Club were league champions for the second time.
2018 The local Conservative Club admitted its first lady members.
This list of dates was compiled using the Great Ayton History Society website and other secondary sources.
Suggested further Reading
“Great Ayton, Stokesley and District, Past and Present” J. Fairfax-Blakeborough (1901)
“Cleveland Village, Being Notes on Ayton-in-Cleveland” R.Kettlewell (1938)
“Great Ayton: A History of the Village” D.O’Sullivan (1983)
“Roseberry Topping” (ed.) I.Pearce (2006)
“Know Your Parish: Great Ayton” M.P.Webster, C.F.H.S. Journal vol.3 no.5 (1987)