Great Ayton is a village in the Hambleton district of North Yorkshire on the edge of the North York Moors. It is situated at the foot of the Cleveland Hills, beneath Easby Moor and the distinctively-shaped Roseberry Topping. The River Leven, a tributary of the River Tees, flows through the village and links its two centres, High Green and Low Green.
In the 18th and 19th centuries it was a centre for the industries of weaving, tanning, brewing and tile making.
The village is best known as the boyhood home of the explorer and navigator Captain James Cook. James Cook and his family moved to the village when he was eight, and lived there until he was sixteen. James's father was a Scottish migrant farm labourer married to a local Yorkshire woman, and had moved to the village to work on one of the local farms. His employer, Thomas Skottowe, financed young James's schooling. After completing this tuition James stayed on at the farm for several years helping out his father (who was now farm manager), before leaving in 1745 to take up an apprenticeship at a haberdasher and grocery store in Staithes.
The Captain Cook Schoolroom Museum in Great Ayton is housed in a building once used as a charity school founded in 1704 by Michael Postgate, a local landowner. It was here, between 1736 and 1740, that James Cook received his early education. The museum features a reconstruction of a schoolroom of the early 18th century. There are also interactive displays about James Cook's early life and education, and his later achievements.
On High Green there is a sculpture which depicts James Cook at the age of 16 looking towards Staithes where, according to tradition, he first felt the lure of the sea.
The Cook family home on Bridge street was built by James's father in 1755. The cottage was dismantled in 1934 to be shipped to Australia. Each stone was numbered so that the cottage could be reconstructed exactly in its new home in the Fitzroy Gardens in Melbourne. A granite obelisk now marks the original site of the cottage in Great Ayton. The obelisk is constructed from granite taken from Point Hicks, the first land sighted by Cook in Australia.
On nearby Easby Moor and visible for miles around is Captain Cook's Monument, a 51 feet high obelisk constructed from local sandstone. It was erected in 1827, and the inscription on the monument reads:
In memory of the celebrated circumnavigator Captain James Cook F.R.S. A man of nautical knowledge inferior to none, in zeal prudence and energy, superior to most. Regardless of danger he opened an intercourse with the Friendly Isles and other parts of the Southern Hemisphere. He was born at Marton Oct. 27th 1728 and massacred at Owythee Feb. 14th 1779 to the inexpressible grief of his countrymen. While the art of navigation shall be cultivated among men, whilst the spirit of enterprise, commerce and philanthropy shall animate the sons of Britain, while it shall be deemed the honour of a Christian Nation to spread civilisation and the blessings of the Christian faith among pagan and savage tribes, so long will the name of Captain Cook stand out amongst the most celebrated and most admired benefactors of the human race.. OS grid reference NZ 565 115
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