A flock of sheep from Aireyholme Farm graze around the few remains of the Roseberry Ironstone Mine. These can be seen from Aireyholme Lane. In the distance is Coate Moor with Captain Cook’s Monument. The concrete bases, probably machine foundations for the workshops, are slowly being lost to nature, covered with a fine carpet of moss. One contemporary grainy photograph I’ve seen shows the mine buildings at the time of closure were semi-circular with a skin of corrugated steel, a type of Nissen hut. The mine provided periods of employment for the men of Great Ayton until final abandonment in 1921.
A low bank of cloud prevents the rays of the early morning sun reaching the Vale of Cleveland. Overnight mists persists and fog from Bilsdale spills over Clay Bank and Garfit Gap. Soon the sun will rise above the cloud into clear blue skies and providing enough warmth to disperse the mists.
The remains of yesterday’s snow lie of on the fields of Aireyholme Farm below the heavily quarried Cliff Rigg. The tractor driver is flaying the hedges, a winter job which by law has to stop by the beginning of March so as not to disturb nesting birds. Mechanical cutting discourages the growth of lower branches so thinning the hedge which eventually loses its effectiveness for stock control. So the farmer has to erect wire fence to supplement the hedge.
I love mushrooms. Sautéed in butter with a hint of garlic. And if this is a Parasol Mushroom, Macrolepiota procera, it is reputed to be one of the best to eat. But if it’s a False Parasol, Chlorophyllum molybdites, I would be in trouble as it’s poisonous. Although native to North America it has been found in Scotland. Or then it could be a Shaggy parasol, Chlorophyllum rhacodes, but I may still end up with bad stomach ache. So am I confident? Absolutely not.
That’s it. That’s as far as we go. The archaeological excavation at Aireyholme Farm, near Great Ayton, is done. Today has been spent tidying and cleaning for photographing and recording.
Going on the evidence of oral tradition of the farmer at Aireyholme that the boyhood home of Capt. James Cook was within a stand of larch trees on National Trust land a preliminary excavation was carried out last year. Stone foundations, broken roof tiles and bricks and a small section of cobbled floor indicated an 18th century building. Lime mortar suggested domestic use.
This year a more ambitious trench was opened revealing a 5 x 4 metre building with a cobbled floor and a hearth in one corner. Finds included shards of pottery and window glass and a small piece of a bone comb all of which could be 18th century. The comb has been sent away for carbon dating and we are hoping to have archaeomagnetic dating carried out on the hearth.
There is still work to be done recording the surface. A plan needs to be drawn meticulously detailing every cobble. Levels need to be taken. Afterwards the remains will be covered with a geotextile fabric to separate the archaeology and to protect it from weeds and root growth. Then the site will be backfilled.
A very rewarding experience.
This made me smile. From the top of Roseberry. It could almost be described as art but I doubt that is what the farmer at Aireyholme intended. A question for the intellectuals amongst you: does there have to be intent to create a work of art?
The teardrop island and the squat peninsular closest are where the ground is broken. They are at the limit of the ironstone mine workings of nearby Roseberry Mine. The ironstone seam was exploited by the bord and pillar method. After exhaustion the pillars were removed leaving the roof to collapse. Normally with tens of metre of rock above there is no impact on the surface but here the ironstone seam is so shallow it has given way in large patches.
The fifth day of this year’s archaeological excavation at Aireyholme Farm near Great Ayton on a site where oral tradition says the James Cook lived as a boy before embarking on his naval career and gaining fame as an explorer.
The remains of an 18th century building have certainly been uncovered with much lime mortar indicating it was a dwelling rather than agricultural. On the right a wall line of dressed sandstone blocks can be seen. And on the left is a section of cobbled stone floor which seems to be intact across the whole floor.
All salvageable material has been removed at some time leaving the site covered with demolition debris: broken pantiles and brick, and stone rubble. Each stone has to be painstakingly drawn and recorded before it can be removed which the archaeologist, Kevin Cale, is doing. To his left, in the top corner is what is thought to be an hearth. This has not yet been excavated as it may be possible to use archaeomagnetic dating to give an estimate of the date when it was last fired.
Finds include pottery shards, pieces of both window and bottle glass all pointing to 18th century use. And a sixpence dated 1950!