The Great Ayton Community Archaeology Project began in 2001. At a public meeting, called by Dan O'Sullivan (author of 'Great Ayton, a history of the village'), it was agreed to set up two groups. The Great Ayton Photographic Archive, which would collect and record images of the village, and the Great Ayton Community Archaeology Project (GACAP), which would study the landscape within the parishes of Great Ayton and Little Ayton.
Our first project, funded by the Local Heritage Initiative (LHI) and the Nationwide Building Society, ran from 2002 to 2004. Among our achievements were the discovery of a Mesolithic habitation site on the banks of the River Leven, and surveys of the Cockshaw alum works, Aireyholme Farm, Roseberry Ironstone Mine and Langton Garage buildings in the village. Work began on the continuing research into the Second World War, and a book on the Lockheed Hudson crash on Easby Moor was published.
We obtained another grant from LHI to carry out a second phase of landscape research, from 2004 to 2007. The major achievement of this phase was the publication of a book on Roseberry Topping, which sold out of the entire print run of 3000 copies. During the project, we ran number of guided walks and presentations, and a series of evening classes. Second World War research continued, with over 50 recorded interviews and Anglo-French research into a local hero, Squadron Leader Fidler.
In our current project, called 'Ayton's Story', we are seeking to involve as many residents as possible in researching local history of the vilage itself. This is being funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, by the proceeds of our Roseberry Topping book, and with a contribution from North Yorkshire County Council. It is running from 2007 to 2011.
Our membership is very informal! We welcome everyone to our fortnightly meetings on Wednesday mornings in the Friends' Meeting House on High Green, but it is easy to take part in our activities without coming to these meetings. There is no formal membership, you are deemed to be a member by taking part! There are no subscriptions, but we ask for a 50p contribution at each Wednesday morning meeting. All our public presentations are free, but with a voluntary contribution towards the cost of refreshments.
Perhaps inevitably, many of our original members had retired from full-time work. However our current project was designed so that people could take part at times convenient to themselves, and this has enabled many younger villagers to become involved.
Since our inception, we have worked under the guidance of Kevin Cale of Community Archaeology Ltd. Kevin has a family of similar Community Archaeology Projects across North Yorkshire. He has a website at www.communityarchaeology.co.uk
The project is in partnership with the History group in the Arts and Media Department of Teesside University.