The foundations of a house built by Captain Cook’s father – which stood in Great Ayton, North Yorkshire, until it was moved stone by stone to Australia in 1934 – will be on public display this summer following their recent rediscovery.
The original cottage was built by James Cook Sr in 1755 as somewhere to enjoy his retirement, but by the time it was sold at auction almost 200 years later, it was being marketed as the boyhood home of his son, the celebrated explorer and Royal Navy captain. In fact, James Cook Jr had never lived in the house, which was built long after he left home (although he may have visited it when he returned to the village on leave in 1771), but this association persuaded the Australian philanthropist Russell Grimwade to buy it for £800. He had the cottage dismantled and shipped to Melbourne, where it stands today in Fitzroy Gardens.
The cottage’s original location was turned into a memorial garden, and during recent work to enhance this space by creating an outline of the house’s footprint, contractors found that some of its foundations had been missed by the 1930s workmen and were still in situ. Local archaeologist John Buglass led an excavation with the local village history society in February, funded by Great Ayton Parish Council (supported by LEADER funding), to document the left-behind remains – and the traces proved to be rather more extensive and better preserved than expected.
The excavation revealed that foundation stones representing the entire length (5.1m) of the cottage’s western wall were still present, and that they stood to a greater height than had been anticipated. Pieces of broken brick and tile from the time of the cottage’s demolition were also found; these mostly related to alterations during the structure’s 19th-century use, but three fragments of narrow handmade bricks have been identified as 18th-century in date, and may have come from the 1755 house.
The memorial garden (which had fallen into disrepair) has since been restored, with a new footpath and interpretation boards; the space was formally reopened on 16 May, and the cottage foundations will remain exposed for public viewing until 1 September, when the trench will be backfilled.
For more information, see www.captcook-greatayton.com.