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On the sill of the north window are four fragments of great antiquity. Two of these are parts of a free-armed stone crucifix and the other two are of the shaft and head of stone cross ornamented with leaves encircling a centre boss. These constitute the most ancient surviving workmanship of a man in Great Ayton. Both exhibiting strap-interlacing work, they are developed Anglo-Saxon sculpture and are assigned to the late 8thcentury. They are thus dated before the Danish Invasion which, beginning in 787, brought disaster upon the church in Northumberland.
Three hundred years later, in 1086, we meet again with the evidence of the church in Ayton. In 1123 Robert de Meynell of Whorlton Castle made the grant of Ayton church to the Abbot, William de Percy and the Benedictine Convent of Whitby Abbey, but the present building belongs to the third quarter of the 12thcentury.
The fabric is, in the main, original. To the 12thcentury belong the massive north and south nave walls, the south nave doorway with its Chevron moulding characteristic of the Norman style, the blocked north nave door, the font, the plain chancel arch with ornamental capitals, the north chancel window and, externally, the roof corbels.
Additions of later periods are much in evidence, the porch is 13thcentury. On display are fragments of the decorated east window which are 13thcentury and which was replaced in 1827. In the church itself the jambs of the chancel arch have been altered on the north side to insert the niche, a shrine to St. Mary, in whose honour the church was originally dedicated.
The nave roof principals and rafters are pre-Reformation and the ends of the rood beam which was cut down in 1788 can be seen. Behind the pulpit markings appear to show the original position of the rood loft stairs and the wall hereabouts are frequently pierced for the rood loft timbers.
The west face of the chancel arch moulding is marked with grooves once made by the Sacring Bell rope.
Wall painting is evident in both the chancel and the nave, but is most clearly seen on the north nave wall where a few Old English letters survive, painted in the earthly colours of red, orange and black.
The present internal appearance of the building is due largely to its furniture which is 18thcentury. The Sanctuary chairs, now in Christ Church, are dated 1678; the Creed, Lord’s Prayer and Ten Commandments were painted in 1744. Galleries at the west end and along the north nave walls were erected in 1743 and were entered from the outside through the now-blocked entrance in the north nave wall. The Pews, Three-decker Pulpit (in its present position) and Altar Table belong to 1759-1760. In those years large sums were received from the sale of the old pews and larger sums spent on installing new ones. All these pews had doors and were lined with green baize. The wooden fixed windows, with such alterations to the masonry of the south wall as their introduction made necessary, date from 1773-1775. In 1788-1789 the roof was stripped of its lead and slated. A new tower was built from the proceeds of the sale of the lead. This tower and the western portion of the nave were demolished in 1880 to make increased space for burial. Christ Church, the new parish church of Ayton, was consecrated on the 12thMarch 1877. The last construction work done to All Saints was the erection of a vestry on the north side of the chancel in 1849.
The reasons for the building of Christ Church are set out in a leaflet distributed in 1866 which reads as follows:
“The ancient Parish Church in this village was built probably 800 years ago when the population was not one tenth of its present number; it therefore needs considerable enlargement that it may accommodate the inhabitants who wish to attend it. Many parts of it through age and damp are in a state of decay. It was at first thought that a new aisle on the north side would be of great benefit but, on further consideration, it is deemed desirable to rebuild the church. There is difficulty combining the new work with the old and it is desirable that the size should be in proportion to the population, which is now 1500. As it was found impossible to give the new church the additional width needed without interfering with several graves and also rendering the foundations difficult and expensive, it was deemed desirable to obtain a new site for the church, as near as possible to the old burial ground; it is felt that, while the village is surrounded by scenery so lovely and beautiful, the House of God ought to have a corresponding character, such as becomes its sacred purpose.”
A Cleveland Village
R.M. Kettlewell, Vicar of Great Ayton from 1932-1939