Guisborough, Cleveland and the River Leven

Cleveland in Yorkshire

Here we cover places and history in the Cleveland district of Yorkshire from Guisborough westward towards Roseberry Topping and the valley of the River Leven, including Great Ayton and Stokesley as well as heading south to the fringes of the North York Moors and north to the outskirts of Middlesbrough.

Roseberry Topping
Roseberry Topping © David Simpson

Cleveland’s coastal area, including Saltburn, Redcar, Staithes and the former ironstone mining villages to the east of Guisborough is covered in our Cleveland coast page. Cleveland is an ancient district of Yorkshire, its ‘cliff-land’ name referring to both the cliffs of the coast and the steep hills that meet the Vale of  the Tees and Vale of Mowbray.

‘Cleveland’ is often mistakenly thought to be a modern invention. This confusion is due to the short-lived ‘County of Cleveland’ that existed for only 22 years (1974-1996) and included the former County Durham towns of Stockton; Hartlepool and Billingham to the north of the Tees.

The real, historic Cleveland is on the Yorkshire side of the Tees and encompasses the valleys of the River Esk and River Leven and along the coast it stretches from the Tees to the outskirts of Whitby. The earliest record of its name is in the twelfth century Orkneyinga Saga, recalling King Harald Hardrada of Norway’s landing in ‘Cliffland’.

Roseberry Topping, Cleveland Hills and the Tees Vale pictured from County Durham © David Simpson
Roseberry Topping, the Cleveland Hills and the Tees Vale pictured from County Durham © David Simpson

Guisborough : Capital of Cleveland

Guisborough is perhaps a Viking name: ‘the borough or fortified place belonging to a Viking called Gigr’,  but this is not certain. Evidence from place-names in the surrounding Cleveland area show that Viking settlement was very extensive, perhaps to the extent that no other area of England compares.

Guisborough © David Simpson

Guisborough is a handsome market town in rural surroundings on the northern edge of the North York Moors to the south east of Middlesbrough. It was the ancient capital of Cleveland and certainly one of the most historic towns in the area. Like so many towns in North Yorkshire and South Durham, the town is centred upon a busy market street.

Guisborough Westgate
Guisborough: Westgate © David Simpson

At Guisborough the main street is called Westgate in which we find a curious eighteenth century market cross decorated with a sundial and weather vane. The old town hall which stands on the site of a toll booth in Westgate dates from 1821.

Gisborough Priory.
Gisborough Priory © David Simpson

Guisborough’s beautiful ruined priory which is the most notable feature of the town can cause confusion because the priory name is spelled ‘Gisborough’ without the ‘u’ that appears in the name of the town. It is situated at the east end of Westgate where it turns into Church Street. The grounds of the priory include a gatehouse of about 1200 and a dovecot of the 1600s which belonged to the influential local family called the Chaloners.

Gisborough Priory
Gisborough Priory © David Simpson

Gisborough Priory was an Augustinian establishment and founded around 1120. The brethren of the priory were called canons, in the Augustinian tradition, rather than monks.

The priory’s founder was Robert De Brus, a member of the family later known as the Bruces who were important landowners on both sides of the River Tees (see also Hart and Hartlepool, Skelton and Yarm). Robert De Brus of Skelton was an ancestor of the famous Scottish king, Robert the Bruce (1290-1329).

The original late Saxon or Viking age settlement of Guisborough lay within what would become the lands of the priory. It was superseded by the growth of the new and substantial town of Guisborough that prospered after a weekly market was granted by King Henry III in 1263.

Close to the priory is the church of St Nicholas, built in the Perpendicular architectural style and dating from around 1500.

Guisiborough Church
Guisborough Church © David Simpson

Gisborough Hall about half a mile to the west of the priory uses the old spelling. Now a hotel, it stands  on the site of an older farm house but was re-built as a hall in Jacobean style by William Milford Teulon for Admiral Thomas Chaloner in 1856

Charltons Bank and Freeborough Hill

To the east of Guisborough the A171 rises into the North York Moors via Slapewath and the steeply climbing Charltons Bank.

Slapewath’s Norse name means ‘slippery ford’ but the nearby village called Charltons that gives its name to the steep rise here is named from Thomas Charlton who built ‘Charltons’ village for the miners of the Slapewath ironstone mine in the 1870s. Several villages between here and Saltburn on the coast were former ironstone mining settlements.

Looking towards Sunderland from Birk Brow, North York Moors
Looking towards Sunderland from Birk Brow, North York Moors © David Simpson

The A171 continues to rise steeply above Charltons village up to the Birk Brow Car Park at Low Moor where there are good views northward to the Durham coast and the high rise buildings of distant Sunderland.

The road continues across the moors and after about a mile passes the Lockwood Beck Reservoir and then after a further mile we encounter the intriguing mound of Freebrough Hill near the Jolly Sailors Pub in the Moorsholm area.

Freebrough Hill
Freebrough Hill © David Simpson

It looks like a prehistoric man-made feature so unsurprisingly, in local legend, is said to be the burial place of King Arthur. Rising 821 feet it is formed by an Oolitic cap left left behind following glacial erosion. Like Roseberry Topping, its name has Viking origins, from the Norse goddess of fertility, Freya. The ‘brough’ part of the name signifies a hill or a fortified place.

View of Roseberry Topping from Battersby Junction
View of Roseberry Topping from Battersby Junction © David Simpson

Roseberry Topping : Viking summit

To the west of Guisborough, the A171 heads towards the southern outskirts of Middlesbrough while the nearby A173 heads south west through Pinchintorpe, a name that was originally just ‘Thorpe’ (Torp), a Viking word for an outlying village to which the name Pinchun, a family who held land hereabouts in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, was added.

Pinchinthorpe © David Simpson

Onwards from Pinchinthorpe the A173 heads into the village of Newton under Roseberry in the shadow of Cleveland’s most iconic hill : Roseberry Topping.

Roseberry Topping is undoubtedly the best known natural landmark in Cleveland and is steeped in local folklore. It can be clearly seen from many parts of rural Cleveland, industrial Teesside and southern parts of County Durham. From its distinctive outline it has sometimes been called ‘The Cleveland Matterhorn’.

Roseberry Topping, Cleveland, Yorkshire
Roseberry Topping, Cleveland, Yorkshire © David Simpson

Roseberry Topping was once used by sailors out at sea as an indicator of changing weather, as an old rhyme records:

“When Roseberry Topping wears a cap,
Let Cleveland then beware of a clap!”

Roseberry Topping was connected with the Vikings, as the word ‘Topping’, from ‘Toppen’, is one of a number of old words for a hill, but the original Viking name for Roseberry Topping was Odins-Beorge meaning Odin’s Hill. Roseberry may have been a centre for the worship of the Viking god, Odin, in pagan times.

Over the years, the name changed to Othensberg, Ohenseberg, Ounsberry and Ouesberry. Association with the village then called Newton-under-Ouseberry at the foot of the hill led to the modern name Roseberry when the final ‘R’ of ‘under’ produced the initial letter of the modern name. Newton under Ouseberry is now called Newton under Roseberry.

Newton under Roseberry
Pagan and Christian: Roseberry Topping (left) and St Oswald’s church, Newton under Roseberry © David Simpson

The church at Newton under Roseberry is dedicated to St Oswald, possibly the Northumbrian king and saint who converted his kingdom, (which included Cleveland), to Christianity. St Oswald’s is a largely Norman church, though very likely on the site of an earlier one. Incorporated into the south east corner of the tower is a stone carving of a dragon attacking a four-legged animal which has variously been identified as a cow, a horse or even a panther. The carving is of Anglo-Saxon or Viking age origin.

Dragon and beast stone, Newton under Roseberry church
Dragon and beast stone, Newton under Roseberry church © David Simpson

Situated on the Cleveland Way, Roseberry Topping is a popular climb with excellent views of Teesside and the Vale of the Tees and out to the sea. It was no doubt climbed on more than one occasion by Captain James Cook, whose boyhood home was a cottage at Airy Holme Farm near the foot of the hill. The farm is on the southern slopes of the hill and it was here that Cook’s father, a Scotsman from Roxburghshire, also called James Cook, worked for Thomas Skottowe, the Lord of the Manor for Great Ayton. Cook senior was married to a local woman called Grace Pace of Thornaby.

Roseberry Topping from Newton
Roseberry Topping from Newton © David Simpson

Normally ‘holm(e)’ in a place-name refers to an island or meander of some kind but the name of Airy Holme derives from airgh-um – the plural of ‘airgh’ – a name used for a shieling (or shelter) by Irish or Gaelic Vikings, who were sometimes also called Norse Gaels or Hiberno-Norse. The Gaelic speaking Scottish islands and certain coastal parts of Ireland were important Viking colonies where Viking settlers adopted some of the words and ways of the Gaelic natives and formed an important element in the Viking colonisation of parts of Yorkshire, Lancashire and the Lake District.

Waterfall on the River Leven at Great Ayton
Waterfall on the River Leven at Great Ayton © David Simpson

River Leven

A little wooded valley with a stream separates Airy Holme Farm from the neighbouring Ayton Banks Farm and the stream is fed by little springs on the south side of Roseberry Topping that feed into the River Leven near the substantial village of Great Ayton just to the west.

The source of the River Leven is about three miles to the south east of Roseberry Topping on Warren Moor near Kildale where streams and springs in Baysdale to the south and near Commondale to the east feed the River Esk which is destined for Whitby. The Leven, however is a tributary of the Tees which it joins near Yarm and Ingleby Barwick. The Leven valley and neighbouring countryside is the home to a number of pleasant places of which Great Ayton, Stokesley, Hutton Rudby and Crathorne are all situated along the course of the river itself.

Kildale © David Simpson

The nineteenth century church at Kildale, dedicated to St Cuthbert is on the site of an earlier one where in 1867 seven or eight graves of the Viking age were discovered with grave goods including tweezers, scales, an axe, swords, spears and knives.

From its source, the Leven flows north east then west towards Kildale through woodland, close to the Esk Valley Railway line. Kildale is a tiny village but has its own railway station and the remains of a motte and bailey castle. The Leven skirts this castle site just to the north then flows south west along the edge of the extensive woodland south of Easby Moor before it is joined by the Dundale Beck near the village of Battersby, before heading north.

Battersby Junction
Battersby Junction © David Simpson

The village of Battersby lies to the south the railway and is neither situated on the Leven nor the adjoining beck. It has a Viking name which means ‘Bothvar’s farmstead’ and is the site of an old hall that dates from 1670. The place is perhaps best known for the Battersby Junction on the railway line and the Battersby Junction railway station is situated about half a mile to the west at the midpoint between Battersby and the neighbouring village of Ingleby Greenhow. Like Battersby, Ingleby Greenhow lies on the edge of the North York Moors National Park.

Ingleby Greenhow seems to have a name that refers to an Englishman’s farm or village in a largely Viking settled area and is one of three Inglebys in the Cleveland area, with the others being Ingleby Arncliffe and Ingleby Barwick to the west and north west. The weather-worn church at Ingleby Greenhow, dedicated to St Andrew, is eighteenth century with traces of an earlier Norman structure. The nearby manor house is also eighteenth century. The ‘Greenhow’ part of the name means ‘green hill’.

North of Battersby where the railway and River Leven now head towards Great Ayton, there are the remains of a castle motte at Castle Hill and just west of the railway is the little village of Easby (‘Esi’s farm’) which should not be confused with Easby Abbey in Swaledale.

Cook Monument Easby Moor
Cook Monument Easby Moor © David Simpson

Easby Moor beyond the river and railway to the east of Easby is situated to the south of Roseberry Topping and is the site of the Captain Cook monument, a 60 feet high obelisk erected by a Whitby banker called Robert Campion to commemorate Cleveland’s most famous son. The Otterhills Beck joins the tiny River Leven at Easby from where the river heads north into Little Ayton and Great Ayton.

Great Ayton and the River Leven
Great Ayton and the River Leven © David Simpson

Great Ayton

Great Ayton was known in medieval times as ‘Ayton Magna’ to distinguish it from neighbouring Little Ayton to the south. The ‘Ay’ in the names of both places is a simple word ‘ea’ meaning ‘river’ and so Ayton’s Anglo-Saxon name means ‘river farm’. Both villages are situated on the River Leven. In the early part of the twentieth century Great Ayton was often called ‘Canny Ayton’ from its pleasant situation.

In Norman times Great Ayton belonged to the De Estoveilles and then later the powerful Neville family, while its Norman church of All Saints (with some later eighteenth and nineteenth century rebuilding) belonged to the abbey of Whitby. Anglo-Saxon sculptures found at the church show that this site predates the Norman era.

All Saints church 'Great Ayton
All Saints church ‘Great Ayton © David Simpson

The village’s growth was based on rural industries but neighbouring ironstone and alum mining also had an influence. So too, did the quarrying of whinstone. This hardened volcanic rock crops up in the area in the form of the Cleveland Dyke (notably at Langbaurgh Ridge) and has been used in the construction of roads.

Great Ayton is a large village, similar in size to to the neighbouring market town of Stokesley to its west and its main feature – as indeed at Stokesley – is the pretty River Leven. In part of the village it forms a picturesque Waterfall Park and nearby is perhaps one of the village’s most unsuual heritage features, a rare Victorian urinal painted pillar box red.

Pleasant houses line the village green in Great Ayton and also the riverside area, which is crossed by a number of little bridges as well as the stone-built ‘Great Bridge’ of 1909.

The 'Great Bridge' of 1909, Great Ayton
The ‘Great Bridge’ of 1909, Great Ayton © David Simpson

Bridge Street was the site of a cottage belonging to Cook’s father, James Cook senior, who built the house in 1755 by which time his famous son had left home. Cook junior presumably visited his parents here. In 1934 the cottage was dismantled, shipped and carefully pieced together in Fitzroy Gardens, Melbourne, Australia. An obelisk made of granite from Point Hicks in Australia (where Captain James Cook first sighted Australia) stands on the site of the Cook cottage in Great Ayton.

Captain Cook

Although he never resided in the village, Great Ayton was the place where James Cook junior went to school when his family resided at nearby Airy Holme Farm on Roseberry Topping. The schoolroom at Great Ayton where he was educated is a visitor attraction in the village. Cook was actually born further north at Marton, now a suburb of Middlesbrough on the 27th October 1728.

Captain Cook Schoolroom, Great Ayton
Captain Cook Schoolroom, Great Ayton © David Simpson

When he was sixteen, Cook left the family home and moved to Staithes where he was apprenticed to a grocer, before moving to Whitby where he began working for a Whitby shipowner employed on colliers shipping coals from the River Tyne to London.

After learning basic seamanship, Cook joined the navy at the age of 27 and soon gained a reputation for his chart-making skills. A statue by Nicholas Dimbleby, unveiled in 1997 on Great Ayton’s High Green depicts Cook when he was sixteen and faces in the direction of Staithes.

James Cook sculpture, Great Ayton
James Cook sculpture, Great Ayton © David Simpson

Cook had a desire to explore new lands and in 1769 he was asked to command HM Bark Endeavour on an expedition that took him to Tahiti, New Zealand and Australia where he named the territory of New South Wales. On his return to England in 1771, he was promoted from lieutenant to captain and set sail the following year in search of the great southern continent, voyaging as far as the Antarctic Circle. This was a journey that took him further south than anyone else had ever been before. He then returned home to England.

Captain Cook
Captain James Cook

Cook’s last voyage was to prove fatal. Leaving England on the 25th June 1776 on board the Resolution and accompanied by the Discovery, Cook went on to discover Hawaii and the Cook Inlet of Alaska. On return to Hawaii where his ship stopped for provisions, Cook unfortunately lost his life on the 14th February 1779, following an affray between local tribesmen and members of his crew. There is a legend recited by local tourist guides on the island of Hawaii that the place where Cook met his death is the only part of the United States of America which still belongs to Great Britain, a mark of respect to the great explorer.

Langbaurgh Ridge

Much of the district around Guisborough and Great Ayton was historically called Langbaurgh, named from the Langbaurgh Ridge just north of Great Ayton, which is formed by a volcanic intrusion called the Cleveland Dyke. The dyke was associated with volcanic activity focused upon the island of Mull in Scotland during the Jurassic and Palaeogene eras.

In Cleveland the dyke appears intermittently but follows a straight line often revealed by whinstone quarries along its course, for example at Preston Park just over the Tees near Eaglescliffe, or at Ingleby Barwick or at Kildale. Evidence of quarrying is particularly strong at Langbaurgh Ridge. The Cleveland Dyke also appears in County Durham where there are some impressive remnants of its quarrying on Cockfield Fell.

The dyke extends into Cumbria where it is still known to geologists as the Cleveland Dyke. Beyond here it disappears at the Solway Firth and re-emerges in Dumfriesshire where a branch veers north in the direction of Mull.

The name of Langbaurgh Ridge near Great Ayton comes from ‘Lang’ meaning ‘long’ and ‘Beorge’ meaning ‘barrow-hill’. Langbaurgh was a place of significance in historic times when it was the central meeting place of a wapentake, or Viking settled district.

Here Vikings assembled to discuss their local affairs, taking their weapons with them as part of the ceremony.  Sadberge near Darlington seems to have played a similar role north of the Tees. Wapentakes continued as administrative districts into later medieval times after the Norman Conquest, when some new wapentakes were created. They included Whitby Strand, annexed from part of Langbaurgh.

Later, Langbaurgh wapentake was divided into two parts called East and West Langbaurgh with Roseberry Topping and Ayton Moor on the border between the two. For centuries the whole Langbaurgh wapentake was also known by its other ancient name of Cleveland.

The pretty village of Nunthorpe lies a little to the north of the Langbaurgh Ridge near the southern outskirts of Middlesbrough.

Stokesley © David Simpson


Historically Great Ayton and Stokesley lay in Yorkshire’s Cleveland district of West Langbaurgh and in 1846 John Walker Ord in his History of Cleveland turning his attention to West Langbaurgh describes Stokesley, perhaps a little wryly, as the Metropolis of this particular district (the larger town of Guisborough being in East Langbaurgh).

The name of Stokesley seems to have a great deal of uncertainty about it, possibly referring to an outlying farm of some kind or a religious place or ‘stoc’. The ‘ley’ part of the name certainly refers to a clearing of some kind but the first part of the name is uncertain, although, unlike many names of the Cleveland district, it does not seem to have Viking roots.

Milburns Yard, Stokesley
Milburns Yard, Stokesley © David Simpson

Stokesley was certainly a place of importance and was the centre of a barony which came into the hands of the powerful Baliol family around 1093. They were also owners of the extensive baronies of Bywell in the Tyne Valley and the Barony of Gainford on Tees which stretched deep into Teesdale where one of the Baliols – Bernard Baliol gave his name to Barnard Castle. The extent of the Stokesley Barony is uncertain but seems to have included around 15 churches.

Later, Stokesley passed through marriage to the Eure family, one of whom secured the establishment of a fair here in a charter from King Henry III in 1223. Stokesley still hosts a fair to this day, which takes place each September in the High Street, though in modern times, as with the similar fair held in Yarm, this is now a fair of ‘fun fair’ rides rather than an agricultural fair.

Stokesley Packhorse Bridge
Stokesley Packhorse Bridge © David Simpson

Like many North Yorkshire market towns Stokesley is a home to numerous Georgian houses that line the main street. As at Great Ayton, the River Leven lies at the heart of the town and is crossed by numerous bridges, mostly footbridges including a former packhorse bridge with a single stone arch.

River Leven, Stokesley
River Leven, Stokesley © David Simpson

A pretty street called Levenside is, as its name suggests located along the side of the river and runs parallel to the High Street to which it is linked by the side roads of Leven Wynd, Milburns Yard and Bridge Road.

Stokesley Church of St Peter and St Paul Stokesley
Church of St Peter and St Paul Stokesley © David Simpson

Prominent at the west end of the town’s High Street is the church of St Peter and St Paul which has a medieval tower and a Georgian nave. A church was mentioned at Stokesley at the time of the Domesday Book.

Close to the church, in its own grounds, and now a private house is Stokesley’s old manor house, which is mostly Georgian on a site going back to Norman times.

Manor House, Stokesley
Manor House, Stokesley © David Simpson

It is sitauted next to the Market Place and College Square, which is the home of the former Preston Grammar School, founded by an attorney of Stokesley called John Preston who bequeathed the money for its foundation in 1832. It closed in 1918.

Further to the west is the Stokesley Town Hall of 1854 which stands at the centre of the High Street in typical North Yorkshire fashion. The western end of the High Street terminates at the West Green but the town extends westward from the White Swan pub along to Westlands where, along with similar developments at the North East end of the town, there is much modern housing associated with Stokesley’s role as a commuter town for Teesside.

River Leven, Stokesley
River Leven, Stokesley © David Simpson

Close by on this North East side of the town is a popular garden centre and to the south of the town is the Stokesley Business Park which includes, amongst other businesses, the headquarters of Quorn, the meat substitute produced by Marlow Foods Ltd.

Village name stone, Carlton in Cleveland
Village name stone, Carlton in Cleveland © David Simpson

Kirkby, Busby, Carlton and Faceby

To the north of Stokesley are the villages of Seamer and Newby near Nunthorpe, and heading towards Middlesbrough. Nearby hamlets called Tunstall and Tanton along with Tanton Hall lie in the valley of a little stream called the River Tame which joins the Leven just west of Stokesley. Curiously the junction of this ‘river’ with the Leven is called Leven Mouth rather than the expected ‘Tame Mouth’ suggesting that perhaps the Leven was once called the Tame downstream from here.

South of Stokesley towards the North York Moors and situated near the valleys of little becks that also feed the River Leven are the villages of Great Broughton, Kirkby and Busby. Great Broughton itself is on the Broughton Beck and the village name in fact means ‘brook farm’. The village of Ingleby Greenhow lies to the east.

Kirkby in Cleveland
Kirkby in Cleveland © David Simpson

Kirkby (pronounced Kirby and sometimes called Kirkby-in-Cleveland) to the west means the ‘church settlement’ and its church is curiously dedicated to St Augustine. It is of eighteenth century origin but on the site of an earlier medieval church. Pre-Conquest sculpture has been found here and there are medieval effigies in the churchyard.

Great Busby
Great Busby © David Simpson

West of Kirkby are Dromonby Farm and Dromonby Hall from the settlement of a Viking called Dromundr and to its east, the village of Great Busby which belonged to a Viking called Buski.

Just within the North York Moors National Park south west of Great Busby is the village of Carlton-in-Cleveland which lies alongside the Alum Beck, a tributary of the River Leven. It is a reminder of alum working of the district which took place in the neighbouring Carlton Banks of the Cleveland Hills. Carlton’s church is of the nineteenth century and dedicated to St Botolph while the village manor house dates from about 1750.

Manor House, Carlton in Cleveland
Manor House, Carlton in Cleveland © David Simpson

The name of Carlton could mean the settlement of the freeholding peasants or the settlement of someone called Karl. Either way the ‘ton’ of the name is an Anglo-Saxon term while ‘Carl’ is Scandinavian. The addition of ‘in-Cleveland’ has long been in use and distinguishes it from other places called Carlton.

Carlton in Cleveland
Carlton in Cleveland © David Simpson

The village was not included in the short-lived, misnamed ‘County of Cleveland’ (1974-1996), though a village called Carlton, near Stockton in the historic county of Durham was included in this county, causing no end of confusion.

The village of Faceby along the Faceby Road to the south west of Carlton in Cleveland has  a Viking name meaning ‘Feti’s Farm’ from a Norse personal name that means ‘Fat’ – ‘fatty’s farm’.

Faceby village lies between a hill called Whorl Hill and the Faceby Beck, which along with the Alum Beck from Carlton feeds into the River Leven at Skutterskelfe (a place west of Stokesley near Hutton Rudby). Skutterskelfe has a Scandinavian name meaning the ‘shelf of land belonging to a Viking called Skothra’.

Swainby, Whorlton, Potto, Ingleby Arncliffe

Swainby, situated on the Scugdale Beck means ‘farmstead of Sveinn’ or ‘farm of the young man’ and is related to the English word ‘swan’. It is a picturesque village and lies just south of the A172, just within the North York Moors National Park.

Swainby © David Simpson

A little to the east of Swainby is a tiny village called Whorlton named from the neighbouring Whorl Hill near Faceby. It has a Victorian church called Holy Cross and the remains of an earlier Norman church of the same name.

On private land nearby are the ruins of a fourteenth century gatehouse that are the most prominent remains of the twelfth century Whorlton Castle (also sometimes known historically as Potto Castle). The castle belonged to the Darcy family in the fourteenth century and in the reign of Henry VIII was given to the Scottish Earl of Lennox.

The little village of Potto across the A172 north of Swainby and Whorlton has a name that comes from ‘Pot-Howe’ meaning ‘small valley and hill’, the valley being that of the little Potto Beck. The little stream which rises in Scugdale above Swainby undergoes a number of name changes along it course before it eventually joins the River Leven as the Coul Beck at Sexhow near Hutton Rudby.

Potto is best-known as the home to the haulage company Prestons of Potto which was originally established in 1936 by Richard Preston as an agricultural contracting business and is still a family-run business to this day.

Cleveland Hills
View of the northern edge of the Cleveland Hills between Ingleby Arncliffe and Swainby © David Simpson

Before returning to the River Leven we can head two miles south west of Swainby to Ingleby Arcliffe which lies in a corner of land between the A172 and its junction with the busy A19. Like Ingleby Greenhow to the east and Ingleby Barwick to the north it probably designates an English or Anglo-Saxon owned settlement in a heavily Viking settled area, the addition of Arncliffe means ‘Eagle’s Cliffe’ and refers to the neighbouring hill of Arncliffe Wood.

Water Tower, Ingleby Arncliffe
Water Tower, Ingleby Arncliffe © David Simpson

On the north side of the A172 the most notable features of the village are the village hall and a prominent water tower of 1915. Over on the south side of the A172 is Ingleby Arncliffe’s church of All Saints, a rebuilding of an earlier Norman church of 1821. Nearby is Arncliffe Hall of the 1750s designed by John Carr. Both of these are situated near to Arncliffe Wood on the adjoining hill side which stretches a mile or two southward from here to Osmotherley and Mount Grace Priory.

Ingleby Arncliffe is more or less situated at the north west corner of the Cleveland Hills, with the A19 running close to the western edge of the hills. On the A19 just south of Ingleby is the Cleveland Tontine (Ingleby House) built as a coaching inn on the turnpike road around 1804. A tontine was a loan paid in annuities.

Hutton Rudby and Sexhow

Returning north to the River Leven. From Skutterskelfe to the west of Stokelsey the river approaches the villages of Rudby and Hutton Rudby near a place called Sexhow.

Sexhow is another Viking name which means the hill-mound ‘howe’ (haugr) belonging to a Norseman called Sekkr. The nearby Sexhow Hall farmhouse was the Sexhow manor house and has medieval origins but is mostly of the eighteenth and nineteenth century.

Sexhow © David Simpson

Sexhow is home to one of those worm legends that concern a great worm (wyvern or dragon) that terrorised the neighbourhood and made its abode on a neighbouring hill.

Cleveland Hills from Sexhow
View of the Cleveland Hills from Sexhow © David Simpson

The worm was eventually slain by a local (un-named) knight and its skin was then displayed at the nearby Rudby church which is situated alongside the River Leven to the north west. It is said to have remained here until it was supposedly removed by the soldiers of Oliver Cromwell.

Rudby church
Rudby church © David Simpson

The legend of the Sexhow Worm bears similarities to the legend of the Sockburn Worm on the border of County Durham and Yorkshire near Darlington as well as the Lambton Worm near Sunderland and the Worm of Longwitton near Morpeth in Northumberland.

The worm legends seem to have their roots in Anglo-Saxon and Norse mythology and in Norman times they may have acquired a new role in asserting the rights of a local Norman lord to hold land, through the portrayal of a family ancestor as a hero who defeats an evil enemy that appears in the form of a worm.

Hutton Rudby
Hutton Rudby © David Simpson

Hutton Rudby and Rudby are two villages on either side of the River Leven. Hutton has an Anglo-Saxon name – ‘the hill spur farm’ to which the name of the neighbouring Viking-named village of Rudby, (Ruthi’s Farm) has been added to distinguish it from several other places called Hutton in North Yorkshire such as Hutton Buscel; Hutton Bonville; Hutton-le-Hole and Hutton Magna.

Hutton House, Hutton Rudby
Hutton House, Hutton Rudby © David Simpson

Hutton Rudby is the larger of the two places and is situated on an extensive village green. There are a number of attractive houses surrounding the green and the neighbouring street called The Wynd, with the most intriguing being the eighteenth century Hutton House with its tower – probably of the mid nineteenth century.

Hutton Rudby
Hutton Rudby © David Simpson

The main streets running the length of the green are North Side and South Side with a street called North End linking to a northward extension of the village. The more southerly part of the village linked to Sexhow Lane was once a separate settlement called Enterpen.

Bridge over the River Leven, Hutton Rudby
Bridge over the River Leven, Hutton Rudby © David Simpson

Hutton Rudby is linked to the village of Rudby itself by a stone bridge of 1755 near to which is the medieval village church of All Saints on the Rudby side of the river where the skin of the Sexhow Worm was once reputedlty displayed. In the eighteenth century a flax mill once stood across the bridge on the Hutton Rudby side of the river.

Crathorne and Levington

Carthorne is about a mile and half along the Leven to the west of Hutton Rudby and is situated on the west side of the river which here takes a northerly direction towards Castle Levington. The name of Crathorne is thought to come from the Norse ‘Kraa’ meaning ‘nook’ and the word thorn for a thorn bush, but is perhaps related to crows in some way.

The village church is of the nineteenth century but on the site of an earlier Norman and Saxon church. Viking sculpture has been found at this site including a Viking hogback tomb stone incorporated into a lintel of the building and a Viking influenced cross shaft that features two dragons and a winged man.

Crathorne Hall
Crathorne Hall © David Simpson

The handsome Crathorne Hall, now a hotel is Georgian in style but dates from 1906 and stands on the site of a manor house associated with the Crathorne family of medieval times who once lived here. The Crathorne estate was acquired by the Dugdale family in the 1840s and they became Barons Crathorne. It is the family title that is recalled in the name of the Crathorne Arms which is the village pub.

Crathorne Arms © David Simpson

From Hutton Rudby to Leven Bridge near Yarm, the River Leven is a heavily wooded valley and about two miles north of Crathorne it bends north westward at a point called Castle Hill where in a nook was once situated Levington Castle, reputedly first built by Robert De Brus in medieval times.

There is nothing to see here but about a mile and a half to the west near the outskirts of Yarm is the village of Kirklevington which has a part Norman church dedicated to St Martin. Viking crosses have been found here dating to the tenth century and are kept at Preston Hall Museum near Eaglescliffe. The name Levington (often spelled Leavington in times past is Anglo-Saxon and simply means farm on the Leven.

A little to the west of Castle Hill the Leven is crossed by the A19 at Ravenscar Wood and then continues north west for about a mile along its wooded valley before passing beneath the Leven Bridge (A1044).

The river ends its course running between the modern houses of Levendale on the outskirts of Yarm on its south side and the huge modern housing development area of Ingleby Barwick on its north side. It finally meets the River Tees at a spot called Round Hill, which was a moated site in the distant past. It faces across to the opposite bank of the Tees which rises to Devil’s Hill near the church in the little village of Egglescliffe.

The River Leven, Hutton Rudby
The River Leven, Hutton Rudby © David Simpson

 Cleveland Coast | Whitby

Yarm and Eaglescliffe

Middlesbrough Around Middlesbrough

Northallerton, Osmotherley and Thirsk

Stockton-on-Tees | Hartlepool

 Billingham Norton

YouTube : Viking history of the River Tees





North East England History and Culture