Aycliffe (County Durham)
The village of Aycliffe stands on the west bank of the River Skerne to the south of Newton Aycliffe and five miles to the north of Darlington.
The earliest settlement recorded in the area probably dates to the Iron Age. The cropmarks of at least two rectangular enclosures have been seen on aerial photographs of the area. One is slightly overlain by the remains of another, late, circular enclosure. These are likely to have contained small farmsteads, which farmed the surrounding area.
Little is known about the area in the Roman period. Whilst the Romans certainly settled nearby, they have not left any traces within the parish. However, in the early medieval period there is more evidence for occupation in the area. The name of the village comes from the Old English for 'Clearing in the oak wood'. This suggests that until this period, the area must have been quite wooded. There were at least two settlements in the parish by the 9th or 10th century. The main village at Great Aycliffe had an Anglo-Saxon church. Although, most of the present church is of later date, it does contain the remains of 10th century masonry. Several carved stone fragments found at the church are the remains of late Anglo-Saxon crosses. The village was probably the centre of an important estate from at least the 9th century.
The nearby village of School Aycliffe was also an Anglo-Saxon village. The 'School' part of the name does not mean that there was a school here, instead it comes from the name of a Viking - Scula. This man may have been the same Scula recorded as being given land in Durham in around AD 920. In the medieval period there was also probably a village at Middridge, but it is not known whether this had an Anglo-Saxon origin.
The three villages thrived throughout the medieval period, and the church at Great Aycliffe was enlarged in the 12th and 13th centuries. A belfry was added in the 15th century. The old bridge over the River Skerne was probably also of medieval date, though it was in poor condition by 1565.
In the 18th 19th century the village became important as a settlement on the main road north, but was also an important site of the manufacture of linen goods. A new toll road was built in 1745, and the toll house can still be seen. Probably also of 18th century date are the remains of the cornmill.
In the 19th and 20th century the entire area became increasingly industrialized, and during World War II there was an important ammunition factory nearby. It closed in 1945 and became a trading estate. Today the area is dominated by the new town of Newton Aycliffe, a few miles to the north.
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