Each evening, at 9:00 pm sharp, regardless of weather, the Hornblower appears in the market square, and sets the watch. He blows on a medieval curved horn to signal that it's time for the Wakeman to assume his post. The Wakeman (now known as the mayor) is responsible for public safety, together with his Constables. This tradition has continued, unbroken, since the 15th century.
The horn now used is called the African Ox Horn, and was given to the city in 1865. All hornblowers since 1820 are listed on a plaque, mounted on the obelisk in the market square.
A pretty old town in Yorkshire
Ripon is a small market town in North Yorkshire which has not changed that much since the middle ages. The cathedral has been a parish church for centuries, but became a cathedral as late as 1836, making it only the second cathedral city in North Yorkshire. I used Ripon as a gateway to Fountains Abbey, but I think that this small town is worth a daytrip from Leeds, Harrogate or York.
Ripon was founded around a monastery in the seventh century and became a wealthy market spot. In 1108, Ripon received city rights but it did not cope with the collapse of wool industry in the late middle ages. Even the industrial revolution did not seem to have taken place in Ripon. The only evidence is a railway station which was closed in 1969. Today Ripon is a popular tourist destination and has the distinction of being England’s fourth smallest city.
For the cathedral and the Hornblower.....
I broke my journey back from Northumberland with a night at Ripon........to see the cathedral (in a way, I suppose I was retracing St Cuthbert's body without intending to do so). And to see the Ripon Hornblower, a tradition which has been carried out for the past 1100 years.
Ripon itself is an ordinary English market town, with a huge market square and some nice little streets running off it. It's a bit of a nightmare to navigate, I have to admit... finding a petrol station took me ages and ages, driving round and round the encircling major roads!
But eventually I got my fuel, and found the parking for my hotel (very central), and was able to visit the cathedral before it closed for the evening.
The existing cathedral is the fourth church on the site.........there has been one there for 1300 years.
You can visit the crypt of the original 672AD church...that's pretty amazing.
The present building dates from 11-1200, with a particularly good Early English frontage from 1220. The two towers originally had wooden spires. Major rebuilding took place after the Wars of the Roses in 1485, with more in the 1500s.
But Ripon did not actually become a cathedral (where the bishop's throne is) until 1836. Until then it was a minster: a large central church which enabled priests to 'minister' to its surrounding area.
Apart from the crypt, Ripon cathedral's main attractions for me are the superb Medieval misericords (see travelogue). A misericord is a ledge provided underneath the seats of the choir talls, so that monks could rest their buttocks during the long night services. Ripon's are beautifully carved, and a wonderful insight into the minds of Medieval craftsmen.
There is a pig playing the pipes, a woman being pushed in a wheelbarrow, strange creatures galore, humans with their faces on their torsos.....and one which shows a rabbit being chased by a griffon, trying to escape down its rabbit-hole. You can see the bottom of another rabbit disappearing down the hole itself. This is thought to be where Lewis Carroll was inspired to write some of his 'Alice in Wonderland' story: his father was a canon at Ripon, and Carroll visited many times.
But what of the Hornblower?
Well, legend has it that King Alfred granted the town its charter rights in 886AD, given in the form of a horn. Whether this is true or not, there is certainly a very ancient horn kept within the Town Hall (they are now on their fourth horn).
Every night, at 9pm, the Hornblower comes to what was once the Market Cross and is now the Obelisk in Ripon Market Square. He blows the horn four times, once at each corner of the cross/obelisk, to tell the good folk of Ripon that the 'Wakeman' (the night watchman) is now protecting their town and keeping watch..so they can safely go to bed.
But as the town motto says: 'Except ye Lord keepeth ye citiie, then ye Wakeman waketh in vain' (if God does not look after the town, then the Wakeman will not do any good).
After blowing the horn four times, the Hornblower must go to the Mayor and tell him that the watch is set, before blowing his horn three times. The present Mayor (2009) does not live in Ripon itself, so the Council has decided the Hornblower may blow his horn outside the Town Hall instead.
Being the Hornblower is a real commitment. Although there is a deputy, the present Hornblower turns out on 300 nights a year.
It's really worth going to see the Hornblower.....he does his hornblowing and then talks to onlookers about the history behind it. In summer there can be as many as 100 people, but there were only 3 of us when I visited. No doubt there are many winter nights when he is all alone on the square.......but still the tradition must be kept up.
I made a video of the Hornblower.
"A fairytale castle"
I have had the privilege of staying in many grand hotels over the past few years. Adrian’s work has taken him all across the country – and abroad – so on the occasions I can travel with him, I am usually the very grateful recipient of a wonderful hotel experience!
One such memory is that of staying at Swinton Park near Ripon, North Yorkshire. After a particularly rough month of June, Ad had last minute job in Yorkshire that involved him being away for two nights. After enquiring if it would be possible to have me join him, and hearing the affirmative, I rushed about trying to organise a day’s leave…Considering that this was Wednesday and we would need to leave on Friday morning, it was no mean feat. But work was kind, and so I was able to join him on what would be one of my greatest hotel experiences ever.
We had thought – as usual – we would be staying in a near by BnB or local hotel. So didn’t think to ask just where exactly we would be housed until the very last minute. Adrian called me back very excited to tell me that I would be staying with him…in a castle!
Check out my travelogue for more on our story!
Ripon has a delightful cathedral that has the distinction of possessing what is possibly the oldest Christian architecture in England. Its Saxon crypt dates from the founding of the church in AD672...over one thousand and three hundred years ago!
In this photo the cathedral's west front, constructed in 1220, catches the afternoon sun. Wooden spires once crowned these two towers.
After nearly one thousand and two hundred years after being established, the church was granted cathedral status in 1836.
Ripon itself is a handsome market town with many good shops, interesting monuments, decent buildings and attractive streets. Its canal wharf area has been revitalised recently.
In the immediate vicinity are Fountains Abbey, a couple stately homes and a theme park which make for a good day out.
Nearby are some lovely back country drives over the moors, idyllic towns like Leyburn and Richmond, plus the famous (or infamous?) Black Sheep Brewery.