Picture credit: Public domain

“Mr Mayor the watch is set.”

-The Ripon hornblower every evening

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Ripon is a cathedral city in North Yorkshire, situated on the River Ure and home to around 16,000 people. It is the fourth smallest city in the country, famous for its Cathedral, the horn blower ceremony and tourism.

Ripon is a place full of history and tradition, none more so than the city’s “setting the watch” ritual, which is the world’s longest-running unbroken daily ceremony, spanning 1128 years. Every evening the town’s horn blower blows a horn at the four corners of the market square, attracting visitors from all around the world.

The origins of this fascinating ritual dates back to the year 886, when King Alfred the Great visited the Ripon on a tour commemorating his victory against The Vikings. The king was so impressed with the welcome he received from the locals that he decided on the spot to grant Ripon a Royal town charter. However he did not have the necessary documents with him to do this officially, so instead gave the town’s community leaders a charter horn. He told them to keep it safe forever and to appoint a wakeman plus a team of constables, who would patrol the streets, in order to keep the people safe from the Vikings should they return. It was also decided that he should sound the horn in order to tell the townsfolk that the “watch was set” and they could go to sleep, safe in the knowledge they were being looked after.

This continued until 1604, when the town received a more official town charter from King James I. The wakeman’s role, which by now had become too powerful, was made into an elected town mayor, who appointed a horn blower to carry out the ceremony on his behalf. The first mayor, Hugh Ripley did not trust his new appointment and made a rule in which after the ceremony the horn blower must find the mayor, wherever they are and blow the horn three times in their face to let them know the setting of the watch ceremony had been completed. It is said that if this is not done satisfactorily the ghostly face of Hugh Ripley appears at the Wakeman’s house situated at the corner of the marketplace. The current horn is the fourth to be used, with the original kept in safe-keeping at the town hall. The obelisk in the centre of the marketplace where the ceremony takes place was built in 1702 to commemorate the Ripon horn blowers and also lists each one since 1804.

ripon hornblower Phillip Catteral
Setting the watch: The Ripon hornblower picture credit Phillip Catteral wikipedia public domain.


Ripon has been a place of worship for more than 1,350 years and has had four churches on the present cathedral site, including an original stone church built by St Wilfred in the 7th century. St Wilfred’s chapel is the only part of the ancient church which remains today inside the present cathedral and is one of the oldest Saxon religious buildings in England currently still in use.

The rest of the cathedral was started in the 12th century by Thomas of Bayeux, the first Norman Archbishop of York, as an extension. The building has been consistently added to and modified up until the present day. The two towers at the west entrance date from 1220, while the nave and central tower was re-built, after it collapsed in 1450. To the keen observer the arches and pillars are mis-matched under this tower because work was halted, due to the disruption of the War of The Roses.

In 1836 the minster achieved cathedral status and thus Ripon became a city and the mother church for the first new diocese created since the reformation.

Given the cathedral’s long history and constant re-invention, over 800 years of craftsmanship and architectural styles are on show throughout the building.

The ruins of Fountains Abbey Picture credit: Helen Lawery (IFY community)
The ruins of Fountains Abbey Picture credit: Helen Lawery (IFY community)


The ruins of Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal lie four miles away from Ripon and is a UNESCO World heritage site. The abbey was founded in 1133 by Benedictine monks but was destroyed during the reformation of the 1530s, leaving a well preserved ruin. The land went into royal hands afterwards, but was eventually bought by the Aislabie family in the early 18th century who combined the abbey with its surrounding Studley royal estate and created the water gardens which are admired by tourists to this day. The deer park has existed since medieval times, as part of the abbey, which is still home to over 500 animals. St Mary’s church was added later in 1878 as a memorial to Frederick Vyner, who was killed by Greek bandits, and is renowned as an architectural masterpiece. The haunted Fountains Hall is also part of the Studley Royal Estate, built in 1604, and is now partly open to the public, with private flats taking up the remainder of the building.

To the North of Ripon lies Lightwater Valley theme park, which has existed since 1987 and has the longest rollercoaster in Europe, the Ultimate, which opened four years later. The site started as a fruit farm in the 1960s, but after a severe drought in 1976 fell into financial difficulties and was eventually turned into the theme park. It has, at the time of writing, 40 rides and attractions, including “the Ultimate”, “Raptor attack”, and “Eagle’s Claw”, along with children’s rides and falconry displays.

The Courthouse museum is based in Ripon’s original chambers and was built in 1830. It charts the history of justice in the town and tells the story of how convicts were sent thousands of miles away as punishment, including examples of real-life cases. The Police and Prison museum charts the history of policing and punishment in Ripon from Anglo-Saxon Times and shows the importance of the Wakeman, who was head of law and order. The attraction also gives visitors the chance to experience life in a Victorian prison cell.

Newby Hall and Gardens is a 25 acre country house built in 1690 by Sir Christopher Wren, with interior design from Robert Adam. The grounds feature a variety of beautiful areas, such as rose, water and Tropical gardens and are well known for their blooms of rhododendrons, azaleas and magnolias. There is also a miniature railway and adventure playground amongst other attractions.

Ripon is also a place of culture and each year holds the city’s International music festival, featuring a mixture of classical, jazz, and folk bands or orchestras performing at several venues around the city, including its cathedral. St Wilfrid’s day celebrates the city’s founder and features a float procession through the town, stalls and children’s rides, amongst other entertainment.

Surprisingly for a city of such history and culture there is no theatre, however there is the Curzon cinema, which opened in 2013 and shows broadcasted performances of classical concerts and ballet performances as well as screening both alternative and mainstream films.

Ripon is well linked to other towns and cities in Yorkshire. It is situated adjacent to the A1, giving easy access to the South and West Ridings. The A61 links Ripon to Harrogate in the South, while North-Eastwards to Thirsk and the coast.

Unfortunately Ripon lost its railway station due to the Beeching axe of 1967, but when operational was situated on the Leeds-Northallerton line. Unlike some other Yorkshire places, who demolished their stations after closure of the line, the original building still remains and is now converted into flats, with gardens laid out over old track beds. In recent years there has been a strong campaign to re-open the line to Harrogate and proposals have been made for sites in which a new Ripon station could be built. Until this comes to pass the city relies solely on a good bus service for public transport. There are regular services to Leeds, Harrogate, York and also to Dales towns, such as Leyburn and Richmond.

There has been no University in Ripon, since the closure of the Ripon St John campus in 2002, when all courses were either discontinued or moved over to its sister campus in York. Ripon Grammar School was founded in 1544, with famous former old boys including William Hague and TV presenter, Richard Hammond.

Lightwater Country shopping village is an out of town centre, offering a range of independent stores selling fashion, gifts and confectionary. The town centre has some high street names and supermarkets, but also places an emphasis on local independent outlets and gift shops. Market day is on a Thursday and features 120 stalls.

Ripon has had a long history in the sport of horseracing. There have been records of meetings in the area since 1664 and uniquely held the first ever race in the UK for female jockeys in 1723. The current Ripon racecourse on Boroughbridge Road is nicknamed the “Garden racecourse” and traditionally hosts the first fixture in the Go Racing Yorkshire event each July.

The historic city of Ripon is full of tradition, set in the beautiful hills of North Yorkshire.
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Ripon has long been an important religious centre due to its cathedral. Picture credit wfmiller wikipedia creative commons.
Ripon has long been an important religious centre due to its cathedral. Picture credit wfmiller wikipedia creative commons.

Although there is some evidence of Roman occupation, the true origins of the city can be found in the 7th Century when Ripon, known then as Inrhypum, was founded by St Wilfrid. He built a church on the site of the cathedral, and the first settlers were glaziers and stonemasons, who were brought over to help construct it. Ripon was part of the Viking state of Yorvik after which the famous visit of Alfred the Great took place and the beginning of the horn blower ceremony.

During the Norman invasion, the city was burned through the Harrying of the North after resistance in the town and was shrunk to only a few streets around its now decimated church. A new place of worship was built incorporating the ruins of the original, nowadays St Wilfrid’s chapel, and the town began to expand again through its developing wool trade. Around the same time Fountains Abbey was built and the land around it was used for grazing and its river to export goods out of the town. However this trade faded due to the dissolution of the abbey in the 1540s and the town developed a trade for making spurs, which are the spikes worn by horse-riders to urge their horses forward instead.

In 1773 a canal was built to import and export goods to the city, but was a loss-making enterprise from the outset and faced competition from the emerging railway networks of the early Victorian era. Strangely, two very important events in British history seemed to pass Ripon by. The English Civil war, prominent in other parts of Yorkshire barely affected the town, although it is recorded to be of a Royalist persuasion. The Industrial Revolution did not affect the town either, although it did steadily grow and become more prosperous during this era. At the start of the First World War a large training camp for new army recruits was built in Ripon and the city was prominent in the housing of Flemish refugees during the conflict. Since the Second World War, Ripon has increased in size, lending its economy to tourism, due to its long history, famous landmarks and ancient traditions.
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Before the Roman occupation of England , area that now contains Ripon was under the control of the Brigantes Tribe. Just north of modern day Ripon, at Hutton Moor, is a circular earth work created by the Brigantes.
The Romans built a military outpost at North Stanley about 5 miles from Ripon, but they did not settle the area.

There is evidence that Ripon originated in the 7th Century during the period of The Anglian Kingdom of Northumbria. Ripon was known as Inhrypum at this time and the first structure built was a Christian church. The church was dedicated to St Peter. In the year 658 Ripon was founded by a man called Wilfred and he later became the Bishop of York.

Some of the earliest settlers came from as far away as Rome and Lyon and were stonemasons, plasterers and glaziers. Wilfred brought them to Ripon to construct the Ripon monastery.
During the middle to late ninth century Northumbria was invaded by Norse Vikings and eventually The Kingdom of Jorvik was established.

Following the Norman Conquest the north rebelled against Norman rule , in 1069, and was subjected to the Harrying of the North. Much of the north was laid waste in this period and the settlement at Ripon was reduced to a small community.

Close to Ripon can be found the Cistercian Fountains Abbey .The monks owned vast areas of land and used it for sheep farming and the production of wool. Ripon became a centre for the production of cloth.
During the English Reformation and the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII, Ripon was badly affected.

Mary Queen of Scots stayed at Ripon during her flight from Scotland. Much of the north of England was still Catholic at the time and there was a popular uprising in support of her. This was known as the Rising of the North and was lead by the 7th Earl of Northumberland, Thomas Percy and the 6th Earl of Westmorland, Charles Percy. The rebellion failed and 600 people were executed, 300 of them on Gallows Hill in Ripon during 1570.

Ripon is famous for its Race Course. The present course is on Boroughbridge Road and racing began in 1900. Racing has taken place at various sites in Ripon and was first recorded in 1664 on Bondgate Green. In 1773 the city hosted the first ever horse race for female jockeys.

In 1957 Ripon was twinned with Foix in France.

Richard Hammond, one of the presenters of Top Gear is from Ripon as is Bruce Oldfield the famous fashion designer.