COLUMN: Civic Society with David Winpenny

Ripon Gazebo - enjoying the view from the gallery. (S)
Ripon Gazebo - enjoying the view from the gallery. (S)

With the annual Heritage Open Days taking place next weekend, David takes a look at what you can visit on our doorstep.

It’s September – and with the month comes another blast of the annual Heritage Open Days.

If you haven’t caught up with the phenomenon that is HODs (to give the event its less formal designation) you’re missing out on a treat.

Since the scheme was started in 1994 by the former national body The Civic Trust, historic buildings – most of them usually closed to the public or normally making a charge for admission – have thrown open their doors to everyone to have a look around. All around England (except for London, which has its own scheme) a September weekend sees an enormous range of buildings, from the humblest to the grandest, of every age, style and function, welcoming visitors.

This year HODs is from September 12-15 – and, as always, in Ripon we’re not being left out! Most of our effort is being directed to the afternoon of Sunday, September 15, when several buildings in the city – and beyond – will be open to visit.

Ripon Civic Society will once again be opening The Gazebo, off Blossomgate in Ripon, from 2-4pm on September 15. If you’ve never been, you’re in for a surprise. It’s an 18th-century folly – a garden pavilion, constructed for a grand house in Park Street, and consisting of two two-storey towers capped with pantiled roofs and connected by an arched walkway – an elegant and unexpected survivor of an earlier age. It’s hidden behind the buildings of Blossomgate Court, and hardly visible from any direction. This annual HODs opening is the only time that access is possible, so make the most of the chance this year!

There’s an addition to the list of buildings open this year. Ripon Grammar School, on Clotherholme Road, is opening its library to visitors.

This was once the main school hall of the original grammar school buildings, designed by the Leeds-based Victorian architect George Corson (responsible also for Ripon’s Clock Tower and for Leeds Grand Theatre, among much else). When the school was extended in the early 1960s the original hall became the library; a gallery was subsequently added to increase the studying and storage space. Come along on September 15 and see for yourself how students of the past and present were housed!

In the city centre there are two other buildings that will be open for HODs between 2pm and 4pm on Sunday, September 15. Once again the cathedral will open its ringing chamber to visitors – come along and see the room in the south-west tower from which the bells are rung, and learn about bell-ringing techniques and peals from the experts. Because there are narrow stairs to negotiate and space is limited, please be patient if there are short delays in getting up to the ringing chamber.

Not too far away, the Masonic Hall, at the corner of Water Skellgate and High Skellgate, will also be open again for visitors.

Home to the De Grey and Ripon Lodge of Freemasons, the hall’s foundation stone was laid in 1902 with full masonic ceremony; its interior is little-altered since then, except that the ground floor, which originally incorporated shops to bring in income, is now all used by the lodge. Inside there are reminders of the lodge’s past – Ripon was one of the earliest places in Yorkshire to embrace freemasonry – and some of the regalia will be on display.

Members of the lodge will be on hand to answer questions and show visitors around. At the heart of the hall is the temple, with its new chequerboard carpet and special seats for the different lodge officials.

A couple of years ago Ripon Civic Society extended its boundaries to include the villages around the city as well as the city itself.

One of the benefits of such a change was that the Society’s awards, given to buildings and projects that are considered to be of high merit, could be given for a wider range of projects. The Society has asked one of the winners from 2011 – the village hall in Dishforth – to open on Sunday, September 15 as part of HODs.

The village hall was formerly Christ Church and has been brilliantly converted to serve as the village hall. It is a light, airy and welcoming space, retaining its character and also serving the needs of the community.

As well as winning the Society’s Price Flagon for Best Restoration, it also received a Highly Commended in the craftsmanship category for the workmanship of its internal wooden doors. Do go along and support the villagers of Dishforth, who will be manning the hall between 2pm and 4pm.

Other openings, not organised by Ripon Civic Society but supporting HODs, in the area include Ripon Workhouse Museum and Garden, which opens on Saturday and Sunday, September 14 and 15 from 11am-4pm, with trails, tours and activities focussing on food – you can have a cup of tea on the lawn or a picnic in the herb garden.

Also open will be St Mary Magdalen’s – The Leper Chapel – where the Friends of the Leper Chapel are hosting an open day for HODs on Saturday, September 14 from 2-4.30pm; historical characters in costume will be telling the story of the chapel’s history in a series of monologues. The performances will be outside, weather permitting, at 2.30pm and 3.30pm. Refreshments and other activities will be available.

Two more churches will be open. Christ the Consoler, one of the best 19th-century churches in Yorkshire, by the great Victorian architect William Burges, will be open on Saturday, September 14 from 10am-5pm, and on Sunday, September 15 from 10am-4pm. And St John’s Church in Bishop Monkton, with its large and attractive churchyard, will be open on Thursday to Saturday, September 12 to 14 from 10am-4pm and on Sunday, September 15 from 11.45am-4pm.

Please support HODs if you can; you’ll see some fascinating buildings, learn a little local history – and have a great day out!