The Civic Society column with David Winpenny
Ripon Civic Society's green plaques, telling the history of many of the important buildings and locations around the city, are always of interest to visitors '“ and to local people. But the story they tell is limited by the amount of space available '“ so here, in the first of an occasional series, is a little more about three of them.
THE CELTIC MONASTERY
In chronological order of its subject matter, the first of the plaques is at the entrance to Residence Lane, off St Marygate.
St Cuthbert, later Bishop of Lindisfarne, entered the monastery near the site around the year 685.
The land had been given by Prince Alhfrith, son of King Oswy of Northumbria, to the abbot Eata of Melrose, and Cuthbert was one the monks who transferred to Ripon with him. They followed the Celtic rites of worship.
The Venerable’ Bede’s ‘Life of Cuthbert’ tells a story of Cuthbert, who was Guest Master at the monastery, welcoming a young man. Cuthbert washed his hands and his feet; the youth said he had to leave quickly, but Cuthbert insisted he stay and went to fetch freshly-baked bread for him. On his return, the young man had vanished; though there was snow on the ground, there were no footprints. Cuthbert realised he’d been entertaining an angel.
Not long after this, Alhfrith adopted the Roman style of worship instead of the Celtic, turned out Eata and his monks and gave the site to St Wilfrid, who rebuilt the monastery.
Excavations in the area have uncovered foundations of buildings and artefacts, including a Saxon decorative piece, possibly from a piece of church equipment like a cross or a book, now known as the ‘Ripon Jewel’.
In a twist of fate, Cuthbert’s body, removed when the Vikings invaded Lindisfarne, where he had been abbot, and carried by the monks on a wandering journey around the North of England, spent almost a year in Wilfrid’s monastery in Ripon in 995 before finally being buried in Durham.
THE RISING OF THE NORTH
On the west side of the Market Square, near Boots store, is a plaque telling of the Rising of the North.
When the Protestant Queen Elizabeth came to the throne in 1558 after the death of her Catholic half-sister Queen Mary, she wanted peace with the Scots – and she was wary of the Catholic earls who held sway over the north of England. So she deprived two of the most powerful – the Earls of Westmorland and of Northumberland – of their positions, decreasing their political power and income.
They felt they had no choice but to rebel.
Charles Earl of Northumberland mustered a band of men whose aim was to turn the queen and the country back to the Catholic faith. Aided by two men local to Ripon – Thomas Markenfield of Markenfield Hall, south of the city, and Richard Norton of Norton Conyers to the north – the rebellion was set in motion.
In November 1569 a host met at Brancepeth Castle in County Durham then marched to occupy Durham Cathedral, where the old mass was celebrated.
They then went south through Barnard Castle, Darlington, Northallerton and Richmond before reaching Ripon on 20 November.
They mustered in the Market Square and then destroyed the communion table and Protestant prayer books in the Minster (now Ripon Cathedral) and celebrated mass there.
Two days later they mustered again at Bramham Moor near Leeds, but the steam was running out the rebellion. They turned back north; the rebellion was finally abandoned at Hexham on 16 December.
Many of the rebels were captured and men were selected from each ward to be hanged as an example. In Ripon it is said that at least 200 rebels were hanged either in the Square or in the area to the south of the city that is still known as ‘Gallows Hill’.
THE TREATY OF RIPON
Near where Low St Agnesgate joins St Marygate is a plaque about the Treaty of Ripon.
In the 16th century bishops were a contentious issue between England and Scotland. King Charles I, following his father James I’s lead, had attempted to impose bishops, and the English prayer book, on the Calvinistic Scots.
These Scots signed a national Covenant against the move, and became known as the Covenanters. In 1639 the First Bishops War was fought, inconclusively, between English and Scots forces.
In 1640 the Scottish Parliament abolished the role of bishops and declared itself free from royal control.
The King mustered the militia, which marched north in the Second Bishops’ War. A Covenanter army of 20,000 crossed the Scottish border and met the English at Newburn Ford in the Tyne valley on 28 August. It was a scrappy skirmish, but ended with the defeat of the badly-disciplined English troops.
On 24 September, King Charles summoned a Great Council of Peers at York. The Council advised the King to negotiate a truce with the Scots and to summon another Parliament in England.
So a body of commissioners – including eight English and six Scottish earls – met at Nunwick Prebend House in Ripon in October 1640 to negotiate. The resulting treaty was a humiliation for the King.
The English were to pay £850 a day to maintain Scottish troops in Northumberland and in County Durham – and both counties were to be ceded to the Scots until a final agreement was reached. And the English had to pay the Scottish government the costs of fighting against the English in the Bishops Wars.
Further detailed negotiations dragged on into 1641 and led to the Treaty of London. Charles was forced to call a new session of Parliament, which came to be known as the Long Parliament. The militant members opposed the King’s rule, and the arguments eventually led to the First Civil War and the execution of the King in 1649.
More about Ripon’s plaques can be found in the booklet Ripon Revealed, priced just £3. It is available by emailing [email protected] or from the Tourist Information Centre in Ripon Town Hall.