COLUMN: Civic Society with David Winpenny

Actor Joseph Marcell unveiled the Theatre Royal plaque. (S)
Actor Joseph Marcell unveiled the Theatre Royal plaque. (S)

David goes through the alphabet from A to Z to find many landmark sites, special features and history belonging to the City of Ancient Charms.

A: Allhallowgate – said to be Ripon’s second-oldest street, it takes its name from the former church of All Hallows (All Saints) that probably stood near the top of the hill. It had vanished certainly by 1530, and probably earlier.

B: Bedern – in the Middle Ages the vicars who served what was then Ripon Minster lived in the area around which is now Bedern Bank. They were required to say their ‘bedes’ or prayers; bedern is the old plural of bede.

C: Cathedral – the city’s great church was for much of its life known as Ripon Minster until the creation of the Ripon diocese in 1836. From Easter year the see becomes part of the new diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales.

D: Darkness – for many centuries the city was in darkness when the sun went down; gas and then electric lights in the streets changed that. Now there is controversy about switching off street lights in the dead of night.

E: Entertainment – from the medieval celebrations of St Wilfrid-tide to the opening of the Curzon cinema, Ripon has always been hub for entertainment – as the Civic Society’s recent plaque on the old Theatre Royal shows.

F : Fashion in architecture – the cathedral (see above) displays English architectural fashion from the 7th to the 16th centuries, and other Ripon buildings show most of the other styles – though we await the avant garde . . .

G: Gypsum – the tricky ground conditions that lead to sudden holes and unstable buildings has shaped, and continues to shape, the layout and development of the city.

H: Hornblower – the office may not quite go back to King Alfred’s time, but the Hornblower has for many centuries been the symbol and pride of Ripon – perhaps we need to make more of him!

I: Information – with the move of the Tourist Information Office to the town hall, visitors have a more central and more spacious facility – but information is something all citizens should be prepared to offer our visitors.

J: James – King James I gave Ripon a new charter in 1604 that established the mayor and council, and reorganised the Minster chapter, too. He is said to have stayed at Thorpe Prebend House when he visited the city.

K: Kirkgate – one of Ripon’s most important streets, and currently not in a happy state. It should be an attractive ceremonial link between Market Square and cathedral; the heavy traffic on its upper part does not help to achieve this.

L: Limestone – Ripon is on the edge of the great English limestone belt and we are fortunate to have such a fine building stone at hand; the cathedral, St Mary Magdalene’s chapel and other old Ripon structures show its use.

M: Marquess – The Marquess of Ripon, who lived at Studley Royal, was one of Ripon’s great supporters and benefactors, as well as an important national politician and diplomat – he was the most enlightened Viceroy of India.

N: North Bridge – always an important crossing of the River Ure, the bridge is first mentioned in 1309. It has been widened twice, and its structure allows for the flooding of the banks.

O: Owen – the First World War poet Wilfred Owen spent part of his final year living in Ripon, where he was attached to the great Army camp around the city. He wrote some of his most famous poems in the city.

P: Planning – for the first time in several generations, Ripon has, through the City Plan, the chance to help shape its own planning destiny; all Ripon citizens should support the Plan when it goes to referendum.

Q: Queen Victoria – in her reign Ripon developed its industries (varnish and iron works, among others) and gained in size. She still watches over the city from her perch on the Clock Tower.

R: Rivers - the Ure, the Skell and the Laver created the topography on which Ripon stands, provided power for mills and still offer both opportunities (see W for Walks) and challenges (like flooding) for the city.

S: Square – few other places have so handsome a Market Square as Ripon – but we treat it with disdain as a car park and clutter it with random signs and barriers. We need to bring it back to civic life and to beauty.

T: Traffic – the perennial nettle for Ripon, which it seems reluctant to grasp. Plans are constantly put forward, but never implemented. It is beyond time to sort it out and to restore the historic city centre to its proper role.

U: Underground – not a plea for a Metro-style transit system, but a reminder of the mill leats and streams, like the Skittergate Gutter, that flow in culverts beneath the city, and which should be borne in mind by developers.

V: Vyners – the Newby Hall Vyners, related to the Marquess at Studley, inherited Studley and sold it to the West Riding County Council who gave it to the National Trust, thus preserving it and leading to its World Heritage Site status.

W: Walks – Ripon is extremely fortunate in its location, with the Dales and the Moors on its doorstep; and there are plenty of fine walks from the city centre – the Civic Society’s simple leaflets offer guidance.

X: X-rated – Ghost Stories from around Ripon by Maurice Taylor will set your pulse racing with stories of ghosts and ghastly happenings. Like the walks, it’s available at the Tourist Information Centre.

Y: York – the Archbishops of York had a palace (some say his ‘summer palace’) in Ripon, next to the cathedral, and for many centuries administered the law in the Liberty of Ripon.

Z: Zeppelin – in September 1916 German Zeppelin airships flew over Ripon and dropped bombs near Newby Hall and then near Wormald Green railway station. In the same raid, 23 people were killed in York and Sheffield.