Ripon Civic Society – Focus on North Street

The Castle Furniture store with appropriate fronts
The Castle Furniture store with appropriate fronts

When circumstances come together to focus attention on a particular part of Ripon, it’s worth stopping to ask why. So this week we turn our attention to North Street – from Old Market Place to Coltsgate Hill.

This is the time of year when Ripon Civic Society is out and about assessing buildings and environmental projects in the city and the area around, in preparation for the annual awards that are handed out in October.

One of the awards that should be presented at the event is the Taylor Shop Front Award.

The criteria for the award are not strict – it’s any shop front in the area that, in the opinion of the judges, has been improved in the last 12 months.

Yet, especially in this continuing recession, it has become hard to find suitable candidates; the award was not given last year, and the field is not strong this year, either.

That is the first circumstance.

The second is more positive – the work that is currently being undertaken on the former Abbott’s furniture store to convert it into the North Square restaurant, bar and cinema.

As well as providing a much-needed new facility, there are hopes that it will also regenerate North Street itself – a street that even its most ardent admirers (were there to be any) would be hard put to describe as flourishing.

So it’s worth looking at North Street as it is now, and, perhaps, at some later date we will revisit it to see what’s changed.

Today we’ll look at its eastern side, which provides an interesting lesson in variety and in approach.

Let’s start at the Old Market Place end.

First is the side elevation of Age UK, a shop front that has just been totally refurbished – or rather, reconstructed, for most of what’s there now is new.

It’s a decent enough job, though it’s a shame that the original fluting of the uprights has not been reinstated.

Next come two estate agencies, the first in part of the same block as the Age UK store, though with a slightly different colour of painted render, and the second with an upper floor that was rebuilt in an unimaginative, blocky style in the last century.

The next two premises, ‘Cameos’ and ‘Love’, both have the round-headed windows that are a Ripon feature, but treated in different ways. There are some unfortunate replacement windows on the upper floor.

‘Love’ currently shares with the British Red Cross Shop next to it the fact that the shop sign is not a permanent fixture, but a temporary banner. These should be replaced with permanent signs at the earliest opportunity.

Still moving north, we next come to one building that houses two shop fronts – the Saint Michael’s Hospice shop and Fountains Health Store. Both retain their inset doors, but some of the other original features have been lost. The canopy over the window of Fountains has really seen better days, and is not in an appropriate style for the building; it should be removed or replaced with something more in keeping.

Carlton Couture, the bridal shop next door, is a much more humble building, but the shop front is neat and tidy and retains its fluted decoration, picked out in white.

Across Allhallowgate, Joplings is the start of a three-storey row with five steep gables and first-floor bay windows. Their state varies, the upper floors are largely intact, but some of the ground floors have not fared so well. This is particularly true of the pizza shop, which has inappropriate brick cladding around its shop front (though this is better than the pink tiling that briefly adorned the shop some years ago.

Now comes the most architecturally-significant of the buildings on this side, the Venetian-Gothic-style polychrome building with its crow-stepped gable and (reinstated) arches on the ground floor.

This is generally in good condition though it, too, has a temporary sign that should be replaced.

After it is the handsome, almost Arts-and-Crafts of Ladies’ World – perhaps the colour scheme could be reconsidered here, as the red of the paintwork does not lie happily with the assertive colour of the brick.

The scale changes again to a short row of what were originally cottages, now occupied by a barber and an osteopath.

The osteopath’s window gives passers-by a continuous chuckle with its tableaux of skeletons at work and play – the recent Olympic Torch and the current Ripon In Bloom are good examples.

Then comes the five-bay block that housed the former offices and showrooms of Kearsley’s Ironworks.

This is an impressive ensemble, symmetrical around a central archway and retaining its original features, including the multi-paned shop windows.

It is both a listed building and, like all the others mentioned in this column, within the Conservation Area.

Until very recently it was all painted in its traditional, and probably original, colours – black and white. Now one of the shop units has been barbarously repainted in pillar-box red and white, utterly destroying the unity of the building. This visual vandalism should be reversed forthwith.

The former Post Office, lately Monty’s nightclub, follows; its handsome semi-Baroque style needs some love and a better painting scheme.

Finally we come to two blocks, mostly occupied by The Castle Furniture Store. The main block, facing Coltsgate Hill, is a fine late 18th-century façade with 19th-century shop front painted an appropriate colour.

So North Street’s east side is as varied as any in the city and it has the same range of problems, opportunities, thoughtless interventions and well-kept promises.

The lessons it presents can be learned throughout the city. If that happens, maybe next year the Civic Society Awards will have more entries for the Taylor Award than it has ever had!