The Civic Society column by David Winpenny

The official opening of the Victoria Clock Tower, 28 June 1898.
The official opening of the Victoria Clock Tower, 28 June 1898.

Three public buildings with Ripon Civic Society green plaques are the subject of this week’s column.

The City Club

Ripon Town Hall, built at the expense of Mrs Allanson � David Winpenny

Ripon Town Hall, built at the expense of Mrs Allanson � David Winpenny

From the late 17th century until 1927, the boys of Jepson’s Hospital would have been a familiar sight in Ripon. The hospital was founded under the will of Zacharias Jepson, a rich apothecary in York but a native of Ripon, who left a substantial sum to open a school for 20 orphan boys on Water Skellgate, which was where his home stood. Unfortunately, the money was not enough to match Jepson’s ambition, so the hospital could only take ten orphans.

In the original hospital building the boys boarded and were taught. Jepson’s will stipulated that they were to have blue coats lined with yellow, and blue caps, breeches and doublets, blue stockings, shoes, shirts and bands every year. They were taught to read and write, and had to attend church each Sunday and Holy Day. Clever boys could be helped to attend Cambridge University; others would be apprenticed to Ripon tradesmen. Jepson’s Hospital was one of the main Ripon charities, and is often mentioned in 18th and 19th-century local wills.

In 1878 the Feoffees (trustees) of Jepson’s Hospital decided to replace the original building with the present one. The architect was Mr Bishop, of Ripon, and the foundation stone was laid by the Marchioness of Ripon on October 18, 1878, with full Masonic ceremonial, after a service in the cathedral. The building opened in 1880, though the debt wasn’t paid off until the half of the proceeds of the city’s great Millenary festivities of 1886 were given to the charity. It was almost demolished by a gas explosion in 1881, but was restored, and was expanded to take 50 boys.

The hospital continued to operate until 1927, when declining numbers and donations forced its closure, with the boys going to the grammar school. The hospital buildings were taken over by the Ripon City Club, which had been in operation in the late 19th century in the Market Square, but was reconstituted in 1927 on the closure of the Mechanics’ Institute in what is now the Post Office building. The Jepson Feoffees changed the trust into a foundation that gives educational grants in the city. The City Club no longer meets here, and the buildings are to be converted for residential use.

The original Jepsons Hospital building, Water Skellgate

The original Jepsons Hospital building, Water Skellgate

Town Hall

At the very end of the 18th century Mrs Elizabeth Allanson, granddaughter of John Aislabie of Studley Royal, inspired the building of a new Assembly Room for Ripon, on the south side of the Market Square. Though mostly living near London and rarely visiting Ripon, she is likely to have influenced the choice of the architect, the fashionable London designer James Wyatt, for what became the Town Hall.

The foundation stone for the new building was laid by the Mayor, William Atkinson, on February 2, 1798. It reported that ‘Afterwards, a most liberal entertainment, of every variety the season could afford, was given to the corporation and gentry of the town by the mayor at his own house; several loyal and patriotic toasts were drunk, and the evening concluded with the utmost harmony and conviviality’. Once the Assembly Room opened, such convivialties were held there, as were meetings of the council and many public meetings.

When Ripon celebrated its Millenary festival in 1886, the quotation from Psalm 127 was painted on the frontage, with the word ‘Wakeman’ subsitituted for the original ’Watchman’ to celebrate Ripon’s long tradition of the hornblower.

At that time the Town Hall was owned by the Marquess of Ripon. In 1896, when the Marquess was also Mayor of Ripon, council members asked him to undertake much-needeed repairs to the building. On his last day in office he wrote to them: ‘It has for some time seemed to me an anomaly that the Town Hall of Ripon should belong to a private individual and not the corporation. I have determined to make a free gift of the Town Hall site and buildings to the corporation.’ So the Marquess neatly avoided the costs of repair as the council took over the ownership. Since local government reorganisation in 1974, the Town Hall has belonged to Harrogate Borough Council.

Clock Tower

In 1848 Ripon was joined to the railway network. The line did a loop from what we now know as the East Coast Main Line near Thirsk, though Ripon to Harrogate. The station was almost a mile to the north of the city centre, and travellers sometimes misjudged the time it would take them to get from the centre to the station. It took 50 years to provide something to help – the clock tower, which stands at the junction of North Street and Palace Road, half way between the Market Square and the station.

The tower, which celebrates the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria, was inaugurated with great ceremonial on June 28. 1898. It was the gift of Miss Frances Mary and Miss Constance Cross, who lived at Coney Garth in Kirby Road. As part of the celebrations, the Misses Cross handed the Mayor of Ripon a deed of gift, vesting it in the council, and the key to what is officially known as the Victoria Clock Tower.

The structure was designed by George Corson, an architect born in Dumfries and with a practice in Leeds. He had already designed new buildings for Ripon Grammar School. His design for the stone arches that form a crown on the top of the tower is based on several Scottish and northern English prototypes, including the tower of King’s College Aberdeen, St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh and Newcastle Cathedral.

Ripon’s railway line was a victim to the Beeching cuts of the 1960s and the last train left the station in October 1969. So the clock now tells the time to the traffic that swirls around it – suggestions that it be moved to ease traffic flow have been resisted.