Three green plaques around Ripon’s Market Place

The Cafe Victoria in the 1950s, before its reconstruction as Boots shop
The Cafe Victoria in the 1950s, before its reconstruction as Boots shop

Today’s three green plaques, put in place by Ripon Civic Society, are all within a few yards of each other in the centre of the city.

27 MARKET PLACE

Architect Sir William Chambers, born at 37 Market Place

Architect Sir William Chambers, born at 37 Market Place

Many of the buildings around the market square have quite narrow frontages, because householders wanted a presence on the main streets. Behind them they had long, narrow strips of land, many of which you can still trace on maps of the city. These were the burgage, or borough, plots. Ownership often carried with it the right to vote. The plot at 27 Market Place was originally two, amalgamated in 1672 by the Wright family.

By the end of the 18th century the premises had become the York Minster Inn – not to be confused with the Minster Inn in Kirkgate; these were just two of 38 pubs and 16 beer houses noted in Ripon in the early 19th century, serving a population of just under 8,000. In 1828 the inn closed and the premises were taken over by 21-year-old Henry Morton, who set up in business as an ironmonger and jeweller. He became Mayor of Ripon in 1851.

By the end of the 19th century the buildings had changed hands again, and were being run by James Wright as the Café Victoria. Despite being removed from the official Register of Companies in 1914, the café continued to flourish. The premises were also used as the base of the Ripon City Club before it moved, in 1927, to Water Skellgate. In 1898 the Club had applied for permission to build a veranda in front of the building, on five supporting columns, but this wasn’t done. In 1906 club members objected to the weekly cattle market on the square.

The Victoria continued to operate as one of the main restaurants and entertainment places of Ripon. Riponians have memories from the 1960s of rock bands performing in the meeting rooms at the back of the premises; the front portion was a very sedate café. In 1974 Boots took over the premises and applied for permission to alter and extend the building. This was approved in 1975, but as work was progressing the front became unstable and it was demolished, with just a few timbers being preserved – they are now on display in the alleyway alongside. Inside the shop, just by the right-hand door, is a stained-glass panel showing the coat of arms of Ripon, rescued from the café.

5 MARKET PLACE

What is now Sainsbury’s store is now was once the Crown Hotel. It was on a site once occupied by another inn, the White Hart, whose landlord, Christopher Hunton, was mayor in 1686 and was fined for leaving the civic plate in an unguarded room; thieves stole some of the silver ornamentation from the city’s historic horn. The Crown closed in 1907 and for many years the premises were occupied by Croft and Blackburn’s garage, before conversion to a supermarket.

The carved crown that once stood over the door of the Crown Hotel was for many years kept in Ripon’s former Museum, but after the closure of the Museum, Ripon Civic Society organised for the crown to be replaced in its original position. It was put up in 2003, but over the years it gradually deteriorated.

In 2014 the crown fell from its position, shattering on the pavement below and narrowly missing pedestrians. A Ripon Civic Society committee member gathered the remains for restoration. The work was undertaken by local man Fred Lee, a volunteer for the Ripon Museum Trust. As some parts of the carving, including the ornate bracket on which the crown stood, shown here, were beyond repair, Fred recreated them in fine detail, and applied a new coat of paint, much of it supplied by local paint manufacturers T & R Williamson.

The costs of the restoration were met by J Sainsbury plc, who agreed that, in order to protect the sign for the future, the crown should be displayed inside the store. It is now fixed safely at the far end of the building, above the trolley ramp – a fascinating reminder of another of Ripon’s many lost pubs.

37 MARKET PLACE

In 1604 King James I gave Ripon a new charter – it can be seen in the Assembly Room of the Town Hall. The charter transformed the leading citizen, Hugh Ripley, from Wakeman of the city – responsible to setting the watch and for public order – into the city’s first mayor. 37 Market Place was the site of his house; despite its traditional name, the Wakeman’s House, a few doors to the right, was not his home.

Ripley’s house no longer stands, but by the 1730s it had been rebuilt in its current form and was home to the Chambers family. They were mostly merchants, with particular interest in Sweden, and it was in Gothenburg that the most famous of them, Sir William Chambers, was born in December 1722.

As a boy he was sent to Ripon Grammar School and lived in this house, then the home of his uncle, a surgeon also called William Chambers. In later years Sir William remembered Ripon fondly for its ‘lovely bowers of innocence and ease, seats of my Youth’.

He travelled to Bengal and to China with the family firm, then set up as an architect, studying in Sweden, France and Italy. He became one of Britain’s most famous architects; he tutored the future King George III in architecture and designed the Pagoda in Kew Gardens for the Dowager Princess of Wales. Among his other designs was the gilded State Coach used at British coronations.

The later incarnation of the building was as the Post Office and then the Lawrence Restaurant and Ballroom, a favourite venue for dance-bands and ‘hops’.

It was briefly a casino before becoming the Halifax Building Society – now the Halifax Bank – in the late 1960s.

More about Ripon’s plaques can be found in the booklet ‘Ripon Revealed’, price £3.00. It is available by e-mailing info@rioponcivicsociety.org.uk or from the Tourist Information Centre in Ripon Town Hall.