You know you’re in a town with a bit of history when you see street names ending in “gate”. In Durham there’s Framwellgate, Milburngate, Crossgate and Gilesgate for example. In the location I visited were a few more, including a pretty classy place for a fish and chip shop.
Now you’d be forgiven for thinking that these are indications of a fortified settlement at some point in the town’s history and that is sometimes the case; the few remnants of the castle that gives Newcastle its name include a defensive passage called the Black Gate. We are in Yorkshire however, and if you visit York, where there are plenty of “gates”, you’ll find the passages through the defensive walls called “bars”. Confused?
The term actually has Viking origins; their word “gata” meaning a street; so street names make much more sense now – they don’t have to be passing through the walls to earn the suffix.
Was my theory right though? After all, just because a town can trace its history back to Anglo-Saxon times doesn’t mean it will preserve that history. Well on this occasion we can relax.
There are half-timbered buildings like The Wakeman’s House (no capes or mini-moogs in sight) that date back to the early 17th Century. Further out from the centre there are grand Victorian villas.
The Market Square layout is believed to date back to the 12th or 13th Century, and includes a very imposing obelisk designed by Wren’s assistant Nicholas Hawksmoor (he liked a good obelisk did Nick). Apart from its great height its the oldest ornamental obelisk in England. Take a look at the symbol at its apex – we’ll return to that later.
The Morris Dancers aren’t a permanent feature, but they did add to the sense of Merry Olde England on the day of my visit, but once I ignored the distraction they provided I spotted more structures of interest. Peeking over the roofscape a pair of towers hinted at the main objective of my visit, but closer by was something I’ve not seen outside of London; a cabmen’s shelter, and in this case a mobile example. These were provided to allow cabmen somewhere to eat and relax while waiting for fares.
And then there was the Town Hall. Classical in design, it’s stuccoed exterior bears an inscription
There’s that word wakeman again, a reference to a historic role that Rick’s ancestors may well have undertaken, though in his case somewhere nearer London. A wakeman was effectively a nightwatchman, who would stay awake and patrol the streets on the lookout for criminal activity. Here in Ripon the position was similar to that of mayor, but with responsibility for law and order. In what may well be one of the world’s longest ongoing traditions, it is believed that Alfred the Great gave a horn to the townspeople so that they may keep a watch for Viking marauders. The blowing of a horn at the four corners of the market cross (now the obelisk) at 9.00pm continues to this day, though it is purely ceremonial. The town’s pubs would doubtless be in uproar if this marked any sort of curfew!
One last and very important point. I’ve referred to Ripon several times as a town; like Richmond and Hexham it feels like a market town, but it is not. Those towers belong to a cathedral, which makes Ripon a city, albeit one of our smallest.
*NY – North Yorkshire not New York!