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The Ripon Horn


In the City of Ripon, every night of the year at 9p.m., the Hornblower winds the horn at each corner of the Obelisk in the centre of the Market Place, to tell the citizenry that the City is in the care of the Wakeman for the night.  Tradition has it that it started in the early eight hundreds A.D., when Viking raiders were ravaging the north-east coast of England, burning, raping, pillaging.  When the the citizens of Ripon leant that the raiders had penetrated inland as far as York, they decided that they did not want to wait to be murdered in their beds, and appointed a Wakeman to stay awake each night, to rouse them with his horn if  raiders were spotted.

   Certainly there was a horn, still cherished by the city today, dated 866A.D.  It is known as the "Charter Horn" as according to ancient tradition, it symbolises the grant  to Ripon of a charter in that year.  In time, the Viking threat passed, but the Wakeman and his Constables (or henchmen?) were retained to keep law and prevent crime during the hours of darkness - an early "police force".  This was paid for by a levy of 2d per year for each outside door of each householder's  property in the city.  By 1600A.D. the Wakeman and his men were getting too powerful, so in 1604A.D. the Wakeman was appointed Mayor, and a Hornblower retained to keep up the tradition.  The Hornblower was given a new horn in 1690A.D. and in 1865A.D. the then  Mayor presented an African Ox horn to the city.  This is still blown every day at 9p.m., just a single blast in each direction.   The tradition is certainly unbroken since the 15th Century; over half a millenium.

  On a visit to the city, with a group from the National Trust Portsmouth and District Centre in April 2005, The Hornblower (resplendent in frock coat, white gloves and tricorn hat) gave us a talk on the history of his office.  I was invited to try my hand at blowing the horn and succeeded in getting three different notes out of it.  With a little more practice, I could probably have got a rousing horncall out of it.  I feel privileged to have taken part in a tradition which goes back over eleven hundred years.

  For more information on the subject, a Google advanced search on 'with all the words'  " Ripon hornblower wakeman"  will produce about 75 hits.



    To see a picture of the Ripon Horn, CLICK HERE  

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