This is the 569th of these columns. It is also the final one – and the only one that I shall write in the first person! I shall retire today as Chairman of Ripon Civic Society, so it seems an appropriate time to say my farewells to all of you who are generous enough to take the time to read my thoughts.
I began the columns in October 2007, when the Civic Society was concerned about the sorry state of some of the shop fronts in the city, and it was intended to point out their defects and encourage their improvement. To some extent, at least, that was effective – many of them were repainted or upgraded.
Then the column wandered off into the byways of architecture, and with the indulgence of the Ripon Gazette staff, I have continued to ramble at some length.
An early column dealt with the future of the Spa Baths – which is again a live topic; what is going to happen to the 1904 part of the building, with its exuberant terracotta outside and the curlicues of the Burmantofts tiling and the exuberant stained glass inside? Whatever the outcomes, public access needs to be kept to the foyer and the other, Art-Nouveau-inspired tiling elsewhere carefully preserved.
The Spa Baths has reappeared periodically through the columns; it’s one of the city’s important buildings, so needs to be in the limelight. I’ve also written several times about the Cabmen’s Shelter, and its periodic dilapidation – something that could be prevented with regular maintenance – which is another thing I’ve tried to encourage.
Then there are the bigger questions that I’ve posed; ‘Where is Ripon?’ was one; should we tie our fortunes to the coat-tails of the Leeds City Region, as Harrogate Borough Council has done, or is Ripon a more northward-looking place, having more in common with our northern neighbours than our southern ones?
I also asked, ‘What is Ripon for?’ – perhaps an even more difficult question; are we still a market town and a shopping destination, or is it to tourism we should look for our future? Or, indeed, is Ripon to become a dormitory town for people in further-flung employment, now that both north and south are more easily accessible via the A1(M)? These are matters we should all still be pondering.
The affairs of the Civic Society have, of course, been important in the column. Ten years ago the Society celebrated its 40th anniversary – so this year, as you’ll know if you’ve been reading a while, is, of course, our Golden Jubilee. We have celebrated, certainly, but we’ve also undertaken some important projects.
The number of the Society’s green plaques, telling the story of the buildings and characters of the city, has risen in the past eleven years, and the column has told the story of many of them. We have also published a trail around them; it’s called ‘Ripon Revealed’. A new edition will appear soon – as, indeed, will some new plaques – so watch out for them!
I’ve also covered what in many ways is the Society’s most important project for many years. This is ‘Ripon Re-Viewed’, funded in large part by the Heritage Lottery Fund, which has seen the conservation and digitisation of thousands of old images of Ripon. The public showing of many of these images, in an exhibition in the Workhouse Museum, as well as in places around the city, has prompted much local interest. The 20 round-the-town pictures have now all been gathered together on the hoardings opposite the Workhouse Museum, so if you missed them before, they’re there to see for some time to come.
In more than 500 columns it’s inevitable that certain of my own interests and prejudices have come to the fore. There have, perhaps, been too many churches and not enough vernacular buildings. I have been guilty of concentrating on architects and their designs rather than on the builders and the craftsmen who turned their imaginings into reality.
Perhaps I have mentioned Pevsner’s ‘Buildings of England’ series of books too much – though it has been one of the most important reference works for anyone, like me, interested in architecture. And because of that reliance, I might not have dealt as much with the lesser structures of Ripon and beyond as I might have done.
Nevertheless, I hope that over the last 11 years you, if you have been a regular reader, have gained something from these weekly musings. If nothing else, maybe my regular exhortations to ‘Look up!’ have raised your eyes from the pavement and the shopfronts and helped you discover just how much more you can learn from the upper parts of buildings!
Wherever I have roamed in these columns, I have always tried to relate the subject matter to Ripon, in recognition that this is, after all, the Ripon Gazette’. Such links may have often been tangential – some of you might say strained – but they have given me, at least, some pleasure!
After so long sitting down each week and coming up with a new theme for so many columns, it will seem odd not to do it next week. But even if you have no column to prompt you, (and don’t forget my book ‘Secret Ripon’, just published, that might keep you going for a while longer!), please continue to enjoy the architecture around you – and to insist that it is looked after properly. And try to ensure, too, that when something new is planned, you help the Civic Society in encouraging the best quality development.
A final thanks to the ‘Ripon Gazette’, which not only has kept me youthful by using an old image of me from time to time, but has also been so generous in giving my weekly ideas so much space. They have never complained that I’m too obscure (though I sometimes am) or too critical (though I’ve tried to be fair). Such tolerance over so long a period deserves my thanks – and, I hope, yours too.