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23rd June 2009

One of the most remarkable and honourable statesmen of the 19th century is getting a wash-and-brush-up ahead of the centenary of his death on 9 July, as the statue of the 1st Marquess of Ripon in Ripon’s Spa Gardens is cleaned in time for ceremonies to mark the occasion.

Ripon Civic Society has organised a short tribute to the Marquess by the statue, which has been in place since 1921. Civic and other dignitaries, along with members of the public, will gather at the statue at 7.00 pm on Thursday 9 July to hear the list of the Marquess’s dignities read, to pay tribute to his remarkable career and to hear a brief history of the statue itself. Local schoolchildren will present garlands to some of the guests to remember the Marquess’s time as Viceroy of India. Ripon City Band will play from the nearby bandstand before and after the ceremonies.

After the events at the statue Richard Compton of Newby Hall, a descendent of the Marquess’s family, will give a talk in the Spa Hotel about the Marquess’s life and career. Members of the public are welcome at both events.

Born in 10 Downing Street in 1827, when his father was briefly Prime Minister, George Frederick Robinson was known for most of his adult life as Earl de Grey. By nature a Christian socialist, he pioneered and championed the educational ideals and principles of the co-operative movement. Elected an MP in 1852, he led a group of radicals in the Commons, arguing for a legacy tax on the rich and strong civil service reform.

He succeeded his father in the House of Lords in 1859 and two years later became a minister in the War Office under Palmerston. He worked closely with Florence Nightingale to improve the conditions of the common soldier. He was Secretary of State for India in 1866.

In 1871 he personally averted a war with the United States. The Americans believed Britain had breached guarantees of neutrality by giving hospitality in British ports to Confederate warships during the American Civil War. Only Earl de Grey’s skill and charm persuaded the American negotiator of Britain’s good standing. As a result of his work, his lordship was created the 1st Marquess of Ripon.

In 1874 there was a national scandal when he converted to Roman Catholicism, but despite the outcry the Marquess was highly-respected, and in 1880 Gladstone made him Viceroy of India, where he is still respected as one of the men who laid the foundations of Indian independence. There are exact copies of the Ripon statue in Chennai and Kolkata and a town named after the Marquess, Riponpet in Karnataka.

His later career included time working (often at Studley Royal near Ripon) on the Irish problem, and serving as First Lord of the Admiralty. In 1905, aged 75, he became Lord Privy Seal and leader of the Liberals in the Lords. He retired in 1908, and died on 9 July 1909.

David Winpenny, Chairman of Ripon Civic Society, says, ‘The 1st Marquess of Ripon had a long and remarkable career. He served in all the Liberal governments from 1861 to 1908, was always keen to see much more equality in the nation and was also a great supporter and benefactor of Ripon, where he served as Mayor. All the accounts of his life comment on his kindness, fairness and remarkable ability to reach consensus. We are proud to mark the centenary of his death, and we are grateful to Harrogate Borough Council for arranging to have the statue cleaned in time for the event. We hope that many people will join us on 9 July to see the statue and to hear Richard Compton talk about this notable figure in local, national and international history.’

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