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RARE OPENING FOR RIPON'S HIDDEN GEM

Published by the Society in the Ripon Gazette, 12th September 2008
David Winpenny, Co-Chairman of Ripon Civic Society, highlights one of Ripon’s least known buildings, ahead of a rare opening this weekend.

The words ‘hidden gem’ are overused. Houses tucked away in courtyards, run-of-the-mill fishing villages, tea shops in remote corners of rather dull parts of the country are all described, effusively and perhaps rather desperately as ‘hidden gems’.

Yet sometimes the words are accurate – and they are in the case of Ripon’s 18th-century Gazebo. Few people, even locals, know the location of this interesting building, and even fewer have visited it. Yet it is one of the city’s few Grade II* listed buildings, placing it in importance alongside the Wakeman’s House, the Town Hall, Minster House and the Old Deanery.

Anyone who thinks of a gazebo as a flimsy plastic-and-steel-pole construction bought from the local DIY store and useful for sheltering from summer rain is in for a shock when the see this one. It was built as a garden ornament for a large house in Park Street, probably around 1719, by the Baynes family. In fact, it may have started life as two ornaments, entirely separate; they are now linked by a gallery walkway, the most distinctive feature of the structure, but that is not shown on the only detailed 18th century map of the area. It is possible that the link was only made in the 19th century, though stylistically it is difficult to tell.

And what was it for? Gazebos were a development of the Elizabethan banqueting houses. These were small rooms when after dinner the gentry retired for sweetmeats – sugar confections, candied fruits and marzipan dainties. Our idea of a banquet being a gargantuan blow-out is a later idea. Sometimes the banqueting houses formed little belvederes on the roofs of great houses – there are examples at Hardwick Hall, Burghley House and Lacock Abbey, for instance – or they were raised up in small towers in the garden – just as the Ripon Gazebos are. We do not know if the Baynes family used their structures for the same purpose, but, once the gallery was built ,the whole structure must have been a delightful place from which to admire the garden below. The shape of the two towers is one long-used for garden ornaments – and is, probably coincidentally, almost exactly the same design as the ‘Leaning House’ in the Sacro Bosco at Bomarzo in central Italy, one of the most famous of the Renaissance gardens.

So where exactly is the Gazebo, and why is it a ‘hidden gem’? You can get a glimpse of the back of it as you walk along Church Lane from Holy Trinity Church towards the Spa Park – look out for four semi-circular bulges on the top of a wall. But the entrance to the building is restricted because it is behind the sheltered housing of Blossomgate Court, and there is no public access. The construction of the scheme in the 1980s has cut the Gazebo off from general view – but it also probably saved the building.

For many years the Gazebo had been in need of restoration – the roofs had largely gone, the brickwork was crumbling and the woodwork had rotted. It did not help that ownership was split between Harrogate Borough Council and a private owner. A Compulsory Purchase Order enabled the Council to undertake repairs, with the very strong support of Ripon Civic Society. Coincidentally, the work on the structure was undertaken by H W Baines Ltd of Ripon.

Once repaired, there was the question of what to do with the structure. As it is virtually surrounded by the houses of Blossomgate Court free public access is impossible. So for more than 20 years Riupon Civic Society has been responsible for opening it on certain days, notably the national Heritage Open Days run under the auspices of the Civic Trust. This year’s opening for Heritage Open Days is on Sunday 14 September. Ripon Civic Society members will be on hand to show people the way in and to explain the building and its significance. The Society is grateful to Harrogate Borough Council for work undertaken to prepare for the opening on Sunday.

The word ‘quirky’ kept cropping up when Ripon Civic Society undertook its recent survey of people’s view of the city. The Gazebo is certainly one of the quirkiest and probably the least known of Ripon’s ‘hidden gems’.

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