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Published by the Society in the Ripon Gazette, 12th June 2009
Nearly a century ago Ripon was being exhorted to embrace the new, as David Winpenny, Chairman of Ripon Civic Society, discovers.

In the years immediately after World War I Ripon City Council issued a new version of its Official Handbook. Its title was ‘Ripon Spa, Yorks. An English Health resort offering a delightful alternative to German Spas.’

The title itself speaks volumes. The city was trying to position itself as a rival to Harrogate for taking the waters. And it was doing so by suggesting that coming to Ripon was a patriotic thing to do after four years of war against the Kaiser’s forces. Following a fascinating selection of advertisements (The Yorkshire Varnish Co Ltd; Telegrams LUSTRE, Telephone 22 Ripon; John R Hemsworth, Ladies’ and Gentlemen’s Tailor and Juvenile Clothier) the guide to Ripon ‘as a Health Resort, Place of Residence and an ideal Touring Centre’ begins.

Its first paragraph has a certain resonance for us today. It says, ‘Ripon, until comparatively recent years, was, perhaps, too apt to emphasise its antiquity. It was engaged in pleasing dreams of the past rather than in the contemplation of future developments. To-day its whole outlook is reversed. It aspires to eminence as a residential town, as a Spa and health resort, and (though this may seem at first sight somewhat paradoxical) as a sponsor of new industries.’

During the War, according to the Handbook, ‘the city discovered not only its limitations, but also its possibilities, and the authorities resolved that the return of normal conditions should see some of those possibilities materialize’. It then goes on to make five assertions, and offers the evidence to prove them. These are:
• Ripon is quiet without being dull
• Ripon affords opportunities for a great variety of sport
• Residence in Ripon is undoubtedly conducive to length of days
• Ripon has claims to consideration as an educational centre
• For its size Ripon has good industrial concerns and shops

It is interesting to consider how many of these we can still claim for the city today. Is Ripon quiet? In some ways, of course. It is not a large busting city, and its population is not huge. There are still the ‘numerous paths which run across fragrant meadows, through woods, and beside limpid streams’, as long as you know where to look. We might argue, though, that the pace of modern life, and especially the traffic, has taken away the feeling that Ripon ‘is removed from the busy hum of men, and preserves a tranquil life of its own’. And, of course, we may be a little thankful – these days we might indeed find such tranquillity a touch dull . . .

As for Ripon’s opportunities for sport, the Handbook cites cricket – on both the Studley Road ground and on ‘another fine site beyond the Old Racecourse off the Harrogate Road’; ‘bowling and croquet greens and lawn tennis courts in the Spa Gardens’; fishing on the Laver, the Skell, the Ure and the Swale; golf, both at Ripon City Golf Club and at Studley Royal; racing; hunting with ‘the Bedale, York and Ainsty, and Hurworth Foxhounds; and ‘bathing to be enjoyed in the River Ure, a good Pavilion supplying the necessary dressing accommodation, and on the same stream, boating is a popular pastime’. These days we can add the Leisure Centre (a name unknown to the writer of a century ago). Today swimming is again an active topic with plans for the Spa Baths.

Of course, the Spa Baths to the early 20th century meant taking the waters – the very thing the Handbook is emphasising, with its suggestion that it will make you live longer – ‘Ripon not only heals those who come to drink the waters and test the Baths treatments, but prolongs the vigour and years of residents’. We might argue today that the National Health Service does a similar job.

The Handbook praises the Grammar School (‘very excellent departments for the teaching of classical and all modern subjects’), mentions ‘several first-class Private Schools’ and the Diocesan Training College, and ends with ‘the Secondary School for Girls and Technical institute erected at a cost of £9,000 in 1908’.

Readers of the Handbook would be pleased to know that Ripon’s ‘tradesmen are enterprising and obliging’ – and that the more go-ahead have advertised in its pages. It also says that the council is keen to ’advise as to the inauguration of new industries likely to prove innocuous to the residential amenities of the City’.

Ripon did not long survive as a challenger to Baden-Baden, despite the relentlessly up-beat message of the handbook. There may be a rather complacent tone to the text, but no more so than the brochures put out today encouraging visitors to Ripon. And maybe we can learn lessons form it, too – counting our blessings as much as criticising, pointing out the good things that Ripon has to offer residents and visitors, and both making the most of the city’s historic assets and welcoming what is modern and good for the city. Then perhaps we can, in the words of the Handbook, become ‘acquainted with many new ideas concerning what residents really want and visitors most admire.’

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