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D'ARCY FERRERS AND THE RIPON MILENNARY

Published by the Society in the Ripon Gazette, 5th August 2011
The Ripon Millenary Record – the great volume that records the celebrations of 1886, when the city marked what was believed to be 1000 years of its charter, is one of the most entertaining books to have been published about Ripon. It gives a history of the municipal events from the time of Wakeman James Percival in 1400 to Mayor Thomas Smithson in 1891; the book was printed in 1892 – its delay was the subject of a cartoon in its pages,

It is still possible to pick up a copy of the work – a quick trawl online will find copies for sale at prices ranging from just over £50 to £170. There are copies in local libraries – and doubtless on many private bookshelves in Ripon, too.

And then there’s the internet, that vast emporium of all knowledge. You cannot just buy the Millenary Record on line; you can read the whole thing. Thanks to the University of California Library in Los Angeles, the Record is available in PDF form for anyone to see – you can even download it to your Kindle or other e-book reader.

It does seem strange that the Californians should have gone to the trouble to scan more than 700 pages of a book about a small English city thousands of miles away – though of course there is a Ripon in California too. As its website says, ‘The City of Ripon is a relatively small community whose Quality of Life shines like a small jewel in the middle of California's central San Joaquin Valley. Ripon prides itself on its traditional values . . . Come visit and discover what makes Ripon the place to live and raise a family.’

The sentiment echoes the ones expressed in the preface to the Millenary Record about our own Ripon. ‘This good old City of Ripon can boast of the enjoyment of civil and municipal privileges for one thousand years, and of ecclesiastical privileges from a still earlier period . . . It is a city too that has long been loyal, not only to a national and constitutional form of government, but also to the traditions handed down from past generations . . .There has thus grown up an innate sense of what is befitting to the historical traditions of an ancient city, side by side with the recognition of what is due to the requirements of the present day.’

It was the ‘historical traditions’ that were at the centre of the Millenary celebrations. It was a time for looking back over the thousand years, and it was all done in a quasi-Elizabethan way. At its heart was a remarkable man, D’Arcy Ferrars, who styled himself ‘Master of ye Revels’ and was what today we’d call the Director – or possibly even the Animateur – of the Millenary events.

Ferrars – born Ernest Richard D'Arcy Ferris at Bath in 1855, merits an entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (DNB). After school he worked in the iron trade in Sheffield and London, but soon abandoned metals for music. He started his career as a career first as a tenor, then as teacher, composer and conductor in Cheltenham. He was fascinated by old English games and sports and by the early 1880s had invented a new profession – pageant organizer and professional ‘Old English’ revivalist. His trade card called him ‘Designer and Director of Fêtes, Festivities, Festivals, and Functions’. His first professional venture, in 1884, was ‘Christmas pastymes and merrie dysportes’ at Billesley Hall near Stratford-upon-Avon.

The DNB notes that Ferrars had ‘an ability to organize grand and complex occasions, a talent for high-flown flowery language, an exuberant delight in free spelling, a meticulous care for appropriate detail, and a concern for an air of authenticity.’ He was one of the main revivers of Morris Dancing in the country and trained local people rather than importing trained dancers for his events.

So when Ripon needed an organiser for its Millenary celebrations, there was only one man to go to – D’Arcy Ferrars. He was certainly dynamic – organising everyone in the city and around to work together, whether in putting up miles of bunting, playing the part of Druids, Vikings, monks or fine ladies in the great pageant at Studley Royal, or just getting into the correct place for the many processions.

One of the groups he involved was the Kirkby Malzeard Sword Dancers – who also appeared at the pageants Ferrars organised in Ripon in 1896 and in 1906. In 1910 he met the folk song and dance expert Cecil Sharpe, and told him of the Kirkby dancers, which led to the revival of sword dancing around the country.

It may have been easier in the 1880s to have stirred the spirits of the people of Ripon to take part in such celebrations than it might be today, with all the added distractions we have – but no doubt Riponians in the 19th century felt they, too, had many calls on their time and enthusiasm. It is certain that without the skills and work-ethic of D’Arcy Ferrars the Millenary events would have been much less impressive – and possibly that without him, too, the St Wilfrid Procession that we recently celebrated might have gone by the board, as he gave Wilfrid a central role in his events.

Among Ferrar’s duties was the composing of music for a song by Augustin Dawtry, who also wrote the play ‘Robin Hood and ye Curtail Fryer’ performed at Fountains Abbey. Its words, no doubt sung with great Victorian gusto, we might do well to echo today, to engender some extra civic pride:

Shout ! Shout the song of joy,
We sing our city's glory;
Whose fame, without alloy,
Is told in ancient story:
Sing cheerily and loud
To Ripon's praise and glory,
Joyful the strain we raise to sing her praise,
Famous through all the world from olden days.

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