‘Blowing your own trumpet’ is not usually considered to be a good thing. The thesaurus gives its alternatives as boastfulness, pretension, ostentation, swagger, self-promotion, one-upmanship, hubris, attention-seeking and (a nice portmanteau word of which Humpty Dumpty himself would have been proud) ‘humblebrag’.
So it’s with some trepidation that the words might be applied to this week’s column that we approach the subject of the new book on the city – ‘Secret Ripon’ – which has just been published.
After more than 560 of these weekly columns you might be forgiven for thinking that we’ve said everything about the city that could be said. And if you live in Ripon or know it well, this book might not really be for you, anyway; paraphrasing the British Rail official when snowy weather stopped the trains, you may be ‘the wrong sort of audience.’
Nevertheless, ‘Secret Ripon’ is out. Its title is dictated by the publisher, Amberley, as it’s part of a series of other ‘Secret’ books that includes ‘Secret Aldershot’, ‘Secret East Grinstead’ ‘Secret Neath’ and ‘Secret Scunthorpe’. But how secret is ‘Secret Ripon’?
Probably not very for readers of the ‘Ripon Gazette’ – but the book is aimed at people who don’t really know the city and may by diverted by some of the nooks and corners, details and oddities they may not otherwise come across.
After setting out some of the geology that underlies the city – the sinkhole-causing gypsum especially and the measures that try to counteract the threat like the special construction of the bypass bridge, the first chapter deals with the scant Roman evidence in the city, with the Hrype tribe that gave Ripon its name and then with the monastic settlement, first by the Celtic monks and then by St Wilfrid and his monks who followed the Roman rites.
Throughout the book there are ‘Did you know’ boxes that add snippets of information, like the fact that when St Cuthbert was guest master at Ripon’s Celtic monastery he unwittingly entertained an angel.
There’s a chapter on the cathedral – it’s not a full architectural description but in the main points out some of the less-obvious details of the fabric and the fittings – do you know, for example, where to find a carving of a full-frontal man, or the head of a Roman god?
Another ‘Did You Know’ box relates the story of workman Matthew Townley who in 1664 was helping to take down one of the western spires on the building. He watched two men racing horses on Bondgate Green and, to encourage one, cried out ‘Let go!’ Unfortunately the men on the ground supporting him with ropes misunderstood and let him fall – fortunately only to severe bruising.
Chapter Three – ‘Square Roots’ – looks at buildings in and around the Market Square. It includes a cast of notables including the last Ripon Wakeman and first Mayor, Hugh Ripley (and his ghost), architect Sir William Chambers, musician Edmund Ayrton and, of course Tom Crudd, the physiognomically-challenged ‘Old Boots’ of the Unicorn Hotel who could hold a coin between his nose and chin to the great amusement of patrons.
Then follows a series of walks from the Square – first along Kirkgate, with a look at the lockup on Duck Hill, then down High Skellgate, noting the Church Institute (subject of last week’s column) and looking at Water Skellgate and the traffic-clogged Low Skellgate. Then its along Westgate and into Park street, with the remains of the Theatre Royal.
In the following chapter we visit the over-the-top ornateness of the exterior and foyer of the Spa Baths before coming to a rest for a moment in the peace of the Spa Gardens and Park. In Clotherholme Road, Clova, the house in which eccentric astronomer Piazzi Smyth lived, and the Grammar School come next, then it’s back to visit Holy Trinity Church and down Blossomgate with an honourable mention for the King Billy pub.
The ‘Dissenters and Paupers’ chapter looks at The Temple Garden and its origins in the Calvinistic Dissenters’ chapel and then the Workhouse Museum. On the way down Allhallowgate it takes in Ripon’s smallest listed structure, ‘J E Webb’s Patent Gas Sewer Destructor’ lamp on Victoria Grove, which vitiated the miasmic fumes form the sewerage system. The it’s along St Marygate to visit the Prison and Police Museum and the House of Correction.
The penultimate chapter goes along Stonebridgegate, past the Leper Chapel with its wooden bell, before taking the reader over North Bridge (until 1974 it linked the North and West Ridings; its upkeep was paid for by the latter) and up to the former Prisoner of War Camp on Ure Bank Top.
Then it’s back and up North Street, celebrating Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee at the Clock Tower and ‘Woodbine Willie’ at the former Clergy College, as well as noting more Lewis Carroll links in The Crescent. After the White Horse pub, originally called the ‘Hat and Beaver’ the book suggests going up Coltsgate Hill for a quick look at the former Methodist Chapel and at St Wilfrid’s Church before surveying the former College site.
The final chapter takes readers ‘By the Waters’ – along the canal in one direction, to the confluence of the Skell and the Laver at High Cleugh and the nearby Fairy Steps in another. It also visits Bondgate, with a nod to the possible murderer Eugene Aram, the Racecourse and Hewick Bridge, before ending back at the spiritual heart of the city’, the Cathedral.
This is just a bald outline of ‘Secret Ripon’ – there is much more to find out. However well you know Ripon, you may discover something unusual or quirky. And even if you don’t, it’s worth celebrating the city. So perhaps you will forgive this essay in trumpet blowing – it’s all about Ripon and not about the author, after all!