Friday 6th December 2013
The Royal Oak is in a wonderful position in the centre of Ripon on Kirkgate. As can be deduced by the street's name it leads to a church via a gate. Well, the church is a magnificent cathedral but the gate in the town walls has gone. Although I have heard that it is depicted in one of Turner's paintings of the cathedral. At the other end is the acient market place, the location of many traditions.
Work on the first cathedral was started in 672 by St Wilfrid who employed craftsmen from the continent for the work. The Minster, as in was known, was dedicated to St Peter. It was rebuilt in the 12th Century with only the original crypt remaining. It is still possible to pray there. Because of this it is said to be the oldest place of worship in England.
Further rebuilding took place in the 15th and 16th Centuries after the main tower collapsed and the nave was widened. This was the last construction work made, so you have an early 16th Century building intact and unaltered. One thing I do find puzzling is, although it was a Minster, the old Anglo-Saxon word for a cathedral, it actually wasn't. This odd anomaly was corrected in 1836 when it became a cathedral with a diocese, in its own right.
At the end of Kirkgate is the Market Place which was established around the 12th Century. This is home to a tradition that goes back more than 1,100 years as every evening at nine (21.00) a horn is blown by the official Hornblower. This signified the beginning of the night watch of the Wakeman. This is a post that has existed since 886 when King Alfred the Great visited Ripon to thank its citizens for their work in repelling Viking invaders.
He liked the place and its people and so decided to grant Ripon a royal charter. As this was a spontaneous gesture there was no parchment prepared, so as a tangible reference to his actions he gave the town a horn, which is still in existence in the Town Hall.
The King was still concerned about Viking raiders who remained in the countryside, so he suggested they adopt a post for a Wakeman who would stay awake all night to look out for the invaders. The people of the town suggested, in those clock-less days, that the horn he presented be used to announce the start of each watch. This was done on each corner of the Market Cross which existed before the Market Place.
The first change occurred in 1604 when a new charter was granted by King James I (England), 6 (Scotland), the first ruler of the unified country. By this time Ripon was administered by an elite group who appointed the Wakeman. There were many things wrong with this system and these problems were addressed by the new charter which enabled the town to have a Mayor, elected democratically. He was given the power to appoint the Hornblower.
A new horn was purchased in 1690, which is still used for special occasions. To celebrate the 1000th anniversary of the ritual, another horn was presented to the (by then) city. One hundred years later another horn was gifted and this one is said to sound the best. The horn is now blown on the four corners of the Obelisk which in 1703 replaced the time-expired Market Cross at the same location.
As mentioned, the Market Place is very old indeed. As an example of this, the right to hold a fair was granted in 1108.
Almost unbelievably, there is another old ritual in this city. There was once a corn market, one of the many commodities traded. To announce this to the selling farmers and buyers, a bell was rung at 11.00.
Market Day has always been on Thursday and this practise continues to this day when the Bellman rings for the opening of the general market; the corn market ending some time ago.
On to the Royal Oak Hotel; its history is a little vague. It became a listed building in 1970. In the description it says it was constructed either in the late 18th or early 19th Century. It is quite possible that it replaced an earlier inn on the same site, please see below.
Nowadays it is owned by Timothy Taylor's Brewery of Keighley, West Yorkshire. I don't think they are the historic owners though. The whole hotel underwent a total refurbishment in 2007, regretfully not in a traditional style, but nevertheless using good materials. Yet, this is another example of the lack of specification of notable interior features when a building is listed; if it's not mentioned you can throw it in a skip!
Compared with the official description of the property I have found some very interesting references to the past which show you can't always trust what you read.
Most pubs by the name of Royal Oak are references to the incident after the Battle of Worcester when King Charles II hid in an oak tree to evade capture by the Roundheads. This occurred in 1651. If you can file that for the moment and note that there is also a reference to King Charles I visiting the pub after the Battle of Marston Moor.
So if this story is to be believed, Charles 1 went to a pub that is named after an incident involving Charles II which occurred over a hundred years before the pub was built. Now there was probably an earlier pub on the site, but it could not have been named Royal Oak when Charles I visited. So how do they know he went there? If this was fact then its former name would be known. He might have visited the town following the battle, but that's all. The only thing I do believe is that Prince Charles once visited the pub in more recent times.
Nowadays the pub is heavily involved with its food but nevertheless the drinker is very welcome and there is a reasonable range including some from the owners Timothy Taylor.
When I popped in the selection was as follows. From Taylors there were Landlord (4.3%), Golden Best (3.5%) and Ram Tam (4.3%). The two guest beers were Saltaire Brewery (Saltaire, West Yorks) Blonde (4.0%) and Ilkley Brewery (Ilkley, West Yorks) Joshua Jane (3.7%).
The pub is centrally located in historic Ripon and is well worth a visit. As it is a hotel with six rooms it could be considered as a place to stay, especially if you want to see the Hornblower in the evening.
The Royal Oak, 36 Kirkgate, Ripon HG4 1PB. Tel: 01765 60228
Open: Monday-Thursday 11.00-23.00; Friday-Saturday 11.00-24.00; Sunday 12.00-22.30
There is no longer a railway line to Ripon. Probably the best way to approach the city is from Leeds (90 minutes away) or Harrogate (40 minutes journey) on the 36 bus.
It runs at 15 minute intervals all day till early evening then every 30 minutes on Mondays to Saturdays. Every 30 minutes on Sunday through the day, once an hour in the evening.
From York the 142/143 run every two hours Monday to Friday and every 90 minutes on Saturdays. No services after 18.00 and no service on Sunday.
The 159 is a useful but infrequent route that connects Ripon with Masham (home of Theakstons and Black Sheep Breweries), Leyburn and Richmond. There are only five journeys a day that run about every two hours. However there is a Sunday service of four buses but at infrequent times.
The number 70 bus connects Ripon with Northallerton via Thirsk and runs approximately every two hours Monday to Saturday, with nothing after 18.00 or on Sundays.