THE RIPON HORNBLOWER
I had heard about the Ripon Hornblower and the ceremony of setting the watch at Ripon which has been going on every night without fail since 886, and was keen to see it.
It was a chilly night but dry, so wrapped up warm I set out in time to arrive for the 9pm horn blowing ceremony. Originally the horn was blown by a Wake Man, in other words, watch man who would stay awake and on guard all night, ready to sound the alarm with his horn should raiders attack, whilst others slept. It is incredible to think that this has been done every night for over eleven hundred years. It says on the Ripon Hornblower’s website that it is thought to be the oldest unbroken ceremony in the world.
The piece below is also taken from the Ripon Hornblower’s site
'Setting the Watch' dates back to the year 886 when Alfred the Great visited the City in those unsettled and troubled Viking times, and was so impressed by the place itself and the support he was given by the people against the intruders that he decided to grant the community a Royal Charter. As it was a spontaneous decision he did not have a parchment scroll or anything of that prepared. All he had to offer them as a symbol of the Charter was a horn. He told them that they should treasure the horn, refer to it henceforth as THE CHARTER HORN, and look after it for ever, and the people did. It is still in safe keeping in the City Town Hall today.'
As with many other towns I have visited in this area Ripon has a huge market square, this one dominated by a tall stone obelisk in the middle. It stands 93 feet tall (30Mtrs) and up on top of the obelisk as a symbol of the City is a copy of the Charter Horn. It is a weather vane and also a sealed time capsule. It was sealed the time before last in 1889 for one hundred years, and it was always said it contained 7 gold sovereigns.
When it was taken down in 1986 because urgent repair work was needed to the upper part of the obelisk, it was opened up and the sovereigns were gone - there was just the bill for the last time repairs were carried out!
Apparently this caused some disappointment, and probably some amusement also, but it was re-sealed in 1986 for a further 100 years, and this time there definitiely is money inside the sealed Horn. This time it is Maundy Money given to the City by the Queen, together with a copy of the bill for this lot of repairs .
The bill in 1889 was forty two pounds and the bill for almost identical repairs in 1986 was thirteen thousand pounds.
When I arrived the square was almost deserted, and looking at the town hall clock it was nearly time. But a smartly dressed gentleman with a military bearing told me not to rely on the accuracy of the town hall clock, and sure enough on the stroke of nine by the church clock (and my iPhone) the Hornblower appeared - the gentleman I had spoken with earlier.
In the last few minutes before nine o’clock folk had appeared from everywhere and there was a small crowd to watch him bow and wind his horn to each of the four corners of the market place. He was a truly charming gentleman and afterwards gave a short talk about the history of the horn blowing, and insisted on giving everyone a lucky wooden penny, including a whole troupe of brownies who had turned up unexpectedly and were to be sent their’s in the post, as he hadn’t brought along enough.
After his talk he asked if anyone had questions and one of the brownies said, 'If there is money in the horn why doesn’t someone steal it'. To which he replied 'If they can climb up there to get it they are jolly well welcome to it. It might have been the same brownie, who, when they arrived and were told to look at the horn on the top of the obelisk said, does he have to climb up there to blow it?