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History of Ripon

History of Ripon

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Ripon is a cathedral city in North Yorkshire, England. The city is located at the confluence of two tributaries of the River Ure, the Laver, and Skell. Historically part of the West Riding of Yorkshire, the city is noted for its main feature, Ripon Cathedral, which is architecturally significant, as well as the Ripon Racecourse and other features such as its market.

Ripon, pronounced /ˈrɪpən/, stands as a historic cathedral city nestled in the heart of North Yorkshire, England. The city holds a unique position at the confluence of two tributaries, the Laver and Skell, which feed into the majestic River Ure. It proudly resides within the boundaries of the historic West Riding of Yorkshire and is renowned for several key attractions.

Foremost among these is Ripon Cathedral, a marvel of architectural significance that graces the city’s skyline. In addition to this splendid structure, Ripon boasts the celebrated Ripon Racecourse, a hub of horse racing excitement. Beyond these landmarks, the city is also known for its vibrant market, which has been a bustling centre of commerce and community for generations.

Ripon’s roots trace back to the ancient name of “Inhrypum.” Bede, a notable historian, records that Alhfrith, the king of the Southern Northumbrian kingdom of Deira, generously granted land in Ripon to Eata of Hexham for the construction of a monastery. This significant event led to the transfer of some monks, including the young Saint Cuthbert, to Ripon Abbey. Bede’s “Life of Cuthbert” and Eddius Stephanus’s “Life of Wilfred” illuminate the abbey’s history, including Saint Wilfrid’s replacement of the original timber church with a grand stone-built structure. These developments took place during the zenith of the Anglian kingdom of Northumbria, a time when Ripon held a paramount position in the religious landscape of Great Britain. The city experienced periods of Viking control and Norman rule but remained largely untouched by the winds of the Industrial Revolution.

Ripon, despite its rich history and cultural significance, holds the distinction of being the third-smallest city in England and the smallest in Yorkshire in terms of population. According to the 2011 United Kingdom Census, the city was home to 16,702 residents, marking an increase from the 2001 United Kingdom Census figure of 15,922. Ripon is conveniently situated, located 11 miles to the southwest of Thirsk, 16 miles to the south of Northallerton, and 12 miles to the north of Harrogate. In addition to its cathedral and racecourse, Ripon attracts tourists because of its proximity to the UNESCO World Heritage Site encompassing the splendid Studley Royal Park and the majestic Fountains Abbey, a testament to the city’s enduring historical and natural charm.

History of Ripon

Northumbrian and Viking Period Ripon’s historical roots delve deep into the annals of Northumbria. Before its formal establishment, the region was under the control of the Brigantes, a Brythonic tribe. Evidence of their presence can be found at Hutton Moor, just three miles north of Ripon, where a substantial circular earthwork, created by the Brigantes, remains. The Romans did not establish a settlement in Ripon, but they maintained a military outpost approximately five miles away at North Stainley.

The true origins of Ripon can be traced back to the 7th century during the time of the Anglian kingdom of Northumbria. It was in this era that the first structure in the area, known then as Inhrypum, was erected—a Christian church dedicated to St Peter. The foundation of this church, which marked the inception of the settlement, was laid in 658 by a Northumbrian nobleman named Wilfrid. Interestingly, Wilfrid later rose to become the Archbishop of York, and King Alhfrith granted him the land for this purpose.

History of Ripon

The initial inhabitants of Ripon were skilled craftsmen, including stonemasons, glaziers, and plasterers, whom Wilfrid brought from Lyon in Francia and Rome, which was then under Byzantine rule. The years following Wilfrid’s passing are relatively obscure in Ripon’s historical record. However, after the invasion of the Great Heathen Army of Norse Vikings in Northumbria, the region witnessed significant changes. The Danelaw was established, and the Kingdom of Jórvík took root in the Yorkshire area. In 937, Athelstan, the King of England at the time, granted Ripon the privilege of sanctuary, extending a mile around the church. However, not all subsequent English rulers were as benevolent; following a Northumbrian rebellion against English rule in 948, King Edred ordered the burning of the buildings in Ripon. Nevertheless, prosperity returned by the end of the 10th century when the body of Saint Cuthbert was temporarily moved to Ripon due to the threat of Danish raids.

Normans and the Middle Ages Following the Norman conquest, the north of England experienced a rebellion in 1069, even attempting to restore Danish rule. The subsequent suppression, known as the Harrying of the North, led to the tragic loss of approximately one-third of the population in the region. Ripon, it is believed, contracted into a smaller community cantered around the church in the aftermath of this traumatic event. During this time, the church’s lands were transferred to St Peter’s Church in York, creating the Liberty of Ripon. It was during this period that a grand Collegiate Church was constructed upon the ruins of Wilfrid’s original building. Evolving into the Gothic style, this project owed much of its success to the contributions of Roger de Pont L’Evêque and Walter de Gray, two Archbishops of York during the Plantagenet era.

History of Ripon

In the 12th century, Ripon saw the emergence of a thriving wool trade, attracting Italian trade merchants, particularly Florentines, who purchased and exported substantial quantities of wool. Ripon’s proximity to Fountains Abbey, where the Cistercians had a rich tradition of sheep farming and extensive grazing lands, proved advantageous for this industry. After a prohibition on wearing foreign cloth by English residents in 1326, Ripon further developed a cloth industry, ranking third in size in Yorkshire, following only York and Halifax.

Ripon’s history also bore witness to political tensions with Scotland, with the emphasis of the English crown on the North during the reigns of Edward I and Edward II, as Scottish invaders targeted various northern English towns. In response, Ripon appointed a wakeman to ensure the safety of residents by curfew and to maintain law and order. Nevertheless, there were occasions when Ripon had to pay 1,000 marks to the Scots to prevent the town from being set ablaze.

During the Reformation and Tudor times, Ripon’s history was marked by significant events and transitions. Fountains Abbey, a prominent religious institution, played a central role in the changing landscape of Ripon. The English Reformation, initiated by King Henry VIII, had a profound impact on the region. William Thirske, the Abbot of Fountains, faced expulsion by Henry, leading to his involvement in the Pilgrimage of Grace, a popular rising against the King’s intentions to break with Rome. The people of Northern England, rooted in traditional beliefs, expressed their discontent through this revolt, which ultimately failed. Despite resistance, Henry proceeded with the Dissolution of the Monasteries, including Fountains Abbey.

Notably, Mary, Queen of Scots, found refuge in Northern England, and Ripon played a part in her journey. The predominantly Catholic North supported her, resulting in the Rising of the North, led by figures like Thomas Percy and Charles Neville. The rebels briefly stayed in Ripon, but the uprising ultimately failed, leading to a grim aftermath with the execution of 600 people, including 300 hangings in Ripon during January 1570.

Ripon harboured ambitions of becoming a centre of education, with plans to establish a “University of the North” that could rival Oxford and Cambridge. While key advisers, Lord Burghley and Archbishop Sandys, supported this vision, it did not materialize during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. The idea was briefly revived in 1604 but remained unsuccessful.

In the era of the Civil War and Restoration, Ripon’s economic landscape shifted. The town transitioned from textiles to the production of spurs, becoming renowned for their quality. This reputation gave rise to the saying “as true steel as Ripon Rowell.” Spur-making was not just functional but also fashionable, with King James I himself receiving an expensive pair during his stay in Ripon in 1617. James granted Ripon a Royal Charter in 1604 and established the position of the first Mayor of Ripon.

Additionally, during the Bishops’ Wars in Scotland, a treaty was signed in Ripon in 1640 to end the conflict between Charles I and the Scottish Covenanters. Despite Ripon’s location away from the main frontlines of the English Civil War, it remained loyal and royalist. An incident in 1643, where parliamentarian forces damaged the Minster, was eventually resolved by royalist forces led by John Mallory. Charles I, the King, spent two nights as a prisoner in Ripon. Oliver Cromwell also made two visits to the city on his way to battle, once on the way to Preston and another on the way to the Battle of Worcester.

History of Ripon

Early History and Religious Practices

By the time of the English Restoration, Ripon was primarily an Anglican town with a Catholic minority. However, during this period, non-conformist Christian practices began to emerge, though they weren’t widespread in Ripon. The Jacobite risings in the British Isles, following the Revolution of 1688, led to the imprisonment of some Ripon residents in 1746 on suspicion of corresponding with Prince Charles Edward Stuart. It was during this time that John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, visited Ripon and established a small community of followers.

Georgian Era and Notable Developments

Throughout the Georgian era, Ripon managed to avoid the significant industrial changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution, despite the presence of various guilds. John Aislabie, while serving as a Member of Parliament for Ripon, played a notable role by creating the Studley Royal Park, known for its water garden, and erecting the Ripon Obelisk, designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor. Christopher Wren also contributed to the region by establishing Newby Hall.

Modern Times and Communication Advancements

The opening of Ripon railway station in May 1848 greatly improved communication in the area. During the First World War, Ripon hosted a large military training camp, which not only welcomed soldiers’ wives but also Flemish refugees who became an integral part of Ripon’s community. The racecourse southeast of the city served as an airfield for the Royal Flying Corps and, later, the Royal Air Force. It also functioned as a demobilization centre for troops returning from France well into 1919.

World War II and Post-War Growth

In the Second World War, Ripon played a smaller yet significant role, which was recognized when the Royal Engineers were granted the Freedom of the City in 1947. Since the war, Ripon has undergone various transformations and has experienced growth in size. The town now attracts thousands of tourists each year, drawn by its historical buildings with deep Christian heritage, the nearby Studley Park, Ripon Racecourse, and the more recent addition of the Lightwater Valley theme park.

History of Ripon

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