Ripon Hornblower

The current situation has necessitated changes to one of the most loved ancient traditions in the region. For the time being, the hornblowers of Ripon are performing their ceremony of setting the watch for the city from their own homes instead of from the base of the obelisk in the market square.

The tradition dates back over a thousand years to Saxon times when Viking raids were common occurrences and people lived in fear of their property, livestock and even lives being lost in night-time attacks.

In 886, the English King was Alfred the Great and he made it his mission to visit his people bringing a message of safety and stability. In Ripon he granted the people a Royal Charter and gave them a symbolic horn as a gift, advising them that they should be always alert to the dangers of invaders.

The people of Ripon decided to employ a night watchman that they called a “wakemen” to patrol from dusk until dawn ready to sound the horn gifted by the King should he spot any trouble approaching. For further reassurance, the wakeman sounded the horn at each of the four corners of the market place at 9pm every night to let the people know that he was on duty and they could sleep easily. This sounding of the horn at 9pm became known as setting the watch.

That ritual is still carried out at nine o’clock every night at the Obelisk in Ripon market square by the current hornblowers (the duty is shared between four incumbents and they have more than one horn too!) and has not been missed, not for a single night, in over 1100 years. Usually this spectacle attracts quite a crowd of interested tourists wanting to see the ceremony, hear more about the tradition and have the opportunity to ask the hornblower questions and take a selfie or two with them. The current lockdown rules have imposed some changes in that the hornblowers are setting the watch from their own homes rather than the market square location and their audiences are only able to watch them online @Ripon Hornblowers on Facebook. All hornblowers live with the city boundary and the horns can be heard as the watch is set at 9pm as usual.

We look forward to seeing the hornblowers in their traditional uniforms blowing their horns to set the watch at the obelisk in Ripon town square again soon. If you haven’t had the opportunity to see it in person yet, we recommend that you pop it on your to do list.

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