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Visit Harrogate Meets the Ripon Hornblower

6th January 2014

Categories: News

We recently sat down with the Ripon Blower in Ripon Town Hall’s Mayor’s Parlour to find out a little bit more about the fascinating tradition and the man behind the horn – George Pickles.

After meeting George, there’s no surprise why so many people travel from around the world to see him and the tradition in action. It was however simply by chance, or shall we say fate, that Pickles first became a resident to the city after coming across it on his search for a place to retire. Soon after his move, he learnt of the Hornblower vacancy and volunteered as a stand-in until the permanent position could be filled. And the rest, as they say, is history – ten years later he and the tradition are still growing strong! 

The official role of the Ripon City Hornblower is to support the Mayor and safeguard the ancient ceremony of ‘Setting the Watch’, which has been carried out for 1,127 years and is the only ongoing daily ceremony of its kind in the world. The ceremony is performed every evening at 9pm without fail and has not ever been missed. 

As with any tradition, there are many superstitions surrounding the duty of the Hornblower – one of which is that the face of Hugh Ripley will appear in the attic window of the Wakemans House and great tragedy will descend upon the City, if the horn is not sounded.

Pickles recalled some strange happenings occurring on various occasions when the horn wasn’t properly sounded, one of which occurred on a very cold morning when the horn was not blown properly. As George looked up to Wakemans House he could see the figure of Hugh Ripley in the window. Fortunately, as Pickles bowed before the house, the ghostly figure disappeared.

Another superstition surrounding the tradition belongs to the Hornblowers Lucky Wooden Pennies, which are handed out as a token of appreciation to those who come to see him, and there are now said to be around 27,000 in circulation around the world!

Our final question to Pickles was to share some interesting facts about the area with us. He told us that years ago, the duties of the Wakeman were so difficult at times, that men would avoid being appointed to the post by hiding within the city. However, if found and refusing to take on the role, they would be heavily fined and banished.

This scenario is still depicted in today’s Mayor making ceremony, which takes place during the first week of May each year. During this time the nominated Mayor hides within the city, while the process of appointing him during a special general meeting is conducted in the Town Hall chambers. The proceedings are then interrupted while his proposer and the municipal officers leave to search for him. He is then forcibly brought before the meeting to accept the post.

Another interesting fact was that in the 18th century, Daniel Defoe was said to have described the Ripon Market Square as “the finest and most beautiful square that is said to be seen of its kind in England” – and we couldn’t agree more!

So if you’re looking for a historic city, ridden with charm and traditions, or maybe just a little bit of luck, Ripon, and its Hornblower, have it all! You can read more about the George Pickles and the tradition here or browse our website for more on the different sights to see in the city.

Ripon Hornblower

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