On a cool Thursday evening we were in the City of Ripon for dinner and took advantage of witnessing one of the oldest daily ceremonies in England—that of the “Setting of The Watch” in the Market square at precisely 9 p.m. We arrived just in time to see the current horn blower, a jovial gentleman by the name of George Pickle, approach one of the four corner of the obelisk in the center of the market square. Here he blew about a 10 second “call” on his animal horn with copper fittings—the fourth such horn to be used since the tradition started in 886. Yes, that’s not a misprint and I haven’t missed a digit; the nightly setting of the watch has been carried out for the past 1129 years—without interruption!
After the initial sounding, he walked clockwise to the next corner of the obelisk and sounded his horn once more. This was repeated at the other two corners. After the final blow, he turned smartly through about 45 degrees, bowed and tipped his three corner hat in the direction of a Tudor-style building at the southern end of the square. The ceremony was now complete—for another day.
There were few witnesses to this nightly event on a cold February night but Mr Pickle was happy to greet those who did turn out and, as he said, he is always happy to welcome visitors from the Colonies. He also presented us with a Lucky Wooden Penny which he has taken on as his own project to promote the event and which he assured us would bring us “wondrous opportunities in the days ahead”. I have no doubt that it will fulfill its promise.
I have taken the liberty of copying directly from Mr Pickles’ website the history of this ancient and important event in the life of the beautiful City of Ripon. I certainly could not do it the same justice in my own words. I have also included here a photograph of Mr Pickles, his Lucky Penny and his contact details. I feel sure that he would love to hear from anyone wherever they are in the world and I would encourage any traveler to make a point of visiting Ripon (its magnificent cathedral, fine buildings, racecourse and beautiful countryside) and, as its welcome notice suggests “Stay Awhile Amidst its Ancient Charms”.
Visit nearby Fountains Abbey and Studleigh Royal Estate, stroll its ancient streets and take in its 1300 year history. Perhaps even take the family to one of its more contemporary attractions, the Lightwater Valley theme Park. You can even arrive by boat to the most northerly point of England’s connected canal system (although there may be some Lancashire towns that would lay a similar claim!)
There’s always plenty to do in and around Ripon—but whatever brings you to town, make the nightly setting of the watch a “Must See” event.
Read the history here.