The Market Place
The centre of the city since the 12th century. The Market Place was laid to the west of the older settlement around the Cathedral by the Archbishop of York during a period of prosperity. The right to a fair was granted in 1108 and the market is still held in the square every Thursday. The control of the market was originally in the hands of the Church, and the Corporation levied a "corn-toll" on trade in the Corn Market. The rights to the market were obtained in 1880 for the sum of £1500. The opening of the Corn Market was signalled by the Ripon Bellman, and although the Corn Market has long since gone, the Bellman still rings his bell at 11 o'clock each Thursday to officially open the general market. In the Market Place lies the Obelisk. Being visible from most parts of the city, it is an easily recognisable landmark. It was built in 1703 to replace an earlier Market Cross, and half of the cost to erect it was borne personally by the then Mayor of Ripon, John Aislabie. The Ripon Horn and a star surmount the stone designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor. It was repaired in 1781 by William Aislabie, John's son, who served as an MP for Ripon for 60 years. There is a plaque on the Obelisk which implies that it was indeed William who was responsible for the construction!
It is at the Obelisk where one can see the ancient tradition of the Hornblower each night at 9 o'clock. This custom of "setting the watch" has carried on continuously for over 1000 years to the present. In the Middle Ages, a Wakeman was selected from 12 Alderman to serve for a period of one year in a role similar to that of a Mayor. The selected person would be heavily fined if he refused to take office! A practice reflected in the current Mayoral ceremony, where the future Mayor acts out a game of "hide and seek" with his fellow councillors prior to taking office. The Wakeman appointed a series of constables, and it was into the Wakeman's hands the safety of the city and its residents was placed each night. It was the Wakeman and his constables who had the task of apprehending any criminal and also that of recompensing the victim of any crime. This early form of policing and insurance policy was not free however, and each householder had to pay the sum of two pence for each outer door of their house each year, a not inconsiderable sum in those days.
One of the most noticeable buildings in the Market Place is the Town Hall on the south side. The motto on the building reads "Except ye Lord keep ye Cittie ye Wakeman waketh in vain". Originally built in 1801, it was as a town house for Mrs Allanson of Studley Royal. The Town Clerk and the Corporation were allowed to meet in one of the rooms, and in 1897 the building was given over to the city by the then Mayor and owner of the property, the Marquess of Ripon. The Civil regalia are housed in the Town Hall, and although Ripon is now under the control of Harrogate Borough Council, the Mayor retains the use of the Mayoral Parlour.
In the south east corner of the Market Place lies one of Ripon's oldest inns, The Unicorn Hotel. It is the largest building on the Market Place, and features in many aspects of Ripon's history, both as a social meeting place and as a home for many of the city's formal gatherings. It was, along with the Black Bull, one of the primary stopover points for many of the stagecoaches which ran between the Cities of Newcastle, Leeds, and London, and for many local carriage companies too. The stables allowed the changing of horses, and the stableyard was entered via a rear entrance off Kirkgate.
The present owner of the Unicorn, Mr David Small, makes all welcome, and his genial manner is in keeping with many famous owners and visitors. The proprietors include former Mayors of Ripon such as John Fairgray (Mayor in 1806) who kept the Unicorn for 20 years, and Robert Collinson was Mayor for four years (1876-80), and was the grandfather of novelist Naomi Jacob. Patrons of the Unicorn have included the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, and Charles Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll. One of the most famous characters to be associated with the Unicorn was an innservant by the name of Tom Crudd, nicknamed "Old Boots", who was said to be of such appearance that he could hold a coin between his nose and his chin! Patrons of the Unicorn would ask him to perform this feat, and Tom would ask them for a coin with which to perform. Following his demonstration, Tom kept the coin.
In the south west corner of the Market Place lies the Wakeman's House, traditionally, but incorrectly, the home of the last Wakeman of Ripon, Hugh Ripley. An oak timber framed building with wattle and daub infill, it is believed to have been a wing of a much larger building originally facing at right angles to its present position. Around 1600, the frontage was changed to face the Market Place by the addition of the oriel windows and a door. The original hall to which it was attached has long since disappeared. The Wakeman's House displays many of the local crafts and serves as the headquarters of the Ripon Improvement Trust.
The Market Place has few buildings older than those from the Georgian period other than the Wakeman's House. Many of the buildings do have authentic Georgian frontages, and some have copies, yet many of the internal structures date from long before this period. The overall appearance of the Market Place is balanced and appealing, being reminiscent of an earlier age, and yet being arranged around a spacious and almost symmetrical square.