Council votes on fate of Ripon's historic hornblower plaque

Councillors voted on the fate of the plaque at a full city council meeting on September 3.
Councillors voted on the fate of the plaque at a full city council meeting on September 3.

It's been a fixture of Ripon Market Square for more than three decades - Ripon's hornblower plaque has become a proud monument to a globally renowned tradition.

Donated to the city in 1986 by former deputy hornblower Joel Bastow, its prominent position on the obelisk has attracted a lot of attention from visitors over the years.

But a decision by Ripon City Council could soon see the plaque being removed and re-located from its current position.

At a full council meeting on September 3, councillors unanimously agreed that it is too costly to continue taking the plaque down every time a hornblower's name is inscribed.

Coun Andrew Williams said: "My concern is it is extremely expensive to keep taking the plaque up and down from the obelisk, which is a listed structure. We have to hire in specialist equipment to take it down to pay for it to be inscribed, and for it to be put back up again.

"I don't think it's a good use of public money to be spending hundreds of pounds taking a plaque backwards and forwards. I think the whole thing needs to come down, we need to have the inscription completed on the current plaque, and then find a suitable new location for it."

Coun Williams also referred to changes that have been made to the Ripon hornblower role - no longer serving alone, there is now a team of four hornblowers who share a rota.

He said this will only increase the frequency of the plaque being taken down and put up again.

Echoing the concerns of Coun Williams, Coun Pauline McHardy added: "I just visualise in years to come that the whole obelisk is going to be covered in these plaques."

As well as finding a new home for the existing plaque, councillors discussed creating an additional one.

The history of Ripon's hornblower tradition

Tourists from across the globe flock to Ripon to witness the setting of the watch every night, in a special ritual that dates back to 886. The watch is set by an appointed hornblower sounding the horn on the four corners of the obelisk at exactly 9pm, and three times outside the mayor's house.

The tradition can be traced to King Alfred, who visited what was then a small settlement while touring the country, and decided to grant Ripon a Royal Charter. A horn was all he had to offer by way of a symbol.

On his advice, it was decided to sound it originally as a warning to the residents of impending attack, with a “wakeman” who would patrol the area while the others slept.