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Event Series Event Series: Setting the Watch in Ripon

Setting the Watch in Ripon – The History of the Wakeman and the Hornblowers

Every night of the year a horn is blown at the four corners of the obelisk in Ripon’s Market Square, and again in front of the Mayor, wherever he or she is in Ripon, to set the ‘watch’.

The tradition is an ancient one; it is first mentioned in Ripon’s ‘Towne Book’ of 1598 and was already well established by then. Its origins may lie in the setting out of the Market Place in the early 13th century by the Archbishop of York, which needed rules to regulate the town.  An official called the Wakeman was appointed as the leading citizen to oversee these laws; he and his officers were responsible for making sure that Ripon residents were at home and safe from burglary at night.  He had to pay compensation if offences occurred, and he levied a yearly payment according to the number of doors a property had.

So that the citizens knew that the watch was set, the Wakeman employed a Hornblower, whose duty was to blow the town’s horn at 9.00pm in the Square.  The Wakeman’s role was changed by King James I’s charter of 1604 to that of Mayor, but the Hornblower’s duties continued, and are still performed daily, shared now by four joint holders of the office. The city owns several horns that are regularly blown, but the oldest is now part of the city regalia and suspended from a wide leather baldrick with badges and crests of Wakeman and Mayors from 1473.  This is worn by the Sergeant-at-Arms on civic occasions.

Once the duty Hornblower has blown four times in the Square – and spoken about the tradition to visitors – he or she will go to find the Mayor (texting helps these days!) and blows the horn three more times before announcing that ‘The Watch is Set’.

Watch the ceremony, hear more about the tradition and have the opportunity to ask the Hornblower questions every night at 9pm.

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