Customs & Traditions

The Wakeman A Proud tradition For 1000 years, Ripon administered its own justice and policed its own streets. In the 13th Century the wakeman was responsible to the Archbishop for arrangements within the town and for its security. The Wakeman could exact fines and was required to make compensation in the event of burglary during the hours of the watch. By the end of the 16th century, the overlapping jurisdictions of Archbishop, Chapter and Wakeman were no longer proving effective. Reforms were introduced in 1598 with a new, fourth, Town Book setting out duties, responsibilities and penalties. Even today, every night at 9 o'clock, all year round, the Ripon Hornblower still 'sets the night watch' at the four corners of the obelisk in the Market Square: a proud City tradition. Hugh Ripley was the last Ripon Wakeman and then the first Mayor of Ripon. His house still stands on the Square as shown in this picture.

The St Wilfrid Procession The St Wilfrid Procession most likely originated in early thirteenth century religious rituals for the Feast of St Wilfrid when the shrine and the richly decorated feretory, containing Wilfrid's skull, were carried round the liberty. Each year Ripon devoted three great feasts to St Wilfrid: April 24th, the Sunday after Lammas (1st August), and 12th October.

Royal Charters In 1886, against national derision of its claimed 886 charter, Ripon organised a three-week Millenary Festival. Other festivals followed in 1896; 1904 for the Tercentenary of the James I charter; and 1906. The first world war and then the depression brought the series to an end, but 1986 saw a festival lasting the whole year. Arising from that came the Boxing Day Pilgrimage from the Cathedral to Fountains Abbey and the New Year's Eve Torchlight procession from the Cathedral to the Market Square. Small annual festivals continued till 1996 when the Cathedral introduced a festival and procession in October.

Wakeman Mummers/Ripon Sword Dancers/Ripon City Morris Dancers

At Christmas, Epiphany and Easter mystery plays were performed in the Minster and in the streets and villages. The Ripon Sword Dance - a mummers play - was a regular part of the Christmas festivities till 1914 although probably not a very long tradition. The present Ripon play updates a fairly standard 1880s version.

A new play in the mummers tradition 'The Wakeman Mummers Play' was created in 1986 for the Ripon 1100 celebration, involving the local Morris dancers. It is presented annually in the Market Place during the August Wilfrid Festival Week and closes with the distribution of specially baked, horn-shaped, wholemeal biscuits. The Ripon City Morris Dancers, formed in 1982, dance the North-West Morris. They appear regularly in the city and are firm favourites. They are the only team to wear fresh flowers around their hats.