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RIPON and FOUNTAINS ABBEY

In 1900 - “ We have come out of Wensleydale past the ruins of the great Cistercian abbey of Jervaulx, which Conan, Earl of Richmond, moved from Askrigg to a kindlier climate, and we have passed through the quiet little town of Masham, famous for its fair in September, when sometimes as many as 70,000 sheep, including great numbers of the fine Wensleydale breed, are sold, and now we are at Ripon. It is the largest town we have seen since we lost sight of Richmond in the wooded recesses of Swaledale, and though we are still close to the Ure, we are on the very edge of the dale country, and miss the fells that lie a little to the west. The evening has settled down to steady rain, and the market-place is running with water that reflects the lights in the shop-windows and the dark outline of the obelisk in the centre. This erection is suspiciously called 'the Cross,' and it made its appearance nearly seventy years before the one at Richmond. Gent says it cost 564 11s. 9d., and that it is 'one of the finest in England.' I could, no doubt, with the smallest trouble discover a description of the real cross it supplanted, but if it were anything half as fine as the one at Richmond, I should merely be moved to say harsh things of John Aislabie, who was Mayor in 1702, when the obelisk was erected, and therefore I will leave the matter to others. It is, perhaps, an un-Christian occupation to go about the country quarrelling with the deeds of recent generations, though I am always grateful for any traces of the centuries that have gone which have been allowed to survive. With this thought still before me, I am startled by a long-drawn-out blast on a horn, and, looking out of my window, which commands the whole of the market-place, I can see beneath the light of a lamp an old-fashioned figure wearing a three-cornered hat. When the last quavering note has come from the great circular horn, the man walks slowly across the wet cobble-stones to the obelisk, where I watch him wind another blast just like the first, and then another, and then a third, immediately after which he walks briskly away and disappears down a turning. In the light of morning I discover that the horn was blown in front of the Town Hall, whose stucco front bears the inscription: 'Except ye Lord keep ye cittie, ye Wakeman waketh in vain.' The antique spelling is, of course, unable to give a wrong impression as to the age of the building, for it shows its period so plainly that one scarcely needs to be told that it was built in 1801, although it could not so easily be attributed to the notorious Wyatt. Notwithstanding much reconstruction there are still a few quaint houses to be seen in Ripon, and there clings to the streets a certain flavour of antiquity. It is the minster, nevertheless, that raises the 'city' above the average Yorkshire town. The west front, with its twin towers, is to some extent the most memorable portion of the great church. It is the work of Archbishop Walter Gray, and is a most beautiful example of the pure Early English style. Inside there is a good deal of transitional Norman work to be seen. The central tower was built in this period, but now presents a most remarkable appearance, owing to its partial reconstruction in Perpendicular times, the arch that faces the nave having the southern pier higher than the Norman one, and in the later style, so that the arch is lop-sided. As a building in which to study the growth of English Gothic architecture, I can scarcely think it possible to find anything better, all the periods being very clearly represented. The choir has much sumptuous carved woodwork, and the misereres are full of quaint detail. In the library there is a collection of very early printed books and other relics of the minster that add very greatly to the interest of the place.

19The monument to Hugh Ripley, who was the last Wakeman of Ripon and first Mayor in 1604, is on the north side of the nave facing the entrance to the crypt, popularly called 'St. Wilfrid's Needle.' A rather difficult flight of steps goes down to a narrow passage leading into a cylindrically vaulted cell with niches in the walls. At the north-east corner is the curious slit or 'Needle' that has been thought to have been used for purposes of trial by ordeal, the innocent person being able to squeeze through the narrow opening.

In reality it is probably nothing more than an arrangement for lighting two cells with one lamp. The crypt is of such a plainly Roman type, and is so similar to the one at Hexham, that it is generally accepted as dating from the early days of Christianity in Yorkshire, and there can be little doubt that it is a relic of Wilfrid's church in those early times.

At a very convenient distance from Ripon, and approached by a pleasant lane, are the lovely glades of Studley Royal, the noble park containing the ruins of Fountains Abbey. Below the well-kept pathway runs the Skell, but so transformed from its early character that you would imagine the pathways wind round the densely-wooded slopes, and give a dozen different views of each mass of trees, each temple, and each bend of the river. At last, from a considerable height, you have the lovely view of the abbey ruins illustrated here. At every season its charm is unmistakable, and even if no stately tower and no roofless arches filled the centre of the prospect, the scene would be almost as memorable. It is only one of the many pictures in the park that a retentive memory will hold as some of the most remarkable in England.

20Among the ruins the turf is kept in perfect order, and it is pleasant merely to look upon the contrast of the green carpet that is so evenly laid between the dark stonework. The late-Norman nave, with its solemn double line of round columns, the extremely graceful arches of the Chapel of the Nine Altars, and the magnificent vaulted perspective of the dark cellarium of the lay-brothers, are perhaps the most fascinating portions of the buildings. I might be well compared with the last abbot but one, William Thirsk, who resigned his post, forseeing the coming Dissolution, and was therefore called 'a varra fole and a misereble ideote,' if I attempted in the short space available to give any detailed account of the abbey or its wonderful past. I have perhaps said enough to insist on its charms, and I know that all who endorse my statements will, after seeing Fountains, read with delight the books that are devoted to its story.

 

More to follow ....

 

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