This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
{ Click on the image to expand the photo }

The Hornblower of Ripon

17 September 2011

With the invention of the small 35mm camera in the early 20th century, amateur photographers could now record the unusual  and curious things they saw on holiday. No longer dependent on picture postcards, the camera equipped tourist could capture any image that seemed  memorable or remarkable for the friends and family at home. Such a camera was taken to the market town of Ripon in North Yorkshire, England in the early 1930's by a German family on holiday. Somehow two strips of 9 negatives were preserved and I acquired them because they recorded a unique English heritage - the Horn-blower of Ripon.

Since the year 886, a Wakeman has kept watch over the city of Ripon, insuring the townspeople that there was someone on guard in the night. Every evening at 9:00 for the past 1125 years, the horn-blower has sounded his horn 4 times around the market cross at the Ripon market square.

The current Ripon Hornblower is Mr. George Pickles who took on this duty in 2004. Click the link for more history and photos of the present day hornblower.

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In a delightful little book called Notes and Jottings from Animal Life by Frank Buckland, H.M. Inspector of Fisheries, published in 1882, the author describes a visit to Ripon in 1863 and gives a short history of the long duty of the Ripon Horn-blower entitled Curfew and Charter Horns, (page 123 ).

The other chapter titles include:
Christmas Day With My Monkeys;
An Elephant in Albany St,;
London Birdcatchers;
and Lord Bute's Beavers.

The sound of this horn is moderately loud but is only one pitch. It must have been difficult for the many wakemen over the centuries to resist adding some musical elements of rhythm or simple melody. Undoubtedly the sound for the townspeople is as reassuring as the toll of a church bell.

Quite a few postcards have been made of the horn-blowers over the many years. but I like these for their informal snapshot quality.  They also preserve a period that would soon be disrupted by the horrific events of WW II.

I have not found any clue as to the date, but the lighting and regularity of the horn-blower's notes at 9, suggest that the season of the photographs is summer-time. The only evidence I have for a provenance is the seller's description of the estate as a German family on a world tour. Was Ripon at the start or end of their journey?

The other photographs were likely taken in Ripon but I can not be certain. They seem to be of the same picturesque street showing some very ancient store and house fronts. Taken with a quality camera I think.


See the comments and compare this with the Google Streetview of the Shambles in York, England.

Could the family group strolling down the narrow lane be the German family on holiday?

And finally a view of the Ripon square as it is today.
Unfortunately Google's StreetView camera did not swing past at 9:00 PM.

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And thanks to a sharp eye from Little Nell (see comments) the Shamble Lane in York, England.
Ironically the name Shambles comes from an old Anglo-Saxon word
that came to mean slaughterhouse. A trade that might have dealt in long cattle horn.

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My contribution to Sepia Saturday
Click the link for more enthusiasts of vintage photos.


L. D. Burgus said...

This is a remarkable set of photos. Thanks so much for sharing the history and the great shots. I am glad you rescued them.

Christine H. said...

What a wonderful tradition. I don't suppose my neighbors would support a new tradition such as this in our neighborhood. Oh well. These are marvelous photos.

Liz Stratton said...

I love your posts. I am always entertained. Another place to add to my bucket list!

Bob Scotney said...

Mike. we live within an hour of Ripon and although I knew about the horn I've never been there to see it blown.
I just wonder whether those narrow street photos at the end oare of the Shambles in York.

Little Nell said...

unesixeLike Bob, my first thought were that the narrow streets were The Shambles. I just googled it and found this

Alan Burnett said...

A wonderfully rich Sepia Saturday contribution. Like Bob, I live about an hour away from Ripon as well and equally the same distance from York. I too thought of the Shambles for the final shots but suspect that we are all jumping to those conclusions just because we automatically connect such streets to York now, back in the 30s there were probably many streets like this in several Yorkshire market towns.

Mike Brubaker said...

Very good, Nell! The Shambles must be it. Both the card and my photo have the same Muir's Cycle Depot shop sign and the roof lines are exact I think. Google can't make an application as sharp as a postcard trivia expert! Thank you for solving my photo mystery.

Brett Payne said...

Nice to see such amateur collections being both preserved and displayed like this. Quite apart from that, you have as usual introduced me to yet another musical tradition about which I had no idea. I presume that the horn is that of some animal - any idea what animal?

Little Nell said...

Glad to be of service Mike. For some reason there is a strange word at the beginning of my comment which is probably the word verification :)

Mike Brubaker said...

Unesixe - definition: a useless or unwanted item found lurking in a desk or kitchen drawer.

This Ripon horn was probably from an ox or steer. The entry in Wikepedia for Longhorn Cattle has an photo of an animal with impressive horns. They originate in Craven in North Yorkshire. In the days when horn -the material was used for manufacturing all manner of things now made in plastic, there must have been a strong market for prime cattle horns.

Tattered and Lost said...

It's fascinating to think of this tradition still going strong. And the town looks like a wonderful little fantasy village all a tumble.

Where I live we have a WW2 air raid siren that blows each day at noon as a daily test. It is used on a regular basis to alert the volunteer fire department members when there is an emergency, much to the dismay of those who live nearby. Each time it blows, other than at noon, I know someone nearby is in trouble.

Postcardy said...

What an interesting tradition. I enjoyed both the pictures and the part of the book I read--some of the other chapters sound interesting too. I especially like the first photo with signs for POST CARDS and other things.

Howard said...

fascinating stuff, I've never heard of this before. I'm glad the tradition continues today.


i like how you always have such marvelous finds pertaining to musical instruments. very commited of you. i wonder though how many years it took you to gather all of these that i've seen so far. nice selection today and quite the find. no idea who the family was, right?!

Sheila @ A Postcard a Day said...

I haven't been to Yorkshire in years. :( And to Ripon, never. It does look amazingly like the Shambles and that I have seen.

This is the first time I've heard of a horn blower though we have plenty of town criers.

Librarian said...

Thank you very much for pointing me towards your post - this is fascinating! I am sure George and Allison will love looking at the pictures.
I notice that the paving of the market square is rather different now from what it was then. But some of the shop fronts are still the same - Appleton's, the butchers, is still there; in the pictures on your post, one can just about make out where it is if one knows which building it is.
Oh, and weren't people just dressed and turned out so much nicer than today?

DawnTreader said...

Wonderful photos, thanks for including the link in your comment on my post. They also prove how much better the old black-and-white photos survive the test of time, compared to early colour photos from the 1960s-70s...


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