The tiny cathedral city of Ripon in North Yorkshire had long been responsible for its own law and order until Ripon City Police were taken over by the West Riding Constabulary in 1887, but The Watch is still set every evening in the Market Place as has been the custom for more than 1100 years.
From the middles ages The Wakeman and his constables were responsible for law and order in Ripon during the hours of darkness. The ‘watch’ was set each evening by the sounding of the town horn, at each corner of the Market Cross and thus the inhabitants of Ripon were under the care of The Wakeman. If any theft was committed after the watch was set, then it was the responsibility of The Wakeman, not only to apprehend the offender, but also to compensate the injured party. Each householder in the city paid 2d annually for each door of their home for this service. The Wakeman’s House, built in the 13th century, is still preserved at one corner of the Market Place. In 1604, The Wakeman became the Lord Mayor. The Town Hall along one side of the Market Place was built in 1801 as a town house and became Town Hall in the late 18th century when it was presented to the city. It bears the inscription – ‘ Except Ye Lord Keep Ye Cittie Ye Wakeman Waketh In Vain.’
The old custom of Setting the Watch is continued to this day and at 9.0pm each evening the City Hornblower sounds the horn at each corner of the obelisk, which replaced the old Market Cross in 1702, and then three times outside the Mayor’s residence. The present horn (dating from 1865) is about 3ft in length and produces a long bellowing sound which can be heard up to a mile away.
The Wakeman's house still stands in a corner of Ripon Market Place.
THE TOWN HALL
The horn on top of the obelisk