A rippin’ day in Ripon

The bus to Ripon meant a change at Harrogate. So I needed a day pass, for which I had to explain I wanted to go to Ripon. For the uninformed (like me) it’s pronounced “Rippin” as in Rippin’ Yarns, not Ri-pawn. The locals must have thought I was trying to sound posh. Not that an American ever really sounds posh.

I went to see the cathedral. I had seen photos, but I still wasn’t prepared. While it hasn’t displaced Durham Cathedral in my affections, it is now a close second.

So, some photos:

The carving on the right, which dates from the 15th century, is a misericord, and Ripon is apparently famous for them. I knew this, but didn’t know what they were, so I didn’t know where to look. Turns out they’re carvings on the underside of the folding seat in the quire stalls. The one above on the right is thought to be where Lewis Carroll got the idea of the Griffin and the White Rabbit (it shows the rabbit about to hop down a hole to get away).

This is because Carroll (real name Charles Dodgen) was the son of a canon at the Cathedral. Before 1836 it was just a Minster, which is what the clergyman with whom I spoke called the one at Leeds (a diocese since 1878, so obviously a latecomer).

I’ve never seen a cathedral where they let visitors in the library, so this was super special. They had Tudor paintings in there, and a collection of silver and jewels and Anglo-Saxon ornaments found by detectorists looking for cool stuff.

It was like being backstage at a performance.

The west front faced the road coming from the town center, so when I left it made the most sense to go back to the center, but instead I turned right because I felt I hadn’t seen enough of this beautiful place. As I told the clergyman inside, the space was so human — it didn’t feel overwhelming. Must be a feature of these just barely gothic cathedrals, where the Norman influence is still present.

I then went to the Courthouse Museum, where I happily let myself be talked into a pass for all three Ripon museums (I hate spending money, but I love giving it to museums). The Courthouse Museum was small, and the best part was watching a child put together a courtroom puzzle. But the Workhouse Museum, which I visited after having a salad at a cafe, was exceptional.

What they’ve done is reclaimed a whole Workhouse complex that’s been used primarily as offices, and volunteers have been recreating it. So far they’ve got quite a lot done: front parlour of the caretakers, disinfection rooms, cells for the mentally ill. I learned a lot from the excellent signage. Turns out an idiot is someone who is mentally disturbed full-time, while with a lunatic it’s periodic. Made me wonder, since the “luna” refers to moon, whether people became crazy monthly, or whether the moon period is just an example.

The last image is from the infirmary, where there was a small but good collection of medical equipment — this is a breast pump of excellent design. They also had a vaccine kit, with a note that babies were vaccinated too. The museum had a lot for kids, including a kitchen where you could make biscuits and places where you could try on workhouse clothes. There were signs in every room: “Why would you be bathed if you came to live here?” Really well-designed. I spoke with one of the volunteers awhile about the garden, and what was planted in it. Some of the more controversial herbs have been left out, but there was a lot of information there, about using cabbage instead of potatoes in the diet. Far too much to tell in a single blog post!

But that’s what’s so interesting about museums. To look at the brochure, you’d think the Courthouse Museum and the Workhouse Museum (and the Prison and Police Museum, which I didn’t visit) were just about the same. But the Courthouse Museum was basically one (very interesting) room, while theĀ  Workhouse Museum was large and intricate and still in process. You just never know until you go!

2 comments to A rippin’ day in Ripon

  • jmm

    “Controversial herbs”? What, like…oregano? Abortificants? Weed?

  • This sounds like a very interesting visit and it looks as though it stayed dry. Your post has made me want to visit myself. I think I must have visited Ripon Cathedral as a child, but I don’t remember. And your observation about pronouncing it Rippin is interesting. I have always pronounced it Rip’n. Glad you had a ‘rippin’ day.