Projected every evening during Remembrancetide onto the West End of Ripon Cathedral, this twenty-minute light show remembers those, male and female, whose lives were taken from them during WWI. It’s dreadful to watch the long, long, long list of names of the fallen, scrolling inexorably upwards. How could so many young men from this small city have died in those four years of war? We are shown photos from the war years, and the faces of some of those who have died. John McCrae’s celebrated poem ‘We are the dead‘, illustrated with ranks of graves, and scenes from the ravaged countryside of Flanders completes the spectacle. A tumbling tower of images of blood-red poppies begins and ends this thought-provoking and humbling show.
We’ve all been visiting the Fields of Mud in the Cathedral itself. Back in early October, that’s all we could see. A large brown rectangle of damp mud, surrounded by sandbags. This mud is from Passchendaele, and from a Great War military camp in Ripon. As, over the weeks, the wet earth dried and cracked, five ghostly, battle weary figures slowly emerged on the surface.
There are millions of ungerminated poppy seeds lying dormant in that mud. When the piece is decommissioned later this month, it will be broken up and segments will be made available to the public to create their own memorials. This work’s legacy can continue indefinitely.
About a fortnight ago, the figures are beginning to take shape.
Notoriously hard to photograph….
This astonishingly moving and evocative piece is the inspiration of Dan Metcalfe: his farming background has given him an understanding of mud. It’s disagreeable, destructive and even dangerous, as every WWI tommy well knew. But it also harbours seeds, waiting to flourish and grow when conditions are right .
Now the figures are fully visible, as the mud which surrounds them has dried out. And so we can see that these are the same figures that have appeared round town, near North Bridge and the Cathedral itself, at Hell Wath and Rotary Way: and in nearby Sharow, where the British Legion home for former service personnel used to be. These soldiers, and a nurse appear as silhouettes, made from rusted metal, and they are trudging home, their backs to the conflict and facing the future.
This tommy is facing the burial ground of the former soldiers who ended their days at peace in the British Legion home at Sharow, Ripon.
Walking home from North Bridge, Ripon.
Walking across fields at Hell Wath, Ripon.
Ripon city has recently made us keenly aware of the sacrifices made in the Great War. But the poppies, the Fields of Mud are not the whole story. Tomorrow, on Remembrance Day, I’ll show you Ripon’s Remembrance Light Show.
Ripon has been a city for well over 1300 years. Founded by a saint – Wilfred – it’s been under the control of the Vikings, the Normans, and more recently Harrogate Borough Council. It’s been a religious centre, a market town, a textile town. These days it’s no longer so important. But those of us who live here tend to like this quiet unassuming place with a past to be proud of.
Come for a day trip, and you’ll head straight for the Cathedral, built and destroyed and rebuilt several times from the 7th to the 15th centuries.
After that though, we could go and look for a Ripon not mentioned in the guidebooks. It was by chance that I found a charming oasis of calm, tucked away yards from the city centre and known to few. It once housed a non conformist early 19th century ‘Temple’, of which all that remains is the Dissenters’ Graveyard. A secret, quiet place, you’ll have it all to yourself.
Walk further up the road and you’ll find The Crescent, set back from the road behind a spacious gardens. Now as then, back in the 19th century when the houses were built, it’s a fine address. Lewis Carroll thought so, He used to visit friends here, and compose songs and stories for their daughters. There’s a blue plaque to prove it.
Day trippers tend to go home for supper. Which is a pity. Wednesday visitors could go and watch bellringing practice in the belltower of the Cathedral. Hearing the bells tolling rhythmically and tunefully for practices, weddings, and on Sundays is one of the joys of Ripon life.
The bells swinging during practice – very noisy: earplugs will be worn!
Hard work, rhythmical work.
There are a lot of them….
Day visitors miss out too on seeing the Ripon Hornblower setting the watch, as the postholder has done every single night since 886 and the time of Alfred the Great. The Wakeman, employed by the city, blows his horn in all four corners of the market square to announce the watch is set and that citizens can sleep safe in their beds (these days the watch is provided by North Yorkshire Police I suppose). Then he goes off to tell the mayor, who may be watching tv, having a bath or an evening down at the pub, or at the cinema … no matter. The mayor needs to know.
The Market Square, where the Wakeman does his job.
Wakeman at work.
I could show you the Leper chapel, or the house where Wilfred Owen lived. I could take you down ancient ginnels, or along the canal which was Ripon’s transport hub once upon a time. Or you could make your own discoveries. It’s a city you can enjoy exploring in your own time.
This week’s WordPress photo challenge is called Tour Guide. Click on any image to see it full size.
This post is for you, Ros. You’re a friend I would never have met except through blogging. And you’re coming to visit us soon. Where shall we explore first?
One of the bells of Ripon Cathedral sounded this morning: sonorous, measured and slow. The pancake bell. It’s rung out every Shrove Tuesday for centuries now, just like other bells in other churches, countrywide. It reminds good Christian folk to come to church and confess their sins, before Ash Wednesday. Some also believe it was to remind thrifty housewives to use up their eggs, butter and milk before fasting during Lent.
Nowadays it’s a signal to gather outside the cathedral and have a bit of fun. Somebody has already cooked a pile of pancakes. No point in making lacy delicate crepes. These pancakes are in for a tough time as props in the annual pancake race. Contestants have to run from the Cathedral, down Kirkgate, pan in hand, tossing as they go …. onto the pavement, as often as not.
I watched teams from the Rotary Club, from local primary schools, from the Italian restaurant down the road.
Sadly though I missed seeing the clergy do their bit: things to do, places to go. It all seemed amiably uncompetitive. Just a chance to chat to the Hornblower (who keeps us safe through the night here in Ripon), to friends, and to take a few snapshots of this happy little Shrove Tuesday tradition.
David from the Rotary Club gets a bit of practice in.
The Ripon Hornblower keeps a friendly eye on the proceedings.
Children from Holy Trinity School tussle it out.
Later, much later, Malcolm and I had pancakes too, delicate lacey ones, served with lots of sugar and lemon juice. We tossed them of course. But we didn’t run down the street with them.