Ripon’s first female horn-ringer; “I feel very proud. It only took 1,131 years!

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Several evenings a week at 9 p.m. sharp, Allison Clark stands in Ripon Market in her gray and red uniform and a tricorn hat, blasting a 300-year-old horn through the small North Yorkshire town. She then walks to a special lamppost outside the mayor’s house and gives three more blasts of the horn to signal that the homework has been done. The mayor comes out, Clark bows and says, “Mayor, the clock is set.”

“Thank you, Madam Snowblower,” comes the response.

Clark is part of a team of four Ripon horn blowers that carry on an ancient nighttime tradition that dates back to 886, when Ripon’s first citizen was appointed to protect the town from Viking invasion and general crime. He was responsible for crime prevention from 9 p.m. until dawn and had to compensate victims of burglary.

There is no known time that the horn blowing service was missed, but during WWII it was moved to 6 p.m. earlier to avoid regular blackouts. “A lot of places have bell ringers or town criers,” says Clark, “but no one has a horn ringer and certainly not a tradition like this that has the longevity of ours.”

Ripon’s horn sounders (Photo: Allison Clark)

Clark is a former military teacher who now works as a medical assistant and lives in Ripon with her husband and daughter. She helps plan a rotation with fellow horn blowers Richard Midgley, Wayne Cobbett and Jim Vauvert, so that every evening, without fail, one of them sets the watch. The days change every week, depending on each person’s professional and family commitments, but each does it between two and four evenings a week. And there is flexibility for quick changes when needed – for example, if England makes the World Cup final and the horn on duty is a huge football fan, or if there is a family emergency. “For anything unexpected, one of the team members will cover,” said Clark. I.

The risk is greater that one of them forgets. “I have a dashboard pinned to my wall. I put an alarm on my phone and encourage others to do the same and tell our families that we are hitting the rocks tonight. We have to check, check, check! “

Clark, who was appointed in 2017, is the first female horn player in Ripon’s long history. “I feel very proud,” she said. “Sometimes people ask me if I’m the first wife and I say, ‘Yes. It only took 1,131 years! ‘. I haven’t had a negative reaction but I think sometimes people expect a man and think he should be. But I keep going, do my best and prove that I am dedicated to the task. In our team of blowers, we all support each other, and there is absolutely no distinction with them because I am a woman.

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The inhabitants respect tradition. “Sometimes there are kids hanging out in the market place,” she says, “but they’re usually really good and say, ‘Hey, the bell ringer is here’ and walk away. They’re using it as a sort of curfew. Sometimes I say: do you mind? I’m just gonna make the explosion. You can come back in a few minutes.

Blowing’s life exceeded Clark’s expectations.

“It doesn’t sound like a huge commitment, because I really like it. Even on a very cold night, it’s so rare that no one is there to watch, and you think to yourself, “It’s wonderful that someone else came specially to see this. It’s a performance, but you have to do it with conviction and enthusiasm, because it may be the first time they see it, or they may never see it again.

It never occurred to Clark to opt for the role when a vacancy was advertised in the newspaper, but when her brother came from overseas he told her she would be good at it. for that. She enjoyed meeting the public, was not shy and had a connection to the Forces, so understood behavior, standards and dress. She decided to give it a go. An advertisement for the part-time position on the council’s website at the time said the work was being paid £ 8.72 per hour.

Allison Clark on Remembrance Day 2021 (Photo: Allison Clark)

While the job was a surprise in Clark’s life, his fellow horn-ringer and neighbor Richard had dreamed of the role since he was a child. He remembers going to school in Ripon and a horn ringer came to give a lecture. At the end, Richard asked him if he could blow the horn, but was told, “I’m so sorry, only horn blowers are allowed. Richard replied, “Well, someday I’m going to be a horn-ringer.” “

What no member of the horn blowing team imagined is that their unbroken tradition could be threatened by a pandemic. It was decided last year, because no precedent had been set for a lockdown, that the team should set the watch in their own backyards. “The sound went through town so people could hear it in the community,” says Clark, “and we streamed it live on Facebook, then texted the mayor to say it was done, so that a recording can be made.

“Sometimes we did it in the front garden instead of the back garden, because we had a very loyal and regular small audience that came to listen, so we were just trying to create a little bit of interest instead of sticking around. in the same place doing the same thing. “

The horn blowers worked in isolation from March 2020 until July of this year when they finally returned to the market. “We were happy to be back,” says Clark. “We really missed meeting the visitors. It must have been powerful and heartwarming to continue playing in such extraordinary times? “We’ve had great feedback from people online from places beyond Ripon thanking us for continuing. We were sending back messages saying, ‘Sleep safe. Hope all is well where you are.

“It also maintained a routine for us during the lockdown which was beneficial to us as we had to be in full uniform and everything had to be as it would have been under normal circumstances. The city council insists that the watch should be set with dignity, so it’s not like we can do it in our pajamas.

Despite the nights getting darker and colder, Clark adds, “I love this time of year. On a beautiful starlit night the moon has set, you look out across the city as you sound the horn and feel like you are part of the story.


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