Unusually, because it was not fully a borough, in 1295 Ripon sent two MPs to the Model Parliament and then sporadically afterwards until regular representation was established following the accession of Queen Mary in 1553. Ripon became a typical Rotten Borough.
A view dated 1915
As lords of the manor and founders of the burgages, Archbishops of York influenced the elections till the end of the 17th century when the Aislabies of Studley Royal took control of the voting rights by purchasing large numbers of the burgage properties. Ripon's entitlement to be termed city is relatively modern, deriving from the creation of the diocese of Ripon in 1836 when the minster became the seat (cathedra) of the diocesan bishop. There is no record of the honour having been conferred earlier by Royal Proclamation . With local government re-organisation in 1974 Ripon lost its entitlement but as one of a group of historic towns, honorary city status was conferred by the Queen.

The 1379 poll tax returns included some 38 cloth-workers and 25 leather workers amongst the 583 tax-payers of Ripon, Bondgate and Aismunderby representing a 14th century population estimated at around 1200; it had risen only to 1700 by the 17th century.

Towards the end of 16th century plans were well advanced for a theological college in Ripon - a university of the North - on the 15th century Bedern (Old Deanery) site, but financial or other considerations persuaded James I, in 1604, to re-constitute the minster with a Dean and Chapter instead.

The Wakeman's House c1900.
Through the good offices of Wakeman Hugh Ripley, the town also was granted a charter giving it borough status with a recorder, mayor and corporation and elevating the office of Wakeman to that of mayor. 1862 eventually brought higher education to Ripon with the establishment of a diocesan training college for women elementary school mistresses.

In 1713 plans were put in hand for a racecourse to be laid out on the High Common and races, one meeting a year, soon followed. Mrs Aislabie of Studley Royal was criticised for sponsoring possibly the earliest ladies= horse race in which 'nine of that sex rid astride, dress'd in drawers, waistcoats and jockey caps, their shapes transparent, and a vast concourse to see them'. With the enclosure of the Common in 1826, racing had to stop. It re-started in 1837 with a two-day meeting on a new course north of the river Ure. In 1865 a course was laid out off Whitcliffe Lane, but that proved dangerous. Racing moved to Boroughbridge Road in 1900.

The Spa was Ripon's early 20th century attempt to improve its economy. A sulphur spring was known in Stonebridgegate from 1760 (the capped well is close to the boundary between the Stonebridgegate gas holder site and Williamsons), but a scheme to bring sulphur water from Aldfield, discovered in 1698, to the fashionable Park Street area was preferred. In 1900 the Marquis of Ripon sold the Drill Field on Park Street for a pump room and pleasure gardens. Samuel Stead designed the art nouveau Spa Baths, of 1905. The Spa Hotel opened in 1909. Unfortunately the fashion for spa treatments had passed Ripon by and in 1947, the Ripon Spa scheme was abandoned.
River crossings have always been important to Ripon. Tracks between the fords anticipated the later road system. Bridges followed: Bondgate Bridge and Hewick Bridge are first recorded in the 12th century. Ripon's basic layout dates back well over a thousand years. Despite what the plaque on the obelisk says, in 1702, starting from a ,50 legacy to replace the old market cross the mayor, John Aislabie of Studley Royal, engaged architect Nicholas Hawksmoor (of Castle Howard fame) whose scheme for the market place echoed an entire Roman-style paved forum as well as providing a new pillory.
As a result Ripon acquired the earliest free-standing monumental obelisk in the country, Daniel Defoe described Ripon Market Square as 'The finest and most beautiful square that is to be seen of its kind in England'. The obelisk was restored and remodelled in 1781, largely at the expense of William Aislabie, to commemorate his sixty years as the longest serving Member of Parliament. Twenty years later William's daughter, Mrs Elizabeth Allanson, commissioned the fashionable architect, James Wyatt, to build the Assembly Rooms, now the Town Hall. As well as meeting for cards at the Assembly, from 1792, in the season, the local gentry had been able to enjoy the new theatre, purpose-built, on the corner of Park Street and Firby Lane.
The Obelisk in 1733
The Ripon Canal opened in 1773 to link the city to the navigable stretch of the River Ure, and via the Ouse to the Humber. Barges took butter, cheese, lead and bricks and returned with coal, but the Ripon Navigation soon lost money. Its death knell came with the Leeds and Thirsk Railway in 1848, which could bring coal from the Durham coalfields cheaper and quicker than the canal could from south Yorkshire.
To accommodate its growth the city spread north (to the old railway); south on the first world war Army Camp site; west - encouraged by the Studley influence and the Army Camp; and east - the former Varnish Works and Canal warehouses - where light industrial development has mostly occurred, and which the opening of the eastern by-pass in 1996 is likely to reinforce.

Soldiers had been billeted at Ripon on and off for over a hundred years before the outbreak of the First World War and the old racecourse at Hell Wath had been used for Territorial Army training for a number of years. To try to boost the economy, the Corporation was already negotiating for a permanent Army Camp so when war broke out Ripon was well placed for the construction of what became one of the largest army camps in the country accommodating some 30,000 soldiers, completely dominating the city. Captain Wilfred Owen, the poet, was posted to Ripon where some of his most important war poems were written in rooms taken for the purpose in Borrage Lane. After the war the camp reduced in size, particularly to the south. It came into prominence again during the 1939-46 war. Claro and Deverall barracks presently house the Royal Engineers.
© Maurice H Taylor 2000
Please click here for details of the Author
In the Beginning Custom and Tradition
The Church The Administration
The Hospital Chapels Law and Order
The Market Town and City