« PreviousContinue »
92 RIPON- continued.
WHARFE and WHARFEDALE
F all the divisions of our favoured island, the County of York has pre-eminent claims to the attention of that numerous class of the community who delight in reviewing the abundant beauties of their own insufficiently appreciated country. Comprising an area sufficient for a principality, meted by great
natural features, containing the proudest memorials of ancient piety and chivalry, as well as the most diversified and ingenious applications of modern science, it is, in itself, an epitome of the kingdom, and needs not the aid of its peculiar natural beauties to allure those who are uncertain whither to direct their steps with the greatest certainty of enjoyment.
There is however, unfortunately, another class of persons who are tempted to this particular part of the kingdom, not so much from inclination as necessity. Its mineral springs and salubrious climate offer a most powerful remedial influence to those for whom restoration to health would be the greatest earthly blessing. And it is not
less singular than fortunate that the central portion of the county, which is thus chiefly resorted to, has, within the compass of moderate excursions, an unusual variety of most interesting objects, by the inspection of which the mind may be refreshed and engaged, whilst physical strength is invigorated or attained.
It is on this account that the vicinity of Ripon is particularly deserving of consideration to those who would thoroughly enjoy their visit to Harrogate. Situated on the immediate verge of that “ Yorkshire plain," of which the competent judgment of Bancroft has affirmed the like is not to be seen on this side the Alps, yet elevated gently above commingling streams, on the last slope of the great western hills, its landscape scenery comprehends all those features on which a lover of the cultivated aspect of Nature loves to dwell,-pervaded everywhere by a feeling of order, tranquillity, and continuance, and enriched by those associations and memorials incident to a bye-past centre of progress and civilisation.
To the consideration of these monuments, and of the institutions which originated them, the greater part of the following pages will necessarily be devoted ; and seldom may he who recognises, even in local history, “philosophy teaching by example,” observe a more diversified series and intelligible development of those elements which have produced our present social and political condition.
As early, indeed, as shelter for himself and pasturage for his cattle were among the most pressing necessities of uncivilised man, it is evident that the advantageous position of this place would often induce its temporary occupation, and several conical pits on the “High Common” have been considered the site of these dwellings. Yet-even in this migratory and unsettled period—we have far more direct and conclusive evidence, that the immediate vicinity of Ripon was regarded with peculiar interest and veneration ; since one of the tribes of the Brigantian Celts had chosen it as their station for the dispensation of justice and the celebration of religious rites ; in fact, had made it the seat of their government. This positionnovel as it may be—is, I believe, sufficiently proved by a remarkable earth-work on the high land near “Blows Hall,” commanding extensive prospects up and down the Vale of Ure, as well as of the distant ranges of hills which form the side screens of the great Yorkshire plain. Like Abury and Stonehenge, which it rivals in antiquity, its outline is that of a circle, of which the diameter is not less than 680 feet; but no stones remain, nor indeed does that material seem to have been used in its formation. Though recent agricultural operations have partially effaced the regularity and proportion of its plan, it is sufficiently evident that it was enclosed by a lofty mound and corresponding trench—the latter being inside, and a platform or space about thirty feet wide intervening. This opinion, however, may be reduced to certainty, by inspection of the three similar temples at Thornbrough, near Tanfield, about six miles hence, one of which remains perfect. At two opposite points, bearing nearly north and south, the mound and trench, for about the space of twenty-five feet, have been discontinued, in order to form an approach to the area of the temple. Outside the mound, also, are some slight vestiges of a further avenue, but too indefinite to be traced. But, however obscure the denotation of its several parts may have become, the antiquity and purpose of the place, as a temple for the performance of Druidical rites, is satisfactorily ascertained by the existence of at least eight large Celtic barrows in its immediate vicinity; one of which, being on the very ridge of the vale, and planted with fir trees, forms a conspicuous and useful object to guide a stranger to the site. Two of these barrows were opened five years ago, but I found nothing but a few calcined human bones, the ashes of the oaken funeral pile, and some fragments of flint arrow-heads, such as are still used by the North-American Indians. Several bronze spear-heads and celts have, however, been found in the neighbourhood, within recollection.
There is, unfortunately, no access to the earth-work by a public path ; but its situation is rendered visible, from the high road leading from Ripon to Rainton, by the presence of two small pyramids or obelisks, built on the mound of the temple, about fifty years ago, in the place, it is said, of two similar erections, apparently of high antiquity.
It may not be unreasonable to believe, that a spring which rises in a piece of enclosed ground, called “Halikeld Field,” about midway between this earth-work and the village of Melmerby, was the "fons sacer” necessary for the due performance of Druidical rites ; and, in the absence of all direct evidence, may, by its consequent pre-eminent sanctity, be supposed to have given a name, in Saxon times, to the Wapentake of Halikeld, in which both it and the earthwork are situated. “ Hailekelde landes,” in Melmerby, are mentioned in charters of the thirteenth century.
Besides the remains of the temple, several evidenees of the Celtic occupation of the immediate neighbourhood of Ripon have been found in the shape of celts, Druid beads, and fragments of coarse pottery ware. The most interesting object, however, is a splendid golden torque, found about thirty years ago near Studley Hall, concealed between two large stones, which had probably once formed a portion of the substratum of a barrow. Within 640 yards of this place, and near some broken ground in Lindrick farm, was also found a large sword of bronze, which the discoverer-inheriting the spirit of the age when it had been fabricated-immediately threw away, lest, as he sagely averred, he might be bewitched by its possession.
The few opportunities that have favoured investigation of the soil have not presented proof that there was any considerable settlement, either on the site or in the immediate vicinity of Ripon, during the Roman period ; though its position, on a lingula of land declining between two converging rivers, and its proximity to their city of Isurium, may induce the idea that it was not entirely unoccupied by that people. Indeed, among the papers of the learned Gale, was the sketch of a tesselated pavement of that period, which was discovered here; and a small vase of Roman workmanshipnow in my possession—was found not many years ago at the depth of seven feet, on the west side of the “ Horsefair.” But these indicia, with a few silver and copper coins, dating from the reign of Vespasian to that of Constantine, turned up in and near the streets, comprehend, at present, all the evidence I can offer on the subject. The great Roman road, which here retained its name of “ Watling Streto" in the thirteenth century, passed the site of Ripon, at the distance of three miles, on the east; and a vicinal way still called “Roman Rigg”-stretching towards the exploratory camp behind Hackfall-may be traced through Lindrick farm to the river Laver, at an equal distance on the west side of the city.
Descending now to the period when written evidence imparts the assurance of detail and dates to our narration, we find that, as early as the seventh century, the industry of Saxon agriculturists was rewarded here by the fertility of the Vale of Ure. Alchfrid, king of Deira, or the southern portion of the kingdom of Northumbria, was lord of the soil, and here, about the year 660, bestowed on Eata, abbot of Melrose, a portion of ground whereon to erect a monastic foundation.
It is probable, notwithstanding, that the village which consequently arose might have remained in the same insignificant condition which was the doom of many places where monasteries were founded in the Saxon times, if it had not happened that, on the