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Sister Cities Join Ripon in Birthday Celebration

December 07, 1986|FRANK RILEY | Riley is travel columnist for Los Angeles magazine and a regular contributor to this section

RIPON, England — An almond blossom festival in California, the birthplace of the Republican Party in Wisconsin and a young English lord who sponsors walking tours of the Yorkshire Dales from his 32,000-acre estate--all share ties to this cathedral city that will close the yearlong celebration of its 1,100th birthday on New Year's Eve.

Presiding over the anniversary celebration, which has included a luncheon with Her Majesty the Queen Mother, has been His Worship the Mayor who drives a taxi when he isn't wearing his ceremonial gold chain of office.

Mayors and visiting delegations from the almond city of Ripon, Calif., and the college town of Ripon, Wis., where the Republican Party was born, have also been here to celebrate the birthday of their English namesake and sister city.

Annual golf tournaments will bind the ties between the Yorkshire and California Ripons, and the lord's walking tours agency will take English clients to California's Big Sur while inviting Californians to enjoy low-cost walking tours of the English dales.

The president of Ripon College in Wisconsin has conferred an honorary degree upon his counterpart here at the College of Ripon and York St. John as the beginning of an educational exchange program.

Anonymity Preferred

In this Yorkshire countryside a famous author who prefers to be an anonymous veterinarian created the basis for a popular TV series with such best-sellers as "All Things Bright and Beautiful" and "All Creatures Great and Small," written under the pseudonym of James Herriot.

Ripon is a gateway to the Yorkshire Dales, which are bright and glowing valleys in contrast to the brooding beauty of the Yorkshire Moors.

Ripon has tales enough to fill a Herriot novel, as my wife Elfriede and I have discovered after arriving here during our wanderings along the byways of England with novelist James A. Michener and his wife Mari.

Every evening for 1,100 years the City Hornblower has sounded his horn at the Ripon Market Place. He holds a position of honor, and there are backup horn blowers so the continuity is never broken.

In the early centuries the sound of the horn was a stern reminder to potential felons that the Wakeman, as the mayor was known, would provide security to householders during the night and that the perpetrator of any crime would be pursued mercilessly. For this security every householder paid an annual toll of 2 pence for each door to his house.

Tranquil Herriot Country

In this anniversary year Mayor Roland Simpson's small Yorkshire city is a tranquil bit of Herriot country. The motto on the town hall reminds the community: "Except ye Lord keep ye city, ye Wakeman waketh in vain."

St. Peter's Cathedral of Ripon, older than the city charter, paraphrases the town hall motto by reminding town folk that true security comes from recognizing that "The Lord is here." St. Wilfrid consecrated the cathedral on June 29, AD 672.

A stone from the crypt of the Yorkshire cathedral is set in the altar of St. Peter's Church in Ripon, Wis. In the early 19th Century immigrants from Ripon in England settled in the Wisconsin community and named it after the town they had left.

During its early years Ripon, Wis., was a utopian socialist experiment that prospered into a free-enterprise community. In 1854 a business and civic leader, friend of New York Tribune publisher Horace Greeley, triggered the founding of what was to be the Republican Party of Abraham Lincoln in a little white schoolhouse, to unite the country against the spread of slavery from the South.

This was a story my wife Elfriede and I shared with the Micheners here in Yorkshire. We had met as students at Ripon College in Wisconsin.

A Namesake City

Ripon, Calif., on California 99 between Modesto and Stockton, was founded in the late 19th Century by a settler from Ripon, Wis. During America's Bicentennial year of 1976, the Ripon in Yorkshire sent its mayor and a delegation to the Almond Blossom Festival in Ripon, Calif. Replicas of the Hornblower's Charter Horn from the year AD 886 were presented as Bicentennial gifts to both the California and Wisconsin Ripons. All three cities range in population between 6,000 and 8,000.

The English city stands on the edge of the Great Plane of York, at the confluence of the rivers Ure, Skell and Laver, about halfway between London and Edinburgh. Medieval streets leading from the Market Place have remained virtually unchanged since the 13th Century. A 90-foot obelisk has been a visual focal point of the square since 1781.

Architecture around the square ranges from the 12th Century to the Georgian character of the town hall. Treasures on display in the Town Hall include the AD 886 horn, encased in velvet.

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