Notes from the Library (No.4, March 2011)

Ye Curtall Fryer

Though most of the items in the possession of the Society are concerned with the history of Leeds, no Librarian is going to turn away material of real interest from nearby. Such was the case with the documents relating to the Ripon Millenary of 1886. This remarkable collection in our Archives consists of all kinds of detailed records of the event, from the initial moves to the final reckoning.

The Ripon Millenary was a huge enterprise. It sprang from an old (unfounded) tradition that the city had been granted its first charter by King Alfred in 886, so the start of the year 1886 provided an ideal moment for the city to consider celebrating its own history. The Provisional Committee came up with a series of proposals on 26 March, amongst which were a procession through the city to a service in the Cathedral on the first day, ‘The Festival to be devoted to the performance of Old English Sports and Pastimes at Fountains’ on days two and three, the striking of a ‘Commemoration Medal’, and that ‘any profits which may be derived from the Festival be equally divided between the Ripon Dispensary and Jepson’s Hospital for Orphan Boys in Ripon’.


Ticket to Fountains Abbey for the performanceOnce the general outline had been approved, the need for a director of the whole project was felt. A man who was making his name in this role at the time was a Mr D’Arcy Ferris (‘Ferrers/Ferrars’ as he sometimes signs himself). D’Arcy Ferris was a devotee of the values of ‘medieval’ society and everything that could be was presented in something like a medieval mode. By this time the civic procession on the first day had been joined, on days two and three, by a separate and far more elaborate historical pageant telling Ripon’s story from the ‘Druidical Period’ to the present, which (by permission of the Marquess of Ripon, the owner) was to progress from Studley Hall to Fountains Abbey. The pageant was to culminate in a performance of a Robin Hood play. (Oscar Wilde was, incidentally, one of those who were approached to write one, but he appears not to have submitted an entry.)

programme cover for Ripon Millenary D’Arcy Ferris proclaimed himself ‘Ye Master of Ye Revells’ in the Market Place on 26 August at some length, and also announced the ‘great and gorgeous pageant’ and ‘ye merrie geste of Robyn Hoode and ye Curtall Fryer’ for the coming Friday and Saturday, ‘at the beauteous grounds of Fountains Abbay’.
The pageant and play, complete with musical numbers, were duly performed on the 27 and 28 August and according to most reports were a resounding success – though there were hitches. The Ripon Gazette reported that ‘some numbers were not as well rehearsed as could have been desired, the difficulty being further increased by the carriage conveying the Lancers’ Band having broken down on the journey to Studley, which prevented any rehearsals of the choruses with the band taking place at all’. D’Arcy Ferris and the writer of the play, Augustin Dawtrey, together shouldered much of the labour of creating music and texts: ‘The words of the Festal March, the music of which was composed for the occasion by Mr. Ferris, were from the pen of Mr. Dawtrey, the whole fitly echoing in both music and song, the sentiments of our fellow citizens in their expressions of joy.’ The choice of music was eclectic: some was composed by Ferris and Dawtrey, one was ‘an arrangement of an ancient Jewish melody still sung by the Jews in Germany’, and the ‘first and last choruses were taken from Hatton’s cantata “Robin Hood”’.

music for Ripon Millennary MarchThe final account for the Millenary did show a small profit, so that the organisers were able to present £89 2s 10d to Jepson’s Orphan Boys and £89 2s 9d to the Dispensary. The whole event had cost £1776 1s 11d. Of this, £53 10s 0d went to Mr Ferris, which he certainly seems to have earned – as the committee obviously felt, since they voted him a £15 gratuity in addition. ‘Mr. A. Dawtrey’ received £10 10s for the play, £1 17s 2d for music and railway fares from Nottingham (only £1 was for music), and £5 for Newspaper articles – were some of the enthusiastic reviews in-house creations? This compares with £37 10s paid to Messrs Collinson and Lickley simply for transporting ‘Foresters, etc.’ to Fountains for rehearsals – and possibly breaking down on occasion.

Much can be read about the Millenary in the voluminous printed account of the festival: Ripon Millenary, a Record of the Festival; Also a History of the City arranged under its Wakemen and Mayors from the year 1400, (W.Harrison Printer, & Publisher, Ripon. Imprinted in the Year 1892. (The copy in the Thoresby Library was that presented to Mr F.M. Walbran, a relation of one of the key contributors on the history of Ripon.) What the Thoresby Library can provide is contact with the actual material that was handed out, sent, handed in, sung from, and no doubt cursed over, but in any case handled.. It should perhaps be said that we possess no manuscript material. There are invitation cards, tickets for the play (one made out to ‘Maistresse Hargrave’), the final printed accounts, a text of the play, a photograph of one of the leading actors (Mark Landon); there are four newspapers: one separate Gazette supplement (26 August 1886), two copies of the Ripon Gazette, one with and one without Supplement (2 and 9 September respectively), and one copy of the Ripon Observer (4 September 1886). All contain accounts of the celebrations. There are also the printed decisions of committees, ‘Ye Bille of Fare’ for the refreshments at Fountains, advertisements for the Millenary Record, short histories of Ripon prepared for the occasion, programmes of the pageant, etc.

programme for Ripon Millenary


I have to confess an interest in writing about the Ripon Millenary: A sketch of D’Arcy Ferris, by himselfmy Grandmother was one of the Flower Girls in the Pageant (Edith Tattersall – with her friend, Lily Nobbs). That, of course is one of the excitements of a celebration of such magnitude, it embraces so many families. But it also reaches out to a wider world of scholarship. One of the best articles on D’Arcy Ferris and the Ripon Millenary is by John Marshall, in an academic study of Robin Hood (’Riding with Robin Hood: English Pageantry and the Making of a Legend’, in The Making of the Middle Ages: Liverpool Essays, ed. by M. Costambeys, A. Hamer & M. Heale, Liverpool University Press, 2007).

Local history is never just local.


A sketch of D’Arcy Ferris, by himself, expecting a
long wait for the Millenary Record.


All illustrations are from the Thoresby Society’s collection.


Copyright ©Peter Meredith and the Thoresby Society, 2011