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Customs and traditions

Many of Richmond's historic customs and traditions are still celebrated in the town today.

In a town as old as Richmond, you would expect it to have plenty of its own ways and traditions. After all, this is what gives a place its unique character. Delve a little into Richmond's colourful past and you will find, amongst other things, a specially minted coin, an excuse to share an autumnal glass of wine in the Market Place, a rather sinister horse and a much-loved festive parrot. Read on!!

A special Richmond shilling is given to Richmond residents, in a tradition dating back to 1576, when Queen Elizabeth I granted the town its charter.

Originally given to the poor, the coin is now given to any local person over the age of 60. The Mayor distributes the audit money from from Trinity Church curtilidge or the steps of the Town Hall, usually on the second Saturday in December.

Since 1986 the ceremonial coin has shown a view of the castle and river with the words ‘Mayor’s Audit Money Richmond – North Yorkshire’ on the face side. The reverse depicts the Richmond Coat of Arms with the words Mater Omnium Richmondiarum, meaning the Mother of all Richmonds.

The Pancake Bell

Rung on Shrove Tuesday at about noon, the ringing bell originally called people to confession, and acted as a reminder to eat up their eggs and milk by making pancakes before Lent began.

The Passing Bell

Rung on the day of the funeral of a local person, the passing bell tolls a number of times in relation to the age of the deceased. In recent times, during Covid, the bell has been rung to coincide with the funeral cortege passing through the centre of the town so that people unable to attend the funeral could pay their respects.

Trinity Church Bells

 

This ancient custom involves the presentation of a sackful of newly-threshed corn to the Mayor by a local farmer. The Mayor hands this over to a miller, who examines the corn. When he passes favourable judgement on its quality, the Mayor presents the farmer with a bottle of wine. Other bottles are opened and bystanders are invited to join in a toast to the good harvest.

This ceremony – which still takes place today in the Market Place on a Saturday in mid-September – links Richmond with its medieval origins, when the people were dependent on the success of each year’s harvest. Corn was grown on the three great open fields to the north of the town: Westfield, Gallowfield and Eastfield.

Ceremony of the First Fruits

 

The Duck Race is one of the main fundraising events for the Richmond Duck Club, which exists to raise money for young people in the town and its surrounding villages.  

The race takes place on May Day bank holiday and it's quite a sight to see 2,500 plastic ducks tipped into the River Swale from the Green Bridge and serenely float downstream, over the waterfalls to the finishing line at the Batts near the Station Bridge. Money is raised through ticket sales and prizes are awarded for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place as well as the last duck home.

Photo credit: Airborne Artwork

Duck Race

 

HMS Richmond, a Type 23 Duke Class frigate, entered service in 1995 and is the seventh to bear the name, having been built by Swan Hunter on Tyneside in 1993.

HMS Richmond was granted the Freedom of the Borough in 1996 and the ship’s company last exercised Freedom rights in February 2005 when it marched through the town’s streets.

Find out more about HMS Richmond.

The ancient tradition of giving the Freedom of the Town goes back to the Middle Ages.

It is probable that the practice started among the thirteen trade guilds of Richmond where the main purpose was both to ensure a good quality of goods produced in the town, and also to act as a 'closed shop' and keep traders from outside the town from working in Richmond.

In recent years it has been bestowed as an honour to recognise particular services given by individuals and groups to the town, with ceremonies usually taking place in the castle or the market place.

Amongst the recipients are various military regiments and the Royal British Legion. Bestowing the Freedom of the Town allows the regiments to march through the town on ceremonial occasions.

Honorary Freedoms of the Town

 

Markets and fairs have always been of vital importance to the economy of the Richmond and today the town still hosts an outdoor market on Wednesday and Saturday with a daily indoor market in the Market Hall.

Markets were initially held to help broaden access to a wider variety of goods and provide an outlet for local producers to sell on their goods and produce.

The first markets were authorised by the Earls of Richmond from 1093 onwards and Royal Charters quickly followed. The first known Royal Charter dates from 1155 and in 2005 Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall visited the town to celebrate the 850th anniversary of that first charter.

Under the Charter granted by Elizabeth I, the Town has the right to collect tolls and fees for any markets, fairs etc. held within a 6 and 2/3 mile radius of the Town.

People were able to buy specialist items brought in by merchants and pedlars from far and wide. During the Whit Weekend, a travelling fair still comes to Richmond.

The ‘Poor Old Hoss’ appears in Richmond’s Market Place every Christmas Eve, making his way around the town. Originally a pagan creation, it is a hobby horse with a decorated horse’s skull as its head and is accompanied by a group of mummers in huntsman costumes. He snaps his jaws as the huntsmen sing the song of his life; from a bright young creature who then grows old and is eventually killed. His resurrection completes the ritual, representing the passing of the old year and the beginning of the new. Seeing Old Hoss is thought to bring good luck.

There is a display on Old Hoss at the Richmondshire Museum and a painting depicting the ritual hangs in the Town Hall.

the-old-hoss

 

This custom goes back to the Royal Charter given to the town by Elizabeth I in 1576 and states that the Mayor – accompanied by councillors, officers and townspeople – should beat the bounds of the town every seven years.

In modern times, this takes the form of a 15-mile walk around the perimeter of the town. It usually takes place on the last Wednesday of August, allowing children to join in during their summer holiday. The next Boundary Riding is scheduled to take place in 2025.

Accompanying the walk is a procession that includes:

The Pinder, carrying as Pioneer, the Axe for the removal of any obstruction to the progress of the Riding.
The Banner Bearer, with the Town Banner. He is followed by an ATC cadet carrying the Freedom Sword presented to the Town by the RAF Regiment when they were given the Freedom of the Town
Two Halberdiers carrying their halberds and wearing their cloaks
Two Macebearers carrying the Great Mace and the Restoration Mace
The Mayor carrying the Mayor's Silver Mace in civic robes, accompanied by the Town Clerk
At some points along the route, proclamations are made against the adjoining parishes and Lords of the Manor.

The proclamation:

Oyez Oyez Oyez. I do in the name of the Mayor, Aldermen and Burgesses of the Borough of Richmond, Lords of the Manor and Borough of Richmond in the County of York hereby proclaim and declare this to be the ancient and undoubted boundary of the said Manor and Borough against the Manors or Lordships of:

Hipswell/Hudswell, Easby, Aske, Hipswell/Hudswell

God Save the Queen and the Lords of the Manors.

At two points along the route the Mayor is carried on the back of the Waterwader to the centre of the River Swale as the boundary at these points runs along the centre of the river. It is not unusual for the Mayor to get wet at these stages!

Having proceeded along the boundary to Sandford House where an outbuilding straddles the boundary, the Mayor casts a stone over the roof to denote that the boundary runs through the building.

At the completion of the walk, the Town Clerk records the names of all who completed the full distance of the boundary and they receive a certificate.

Septennial Boundary Riding

 


It is one of Richmond's many little quirks, and something which baffles visitors and newcomers to the town – why do the Christmas decorations include a parrot?

The answer lies in a book, The Christmas Parrot, written in 2003 by Tom Carr (a teacher at the old Richmond Grammar School). According to the story, the parrot was bought as part of a job lot from Blackpool illuminations many years ago. There were many other random decorations but the parrot seems to have been embraced by the town and now enjoys celebrity status.

The Richmond Christmas lights are funded and organised by Richmond Duck Club, a charity which raises cash for young people in the area.

Oh yay oh yay. Richmond has its own town crier who announces around 15 special events every year. If you are in town on one of these days, you will no doubt hear the proclamations echoing around the Market Place.