Ripon Cathedral Music Trust aims to preserve 1,300 years of heritage

Ripons renowned choristers with the Very Reverend John Dobson and Sir Andrew Lawson-Tancred

Ripons renowned choristers with the Very Reverend John Dobson and Sir Andrew Lawson-Tancred - Credit: Archant

How Yorkshire’s smallest city has big plans to build on its musical heritage

Ripon Cathedral

Ripon Cathedral - Credit: Joan Russell

Ripon Cathedral has a 1,300-year history of choral excellence stretching back to the Benedictines, who had a strong tradition of singing and founded a monastery on the site of the modern city in the seventh century.

An unbroken line of musicality has run through the centuries since, linking the atmospheric chanting of the ancient monks to the uplifting voices of the current cathedral choir, which has a national reputation for excellence.

But after the closure of Ripon Cathedral Choir School in 2012 and the ongoing struggle to fund such an immense building – a struggle echoed at cathedrals across the country – questions have been asked about the future of music at the hill-top church.

And now, after much deliberation and debate, an answer has emerged and a major appeal has been launched to guarantee the future of music at Ripon Cathedral with the aim of raising £5 million over the next five years.

Market day in Ripon

Market day in Ripon - Credit: Joan Russell

Sir Andrew Lawson-Tancred, chairman of the newly-formed Ripon Cathedral Music Trust, said: ‘Music at the cathedral currently costs some £250,000 a year, which comes out of the cathedral’s overall operating budget. This is already at full stretch and the plan is to establish a separate fund for all the music department’s running costs which will ensure this valuable musical heritage is secure for the future.’

The music department, which is also responsible for maintaining the organ and other musical instruments at the cathedral, is led by director of music Andrew Bryden and includes six lay clerks (professional adult singers) and up to 48 choristers drawn from local schools. In addition to singing at the cathedral, future plans for the choir include an inclusive outreach programme involving schools and communities across the region.

Trustees of the appeal include the Right Reverend James Bell, Bishop for Ripon, and Tom Ramsden, High Sheriff of North Yorkshire, as well as Philip Arundel, Andrew Kitchingman, Richard Graham, Richard Abbott and Stuart Ritchie QC.

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To date, patrons of the Trust include Lord Crathorne, who has recently retired as Lord Lieutenant of North Yorkshire, and the Very Reverend John Dobson, Dean of Ripon Cathedral, who said: ‘I believe the experience of worshippers and visitors is significantly enhanced by the quality of the music and it is a key part of the daily services which are enjoyed by so many.

‘Without the choir and the music we would have a strangely silent building and a 1,300 year-old history of choral excellence would cease. We all look forward to working with other musical groups and those who share our passion for music as we start on the road towards our target.’

The appeal was kick-started by a £500,000 donation from fundraising events organised by Ripon Cathedral Development Campaign.

‘We have set ourselves a challenging target but have made a good start,’ said Sir Andrew. ‘We have plans for many exciting events in the future including a London performance by the choir in April at Lambeth Palace.’

He believes the campaign could also mark the start of an exciting new phase for the city as a whole as it repositions itself as a centre of musical excellence.

‘The city needs to be more focused on what it has to offer and have a more cohesive plan,’ he explained. ‘We have a great many attractions, but the cathedral is undoubtedly the most prominent, so it seems right it should be at the heart of our plans.

‘It’s important for the city that it becomes identified with something, and music seems the most obvious choice. As a city, Ripon has built a strong reputation for music. We already have the cathedral choir, St Cecilia’s Symphony Orchestra, the Cathedral Concert Society and its chamber music season, and, of course, Ripon International Festival.’

The Very Reverend John Dobson, who took over as Dean of Ripon Cathedral last summer, believes now is not only a good time to reposition the city in terms of its visitor offering, but also the church itself and its relation to the wider North Yorkshire community.

He has overseen the launch of a far-reaching consultation process to ascertain what the church can do for the region, with the interim results due to be published this month.

‘We are actively trying to get people to see us differently, not as Ripon’s parish church but as the cathedral for the whole region,’ he said. ‘York is a unitary authority and looks after itself, so we are the cathedral for North Yorkshire. This is a huge responsibility but also a huge opportunity.

‘Our aim is to put people in touch with God, each other and themselves, and that means developing the cathedral as part of Ripon’s visitor offering. Not everyone believes they have faith, but no one can fail to be impressed by this magnificent building.’

It’s always been a place close to John Dobson’s own heart, even though he’s spent the last 25 years across the great divide in Teesside.

‘I used to joke that I could look over the River Tees and see the promised land,’ he said. ‘I’ve always loved this cathedral. It’s got grand style but not on a grand scale, and it’s this human dimension that has always particularly appealed to me.

‘Ripon has huge potential. We just have to build its confidence so it can make the most of its unique charm.

‘This truly is God’s own country and we are very fortunate to live here. This makes it all the more important that we celebrate the God-given blessings around us at every opportunity.’ n

For more information about how to make a donation to Ripon Cathedral’s Music Trust appeal, email, call 01765 603583 or click on