RIPON’S hornblower - who every evening sounds a horn in the city as part of an ancient ceremony – has stepped down saying he feels “uncomfortable” and “bewildered”.

Every evening since 886, the city’s hornblower has carried out the Setting of the Watch in the North Yorkshire city's market square.

It involves blowing a horn at all four corners of the Market Cross every night - an event believed to be the oldest, unbroken daily ceremony in the world.

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But now current hornblower, Councillor George Pickles, 76, has resigned from the position he has held since 2004.

He says modern-day contractual clauses prevent him speaking freely to the media about why he decided to step down.

“Unfortunately during my years as an employee of Ripon City Council there have been times when I have felt a little uncomfortable, and over the past year on occasions a little bewildered.

 

“Consequently over recent months I have given much thought to my position, and now that 2012 with its Jubilee and Olympic celebrations is over I have decided, albeit reluctantly, that the time has come for me to resign from the position.”

The ceremony dates back to Alfred the Great's visit to Ripon when he decided to grant it a royal charter.

 

Having nothing to present the townsfolk, he gave them a horn instead, still in existence at the town hall.

He also advised the city to appoint a wakeman to patrol the city through darkness, looking for Vikings - sounding the horn at 9pm to let people know the “watch was set”.

 

Since then, not a night has gone by when the ancient ritual has been missed and it is believed to be the oldest, unbroken daily ceremony in the world.

Mayor of Ripon, Andrew Williams, said Coun Pickles said the news had come as a surprise.

He paid tribute to the dedicated watchman, saying: “To have to turn out every night in all weathers is an onerous responsibility. George has done a tremendous job over the last eight years and has been a terrific ambassador for the city, welcoming tens of thousands of visitors.”

Ripon councillor Stuart Martin said if Coun Pickles went ahead with his resignation, the council would recruit another hornblower.

 

“We have a number of deputies, so we’re confident that over a thousand years of tradition won’t come to an end,” he said.

“But that’s not the same as having the tradition carried out in a really professional manner day, after day the way George does it.”