The Green at the centre of the village is an archetypal English vision, along with cricket matches and thatched cottages. Not, you would think, applying to a place like Ripley.
And yet it once did: the Market Place in the eighteenth century was known as “The Green”, and was just that: a place where the twice annual fair took place (although it was then a horse fair and hiring fair rather than a funfair) and animals were kept. At one end of the sloping space (near where the Thorn Tree now stands) was a well, the main water source for the village, and the thorn tree, though some say it was an elm, under which John Wesley is said to have preached on his one visit to Ripley in 1742, and which ended up in John Marshall’s zoo gardens on the roof of his premises in Oxford Street. There might also have been a pinfold, an enclosure where stray animals were kept until claimed by their owners on payment of a small fee, and a bullring, and a farm.
The Green didn’t last. As far back as 1714 it was quarried for stone to repair the roads, and by the 1860s, the Market Place was surfaced in stone and gravel, a venue for the increasingly popular market. In the early 1900s it was paved, and in the 1960s remodelled. It was then that the excavations revealed the presence of the well, which was promptly filled in.
It acted as an assembly point: there were riots at election time in 1868, striking miners gathered there in 1874 and in 1914, the first of the Sherwoods formed up there to march off to war in 1914. The stage coaches of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century rattled through, stopping at the Red Lion, The White Lion or the Thorn Tree. Later, a wagon set off from the Market Place to take passengers to the new Ripley railway station, first situated on Peasehill. The trams never reached it, but much later the buses did, and by the 1930s there was car parking and mobile fish and chips vans parked there.
In 1880, the new Town Hall, modelled on a French chateau, and a symbol of the civic pride of a village now grown to a prosperous town, replaced a market hall which in turn had replaced “one of the best houses in town” The White House. Until 1974 and the opening of the A38, the increasingly busy main road passed through it, provoking complaints that Ripley was being suffocated by the fumes from traffic exhausts, as well as a spate of traffic accidents.
Finally, in 1992 the area was again remodelled, bringing back the trees that had once stood there. It may still be what D.H. Lawrence called “the cold little town that shivers on the edge of the wild, gloomy country beyond” but at least, as Spring arrives, there is some green on The Green.