The oldest free-standing monumental obelisk in these islands still to survive is in the Market Place of Ripon (Pl. 26a). That it has not been recognized as such by historians either of Ripon or of art is due to its inscription, which runs:
ERECTED AT THE EXPENSE OF
WILLIAM AISLABIE ESQUIRE,
WHO REPRESENTED THIS BOROUGH
IN PARLIAMENT SIXTY YEARS.
THE MAYOR, ALDERMAN AND ASSISTANTS
OF RIPON ORDERED THIS INSCRIPTION,
THE HONORABLE FREDERICK ROBINSON,
Despite the 1781 date four illustrations exist showing it before then, S. and N. Buck’s town prospect of c. 1745, Thomas Parker’s town prospect (Pl. 26c), and Thomas Gent’s elevation, the two last illustrating Gent’s History of Ripon of 1733, and Samuel Buck’s drawing of c. 1720 (Pl. 27a). There are, in addition, two written descriptions of it earlier than 1781, the earliest being Daniel Defoe’s, published in 1724, but based on a visit made probably in 1719. He wrote:
. . . the market place is the finest and most beautiful square that is to be seen of its kind in England. In the middle of it stands a curious column of stone, imitating the obelisks of the antients, tho’ not so high, but rather like the pillar in the middle of Covent Garden; or that in Lincoln’s Inn, with dials also upon it.