Ramsey is a small Cambridgeshire market town, north of Huntingdon and St Ives. For local government purposes it lies in the
district of Huntingdonshire within the local government county of Cambridgeshire. The town manor is
built on the site of (and using materials from) the ancient
Ramsey Abbey, and is the seat of the
Lords de Ramsey, one of the major
landowners in Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire.
The remains of the
Abbey are now home to part of the town's secondary school.
Ramsey resulted from the amalgamation of the previous two
secondary schools, Ailwyn School and Ramsey Abbey School, and
caters for Years 7-13 which represents Years 7-9 (Key Stage 3), Years 10-11 (GCSE level) and
Years 12-13 (A Level) (Key Stages 4 and 5).
It currently has about
Every year, over the August Bank Holiday weekend, the town is home
to Ramsey 1940s Weekend, one of Britain's biggest living history
events. The event, held at nearby RAF Upwood, is dedicated to recreating the sights and sounds
of the 1940s and is held in aid of several local charities,
resulting in it being rewarded with a tourism award.
event features living history re-enactors, period dancing, food,
exhibitions and trade stands.
Original historical documents relating to Ramsey, including the
original church parish registers, local government records, maps,
photographs, and records of Ramsey manor
(held by the Fellowes family, Lords de Ramsey), are held by
Archives and Local Studies
at the County Record Office
Besides a Palaeolithic axe discovered in Victoria Road and seen as
a chance glacial find, there is no record of prehistoric finds from
the town. Roman remains are limited to stray finds of
Early and Middle Saxon Ramsey remains elusive. For the later Saxon
period, documentary evidence for the foundation of the tenth
century Benedictine abbey at Ramsey has been recently substantiated
by archaeological evidence for activity associated with the
Tradition has it that Ailwyn, foster brother of King Edgar
, founded a hermitage at
Ramsey. It received a series of substantial grants of land by King
Edgar who confirmed all the privileges in 975, including the
banlieu. The abbey experienced the transition to Norman rule
without difficulty and in the eleventh century it witnessed a
period of rebuilding. In the aftermath of the Civil War the
monastery was badly damaged and impoverished. However, during the
thirteenth and fourteenth century the house had a succession of
wealthy abbots who embarked on a series of costly building
programmes. The Black Death
prosperity to a temporary halt, and by the end of the fourteenth
century the house was financially decayed. The abbey soon recovered
and continued to thrive until its dissolution in 1539. At the
Dissolution the site of the monastery, its land and associated
granges at Bodsey
were given to Richard Williams, alias Cromwell
who dismantled the buildings and sold off the material. The
properties remained with the Williams/Cromwell until 1676.
The early history of the town is obscure. Ramsey is not mentioned
in the Domesday Survey
because it was part of Bury or because it belonged to the abbey
that, at that time, enjoyed royal privileges.
Throughout the medieval period Ramsey remained a small market town
serving the abbey and never developed into a borough.The original
settlement probably developed outside the abbey, along Hollow Lane.
By 1200 the town had grown sufficiently to obtain a weekly market
held at the junction of High Street with the Great Whyte and,
later, an annual fair held at the green by the church. During the
medieval period the Great Whyte was a navigable canal that ran
through the present road. It was culverted around the middle of the
nineteenth century.Properties along the Great Whyte appear to
represent secondary (post-medieval) development of the settlement.
Archaeological excavations have shown that this area was wet during
the medieval period due to the presence of the fen. A fire occurred
at Little Whyte in 1636 which destroyed some 15 tenements. A second
fire in 1731 destroyed a great part of the High Street.By the time
of the estate map, the village had expanded along the Great Whyte
and along the western end of the High Street by progressive
infilling of plots. Later editions of the OS Maps up to the 1970s
present a similar picture. Since the 1970s progressive increase in
the size of the population has prompted development around the town
and along Bury Road. The limits of the town of Ramsey and the
village of Bury to the south are not clearly defined, with modern
housing estates spreading across the urban boundary.
The bulk of the medieval economy was dominated by garden produce,
cloth trade and alehouse keeping. Fisheries also played an
important part in the fen economy, together with livestock.
Throughout the Middle Ages the waterways of the fenland formed
commercial and transport avenues that ran through the hearth of the
region. Enclosure was piecemeal and prompted by the abbey.Following
the dispersal of the estates of the abbey into lay hands in the
second half of the sixteenth century enclosure at Ramsey and
neighbouring parishes gathered momentum. Systematic drainage of the
Great Level from the seventeenth century increased the area for hay
and pasture which was progressively divided and allotted. The
parish was finally enclosed by official Act of Parliament in
The parish church of St Thomas a Becket was built c.1180-90 as a
hospital, infirmary or guesthouse of the abbey. It was originally
an aisled hall with a chapel at the east end with a vestry on the
north side and the warden's lodgings on the south, but both these
have been demolished. The building became the parish church
The parish church of ST. THOMAS OF CANTERBURY is built mainly of
rubble, but the aisles and other parts are of ashlar. The roofs of
the chancel and nave are covered with tiles and the aisles with
lead. The church consists of a chancel (22 ft. by 20 ft.), nave (93
ft. by 19 ft.), north aisle (13 ft. wide), south aisle (13 ft.
wide), north chapel and south chapel and west tower (14 ft. by 15
ft.), all measurements being internal.
The architectural history of this church is somewhat involved. The
present building, which was originally erected about 1180, is of
peculiar plan. The very small chancel, the long nave and the
absence of a tower from the original church, point, as the
investigators of the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments
suggest, to the building having been designed for a hospital,
infirmary or guest house. (The chancel would form the chapel, and
the nave the hall of such an establishment. As in the case of all
monasteries of Pre-Conquest foundation, the parishioners of Ramsey
doubtless had rights in the monastic church. After the introduction
of stricter rule and more elaborate services in the 12th century,
particularly the Sunday Procession, the parochial services,
probably at Ramsey as elsewhere, interfered with those of the
monks. Hence, accommodation for the parishioners was no doubt made
by a parochial chapel outside the monastic church, but possibly at
a later date than was customary elsewhere if the present church had
been originally an infirmary.
This late 12th-century building consisted of a chancel, with north
and south chapels, nave and aisles. The south chapel was destroyed
about 1310, before, or at the time that the early 14th-century
window was inserted in the south wall of the chancel, but the north
chapel was standing in 1744. The aisles were apparently rebuilt
about 1500. The west tower was built in 1672. There was formerly a
south porch, destroyed in 1843, which probably belonged to the
period of the rebuilding of the south aisle about 1500. A north
vestry was built on the site of the north chapel in 1910, and the
church was restored in 1844, by Mr. E. Fellowes, when it lost some
of its ancient fittings, including a chancel screen and some old
glass. The gallery was removed in 1903.
The chancel is vaulted, and is lighted by a large east window of
three round-headed lights, deeply splayed, above which is a
vesica-shaped window and high up in the gable a round-headed
window, now blocked, which at one time lighted the space over the
vault. In the south wall is an early 14th-century window of two
pointed lights with a trefoil above in a roundhead, and farther
west is a doorway of about 1600, with a four-centred arch in a
square head. In the north is a doorway of uncertain date, leading
into the modern north vestry. The vestry has a late 15th-century
north window of three cinquefoiled lights, with tracery in a
four-centred head, taken from the east wall of the north aisle. In
the south wall of this vestry are the remains of the vaulting
shafts, with cushion capitals for the vault of the 12th-century
chapel which stood here. Similar remains for the vaulting shafts of
the south chapel are still preserved outside the south wall of the
chancel. The 12th-century chancel arch has a two-centred head, and
the responds have scalloped capitals and moulded bases. There was
formerly a chancel screen stretching across the nave and aisles at
the first pier, which was taken down in 1844.
The nave was formerly of eight bays, but one bay has been embedded
in the western tower. The arcades are very fine examples of
12th-century work. The arches are all two-centred of two plain
orders, but the piers, although corresponding in the pairs opposite
one another, differ, each pair from the other, some being of
grouped shafts, others round and octagonal. The capitals in like
manner differ, some scalloped, others have water-leaves and
volutes. Over the second pier on each side is the entrance, now
blocked, to the rood loft, indications of which may be seen on the
south side. The clearstory, consisting of seven windows of two
cinquefoiled lights in four-centred heads on each side, is of
15th-century date. The north and south aisles have windows of
similar detail each with three cinquefoiled lights in a
four-centred head, all of about 1500, and the north and south
doorways are of the same date.
It was apparently intended to build a west tower in the early part
of the 16th century. John Lawrence, the last abbot of Ramsey, by
his will dated 29 February 1537–8, directed that £13 6s. 8d. should
be paid 'towards the building a stepull in the parish church of
Ramsey when the town will build it.' The town at that time seems to
have built only 'a low wooden steeple,' which fell down and was
replaced by the present tower in 1672, from material taken from the
monastic buildings. This west tower is of four stages, with
embattled parapet and crocketed pinnacles at the angles. The tower
arch is two-centred, with semi-cylindrical responds, having two
attached shafts, scalloped capitals and moulded bases. The west
doorway is also of 12th-century material, re-set, probably, from
the original west doorway. Over the doorway on the outside in a
panel is the inscription, 'Take heed, watch and pray for ye know
not when the time is. S. Mar. 13, 33.' In the west wall of the
second stage is a 15th-century window of two cinquefoiled lights
re-set, over which, in the third stage, is another window made from
re-set material. In the bellchamber is a window in each wall, made
up from 12th-century and 13th-century material and a 12th-century
stringcourse re-used. A beam of the bell frame bears the
inscription, '1672 Nevill Jones et Thomas Wallis,
The blue marble hexagonal font of about 1200 was found about 1844
buried below the floor of the aisle. It has a circular central
shaft and six angle shafts.
The 15th-century oak lectern has a steep double rotating desk,
supported on a square stem with four traceried buttresses
surmounted by figures of the evangelists. It has been restored. On
it are the Paraphrase of Erasmus and Comber on the Book of Common
Prayer. The latter still has a chain attached to it.
There are the following monuments:In the north side of the chancel
William Henry Fellowes (d. 1837)
Mary Julia widow of Edward first Lord de Ramsey (d.
Edward Fellowes, first Lord de Ramsey (d.
on south side of chancel, to
Emma relict of William Fellowes (d. 1862).
The glass of the east window was given in memory of the Fellowes
In north aisle, toJames Smyth, surgeon (d.
Carina wife of Edward Day (d. 1867)
Coulson Churchill Fellowes (d. in France 1915);
above is a
standard of the Life Guards;
on east wall, to James Jones, agent to the Fellowes
estate (d. 1803);
and on the west wall, to Arthur Hubbard and Henry Flowers
(d. South Africa, 1899–1902)
windows to Private Leonard Fuller, Princess Patricia Canadian
Light Infantry (d. Flanders, 1915)
Harold Edward Langford (d. Kassasin, 1882)
Heneage Greville, Lord Guernsey (d. on the Aisne,
In south aisle, to Lance Corporal Ronald William Shelton, Royal
Fusiliers (d. at Cambrai, 1918)
Rev. James Saunderson Serjeant, M.A. (d.
Isabella Rebecca, wife of Capt. H. W.
Denison Adam (d. 1904);
tablet commemorating the gratitude of parishioners of Ramsey
for restoration of the church by Edward Fellowes, in
on west wall, to David Black, B.A., 2nd Lieut.
Lancashire Fusiliers (d. Poonah, 1892
window to Christopher Mawdesley (d. 1894), and
Catherine Jane his wife (d. 1895).
There are said to have been four bells before the building of the
tower in 1672, housed in a low wooden steeple. These four bells
were, with some additional metal, cast into five. There is a
sanctus bell, which is uninscribed and probably old. The other six
bells were all cast in 1810 and five, and possibly the sixth, by R.
Taylor, of St. Neots.
In the churchyard eastward of the chancel is the shaft of the
14th-century churchyard cross, standing about 9 ft. high. The head
has been lost.
The present vicar of St Thomas A Beckett - Canon Richard
A weekly market was probably held by 1200. The grant was confirmed
by Henry III
in 1267 who also
granted a fair on the vigil and feast of the Translation on St
Benedict and for two days following. The bulk of the trade was
dominated by garden produce.Fisheries also played an important part
in the fen economy. The abbey cartulary contains references to
detailed arrangements concerning the granting of fisheries and
fishing rights around Ramsey Mere and Whittlesey Mere, with rents being often paid in
Livestock and in particular cattle was also an
important element of the local economy. Portions of fen were
reclaimed for both arable and pasture throughout the medieval and
later periods. Meadow and pasture were regulated by common rights.
accounts of disputes between the major abbeys of Ramsey, Thorney and Ely about profits and limits of their
Among the occupations there were weavers and fullers
with others who were connected with the cloth trade. There were
also tanners. The most prosperous trade was that of alehouse
keeping which suggests that Ramsey had facilities for travellers.
The market had lost its prominence in the 18th century to St Ives,
and by 1881 'St Ives has drained our market of cattle, and only a
few pigs are now its staple', and survived as a pleasure market
Sport and Recreation
Ramsey has a King
in memorial to King George V