St Thomas a Becket, Ramsey
High Street, Ramsey
Ramsey shown within Cambridgeshire
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Ramsey is a small market town and parish, north of Huntingdon and St Ives within the historic County of Huntingdonshire. For local government purposes it lies in the district of Huntingdonshire within the non-metropolitan county of Cambridgeshire.
The town grew up around Ramsey Abbey, a Benedictine monastery. The town manor is built on the site of (and using materials from) the ancient Abbey and is the seat of the Lords de Ramsey, major landowners in Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire. The remains of the Abbey are now home to part of the town's secondary school. Abbey College, Ramsey resulted from the amalgamation of the previous two secondary schools, Ailwyn School and Ramsey Abbey School.
Ramsey Rural Museum, on Wood Lane, is housed in 17th-century farm buildings and is a small museum dedicated to the history of rural Fenland life.
Every year, over the August Bank Holiday weekend, the town is home to 1940s Weekend, one of Britain's biggest living history events. The event was held at RAF Upwood until 2011 and is now held at The Camp, Wood Lane. It is held in aid of several local charities and is dedicated to recreating the sights and sounds of the 1940s. It 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Original historical documents relating to Ramsey, including the original church parish registers, local government records, maps, photographs, and records of Ramsey manor (held by the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 Cambridgeshire Archives and Local Studies at the County Record Office Huntingdon. There is a Post Office in Ramsey.
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 pottery.
Early and Middle Saxon Ramsey remains elusive. For the later Anglo-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 pre-Conquest monastery.
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 civil war between Stephen and Matilda the monastery was badly damaged and impoverished. Geoffrey de Mandeville expelled the monks in 1143 and used the buildings as a fortress. 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 brought 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 and Biggin were given to Richard Williams (alias Cromwell) who dismantled the buildings and sold off the material. The properties remained with the Williams/Cromwell family until 1676.
The early history of the town is obscure. Ramsey is not mentioned in the Domesday Survey, either 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 by 1854 with a brick tunnel, giving the town its characteristic wide main street.
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 1801.
On the evening of 31 January 1941, a German spy Josef Jakobs parachuted into the Ramsey area, near Dovehouse Farm. Jakobs broke his ankle during his descent and was unable to move from his landing site. The next morning at around 8:30 a.m. Jakobs fired his pistol into the air to attract attention. Two local farmers (Charles Baldock and Harry Coulson) were passing by, heard the shots, and found Jakobs lying on the ground under his camouflage parachute. The farmers summoned the local Home Guard, who took charge of Jakobs. The German spy was caught wearing his flying suit and carrying British currency, forged papers, a radio, and a German sausage. Jakobs became the last person to be executed at the Tower of London.
The building of the parish church of St Thomas a Becket of c.1180-90 began 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 c. 1222.
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 Edward 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, churchwardens.'
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 to
William Henry Fellowes (d. 1837);
Mary Julia widow of Edward first Lord de Ramsey (d. 1901);
Edward Fellowes, first Lord de Ramsey (d. 1887);
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 family.
In north aisle, to James Smyth, surgeon (d. 1848);
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, 1914).
In south aisle, to Lance Corporal Ronald William Shelton, Royal Fusiliers (d. at Cambrai, 1918);
Rev. James Saunderson Serjeant, M.A. (d. 1882);
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 1843–4;
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 Becket is Canon Richard Darmody.
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 of 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 eels.
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. There are accounts of disputes between the major abbeys of Ramsey, Thorney and Ely about profits and limits of their commons.
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 selling trinkets.
In the nineteenth century, Ramsey had its own gas company and this was run by Edmund Broadberry, one of the Broadberry dynasty of gas engineers.
Ramsey wind farm
Abbey Renewables erected a 225KW wind turbine at Ramsey in 1993, one of the first in the UK. It was replaced with a 1.8MW turbine in 2008. In 2011, Abbey applied to Huntingdonshire Council for permission to add a further 4 turbines to create a 5-turbine wind farm capable of powering over 5,000 homes.
Sport and recreation
Ramsey is well served by local buses, having regular and direct routes to St Ives, Huntingdon and Peterborough as well as from nearby villages. There is no current railway station at Ramsey, although two previous stations served the town on different lines - Ramsey North railway station and Ramsey East railway station.
- Ramsey Rural Museum website
- "Details of Jakobs trial and execution". www.stephen-stratford.co.uk. Retrieved 2 June 2012.
- "UKIP takes control of first council". BBC News. 13 May 2011. Retrieved 16 May 2011.
- Hunts Post "Ramsey Vicar To Walk 70 Miles For Charity" 10 January 2010
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