Ramsey Abbey was founded in 969 by Saint Oswald, Bishop of Worcester through the gift of a local magnate, Æthelwine. The foundation was part of the mid-10th century English Benedictine reform, in which Ely and Peterborough were also refounded. It paid 4000 eels yearly in Lent to Peterborough Abbey for access to its quarries of Barnack limestone. The important Ramsey Psalter or Psalter of Oswald (British Library) appears to have been made for it around 980. This is not to be confused with another Ramsey Psalter in the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York (MS M. 302), made between 1286 and 1316.
A Prior and twelve monks formed the original foundation. The Abbey itself was then situated on a peninsula of gravel, known as Bodsey Island, with the impassable fen to three sides. The chapel was replaced by a large, stone-built church over the next five years and thus remained until the Norman Abbot created a much grander project in the 12th century. It was thought to have been founded by Earl Ailwyn (Æthelwine), an effigy of whom is thought to be within the Abbey dating from 1230.
Considerable damage was inflicted upon the Abbey by Geoffrey de Mandeville in 1143; he expelled the monks and used the buildings as a fortress.
The abbey prospered until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539 and was an international centre of Hebrew scholarship in the late Middle Ages. At the time of the Dissolution there were still 34 monks. Stone from the abbey was used to build Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, King's College, Cambridge and Trinity College, Cambridge. The Abbey lands were sold to Sir Richard Williams (alias Cromwell). Sir Henry Cromwell started to build the present country house (now a school) on the site.
In 1737 the abbey was bought by Coulson Fellowes, MP for Huntingdonshire from 1741 to 1761. It passed down through several generations of Fellowes, who became the Barons de Ramsey, during which time the house was substantially enlarged. In 1931 the family moved their seat to Abbots Ripton Hall at the coming of age of the 4th Baron and in 1937 leased the building for 99 years to Ramsey Abbey School. In 1952 they donated the gatehouse to the National Trust, who allow it to be used as part of the school.
The Abbey today
Ramsey Abbey House, the Gatehouse, Almshouses and the parish church can still be seen.
Ramsey Abbey House, the former 17th century home of Sir Henry Cromwell and latterly the seat of the Fellowes family, is currently used by Abbey College to house 6th form facilities and to accommodate lessons.
The Abbey Gatehouse is a National Trust property. Part of the gatehouse was removed by the son and heir of Sir Richard (Sir Henry Williams (alias Cromwell)) to form the main gateway to Hinchingbrooke House in Huntingdon, his newly built winter residence. Today, what remains of the gatehouse also forms a part of the college.[a]
The town's parish church of St Thomas Becket was built ca. 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 ca. 1222.
When Whittlesey Mere was being drained, a thurible and other silver items were found in the bed of the mere and from the ram's head on one of these pieces were believed to have come from the Abbey. The thurible (or censer), and an incense boat are now in the Victoria & Albert Museum. Also found in the bed were blocks of quarried stone, which are supposed to have fallen from a barge on the way to the Abbey.
- The new establishment "The Abbey College, Ramsey" was formed from the amalgamation of Ramsey Abbey School with the adjacent Ailwyn School and has been operational from September 2006, leaving the previous two names defunct.
- Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1911). "Ramsey Abbey". Catholic Encyclopedia 12. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
- "Fellowes Family". Retrieved 12 May 2013.
- "Ramsey Town". ramseytown.com. Archived from the original on 14 May 2008.
- "Ramsey Abbey Gatehouse". nationaltrust.org.uk.
- "About Hinchingbrooke House". Hinchingbrooke House and Performing Arts Centre.
- "The Ramsey Abbey Censer". ramseyabbey.co.uk.
- "The Ramsey Abbey Censer". vam.ac.uk.
- "The Ramsey Abbey Incense Boat". vam.ac.uk.
- "Ramsey Abbey Stones". Yaxley History.
- Lapidge, Michael, ed. (2009). "Ramsey in the Time of Byrhtferth". Byrhtferth of Ramsey: The Lives of St Oswald and St Ecgwine. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press. pp. xv–xxix. ISBN 978-0-19-955078-4.
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