On this post I will highlight the places we visited and the best things to see and best things to do in Ramsey.
Ramsey is a small market town in Cambridgeshire, about 9 miles from Huntingdon, 17 miles from Peterborough and 30 miles from Cambridge.
It started as a small island in the middle of the Fens when in AD 969 a Benedictine abbey was built on the highest part of the island. The abbey grew to become one of the most important monasteries in England. By 1200 the town had grown sufficiently for the abbot to get a grant for a weekly Wednesday market. The market served the locals and was not in a travel route, so never able to compete with bigger markets such as St Ives. For these reasons Ramsey has never raised from being a small market town like St. Albans, Bury St. Edmunds and others did.
The dissolution of the monastery happened in 1539, and Sir Richard Williams (known as Cromwell) who was the crown grantee at the time, used the monastic buildings to benefit with profit. He sold the building materials from the abbey and many famous buildings were built using stones removed from it. Buildings such as King’s College and Trinity College in Cambridge, the towers of Ramsey and Godmanschester parish churches as well as other buildings in the area were also built with materials from the abbey.
The Cromwells continued exploring the abbey site until the end of the 17th century when Sir Henry Cromwell started the construction of the present Ramsey Abbey House on the site of the abbey—and guess what?—also using materials from the abbey. His son Oliver Cromwell run into financial difficulties and sold the house to Sir Sydney Montagu in 1627. He took up residency in Ramsey in a house considerably smaller than what it is today. In 1737, Coulson Fellowes bought the house. In 1839 the house was enlarged and altered following a design by Edward Blore, a famous architect in the 19th century. In 1889 Coulson’s son, Edward Fellowes was created the 1st Baron of Ramsey and the house remained in the family until 1937 when the Fellowes leased the house for 99 years to Ramsey Abbey School. In 1952 Major The Hon. Henry Rogers Broughton gave the gatehouse to the National Trust in memory of his late wife The Hon. Diana Broughton (née Fellowes).
Today there is very little to see of the Abbey. The remains are the 15th century Abbey Gate House ruin that belongs to the National Trust, its wall separating the church and the Abbey Green also built with materials from the abbey.
The basement of the Ramsey Abbey house incorporates part of what survived of the 13th century Lady Chapel including the remains of an original window and internal walls and arches.
Ramsey Abbey School occupied the house for many years but since 2015 it remains empty since the school moved to new buildings in the grounds of the estate. There used to be tours to the basement to see the Lady Chapel and the Ramsey Abbey House main rooms, mainly in September on the English Heritage days, but since the pandemic these tours stopped and I’m not sure when they will return. To be fair, the house is in a very bad estate of repair, and it might not be possible to visit for safety reasons. It is a shame, because the medieval ruins and the house is of a beautiful architectural design and deserves to be restored to its original glory. There are still 13 years left on the original 99 years lease at the time of writing. Hopefully the house will survive these remaining years and some restoration work can be done at the end of the lease. It would be great if the house itself could also be given to the National Trust or English Heritage.
There is also Booth’s Hill that is the remains of a castle from the 12th century. Most of the abbey buildings were demolished after the Dissolution and Booth’s Hill passed to the Ramsey family. In 1830’s the Ramseys built an ice house to store the food throughout the year on Booth’s Hill. This is one of the few ice houses that survived as an example. Booth’s Hill is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and is home to a variety of plants and animals nowadays.
Within the Abbey grounds there is also the Ramsey Walled Garden. This was restored some years ago by volunteers with donated money. The garden was brought to life again and it is run by volunteers. Entrance is free and is open on Sundays and Bank holiday Mondays from 2 to 5 pm, from April to October. It is a very well-maintained garden, and you can buy seasonal fruit and vegetables as well as plants and fresh garden produce. The entrance to the Walled Garden is via the Ramsey Rural Museum. Well worth visiting.
In the Green near the Abbey Gate House is St Thomas a Becket Parish Church. Originally, it was a hospital and guest house for the abbey, but it was later converted into a church in the 13th century. It is also an attractive building, and the tower was built with stones from the abbey as mentioned previously.
Ramsey had much of its buildings destroyed during the English Civil War, the population was affected during The Great Plague, and fires in the 17th and 18th centuries contributed to a major destruction. It started to resurge again with the arrival of the railway in the middle of the 19th century, but this only lasted until 1948 when it ceased operations. Most of the buildings nowadays are of 19th century construction but there are about 70 listed buildings and two 17th century buildings that survived, The George Inn Hotel/pub and the Jolly Sailor pub.
Another interesting place to visit when in Ramsey is The Ramsey Rural Museum. The museum covers everything agricultural through the ages. There is a mock chemist, a cobbler’s shop, a library, and a bank from the olden days. This is a very interesting visit especially if you have kids. There is also a replica of a period fenland cottage, with furnishings and all. The museum opens from April to October from 10 am to 5 pm and there is a fee to pay to get in.
In August every year there is the highlight event of the town: the 1940’s weekend. It takes place usually in the middle of August on a Saturday and Sunday. People come from the towns and villages around and from far way to enjoy this event. Some come dressed up in 1940’s costumes, men in uniform, ladies in florals or furs and stockings. There are period vehicles such as war tanks, jeeps, motorcycles, and vintage cars. There is a big marquee where they serve drinks and some bites to eat, and you can seat and enjoy the Glen Miller style band playing, and dance if you wish. There are also many stalls selling second hand vintage clothes and objects from the era. There is a lot to see and entertain yourselves in this event and it’s well worth a visit.
In September there is the Heritage Open day, which is usually a Sunday in September. On this day you have a free bus available from one site to another and you can have free access to the Walled Kitchen Garden, Mortuary Chapels, Rural Museum, St Thomas A Becket Church, Abbey House & Lady Chapel (if open), Gatehouse, and an artisan market in the Great Whyte.
The Great Whyte is one of the main streets in Ramsey and where many shops, cafes and the weekly market are. It is very wide and underneath it there is a river that was covered by tunnels built in 1852. This river was what made Ramsey an island and the ideal place to build the abbey.
A Memorial Clock was erected in the Great Whyte in 1888 in memory of Rt Hon Edward Fellowes, 1st Baron of Ramsey, by his widow and the people of Ramsey. This became one of the main points of town nowadays.
Ramsey also is home for Ramsey Golf & Bows Club that was formed in 1922, but only became a golf course in the present site in 1965 and a 18 hole golf course in 1968.
Ramsey is a lovely little town, full of history and attractions, not to mention the beautiful countryside and the beautiful walks in town and around. It is the perfect place to explore in a weekend or even in a day out.
Below you will find a list of what to visit, where to stay and where to eat in Ramsey. I classified each place as follows:
BOLD – Visited, tried and recommended
NOT BOLD – Not visited or tried, but planning to visit or try and heard very good reviews
*** – Excellent
** – Good
* – OK
£££ – Expensive
££ – Fair and affordable
£ – Cheap
WHAT TO SEE IN RAMSEY
1 – St Thomas A Becket Parish Church – ***
2 – Ramsey Abbey House and the Lady Chapel – ***
3 – Abbey Gate House – ***
4 – Abbey Green – ***
5 – Booth’s Hill – ***
6 – Ramsey Walled Garden – ***
7 – Ramsey Rural Museum – ***
8 – The 1940’s Weekend – ***
9 – Mortuary Chapels – ***
10 – The Great Whyte – ***
11 – Memorial Clock – ***
12 – Ramsey Golf & Bows Club – ***
WHERE TO STAY IN RAMSEY AND AROUND
1 – Ramsey Rooms – Ramsey – 3* – £
2 – The Stables – B & B – Kings Ripton – 3* – ££
3 – Pointers Guest House – Wistow – 5* – £
4 – Lakeside Lodge – Pidley – 4* – £
WHERE TO EAT IN RAMSEY AND AROUND
1 – The Bengal – Indian – Ramsey – *** – £
3 – Marmaris – Turkish – Ramsey – * – £
4 – The Jolly Sailor – Pub – Ramsey – ** – £
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