A History of the County of Huntingdon: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1932.
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Ramsey, the largest parish in Huntingdonshire, lies on the Cambridgeshire border. It consists almost wholly of fen-land which falls in many places to only 3 ft. above the ordnance datum. To the south, however, at the Bury boundary, the land rises to 44 ft. The parish measures some seven miles across from east to west and about five miles from north to south and comprises 16,969 acres, nearly the whole of which, being rich fen-land soil, is under cultivation; there is comparatively little pasture and no woodland. It forms a part of the Middle Level of the Fen-land area, the story of whose drainage will be told elsewhere. The principal crops are market garden produce, particularly potatoes and celery, and recently sugar beet. The parish boundaries formerly ran through the marshes and meres of the fen-land and were not clearly defined, but since the reclamation of the fens they have become limited by streams and drains. On the north and east they follow the county boundary, which having been also the division between the lands of the abbey of Ramsey and those of the abbey of Thorney and the Bishop of Ely, were in the 14th century for a long time questions of dispute. Probably the cross called St. Bennett's Cross, the site of which is still marked at the point where the Ramsey and Warboys parish boundary leaves the county boundary, was erected when these disputes were settled by judgment of the court. There is a detached portion of the parish at Higney in Woodwalton parish, and Hepmangrove, formerly a part of Ramsey parish, was attached to Bury (q.v.) about the time of the Dissolution.
The early privileged area of the abbey was the BANLIEU (banleuca, leucata, leugata or lowy), nominally the distance of a league around the abbey. It is uncertain how the rights over this district were acquired. The abbey had the usual extensive liberties of a pre-Conquest monastery including soc and sac, but the first mention of the leugata or banlieu is in an undated charter of Henry I of 1100–2 (fn. 1) which was confirmed by his grandson Henry II by another undated charter probably of 1155. (fn. 2) As at Ripon, where there was a similar leugata, the origin probably goes back to a date before the Conquest. In the case of Ramsey Abbey it no doubt began with the grant of Edgar confirmed by Edward the Confessor (fn. 3) conferring rights of sanctuary and exemption from episcopal and secular power, but the definition of area and rights probably belongs to the Norman period. By the charter of Henry I, the church of Ramsey was granted, within the leugata or banlieu, soc and sac, thol and team, infangentheof, forstal, blodwit, murder, treasure trove and all liberties pertaining to the crown and also quittance of views of foresters, assarts and all other pleas. Again by another charter of Henry I (1130), it was provided that the leugata around the abbey might be quit of all episcopal and secular power, and it is stated that the leugata extended to the little hill (monticulum) at Wistow and went through the middle of the vill of Wistow touching Raveley, and so into the marsh. (fn. 4) Pope Innocent in his bull of 1139 confirmed the leugata, 'as King Henry of good memory for his devotion to you granted and in writing confirmed.' This seems to suggest that the liberties granted by Edward the Confessor were defined and the banlieu probably formed by Henry I under his charter of 1100–2. (fn. 5) These liberties were confirmed by subsequent sovereigns and by various popes. (fn. 6) The abbots claimed, and were from time to time allowed, jura regalia by these charters. They had the return of writs and the right to receive original writs and to plead them before their own justices, to have their own coroners, two in number, and to plead pleas of the crown within the banlieu. (fn. 7) They also had treasure trove, the amercements of their tenants, chattels of felons and fugitives, (fn. 8) and their own prison in Ramsey which was delivered by their own justices. The court of the banlieu was held at first before the king's justices especially engaged by the abbot and later before the abbot's steward. The form of the writs and procedure were similar to those of the king's court. The court sat to the end of the reign of Edward II at 'Smithscroft' (fn. 9) and later in Ramsey at first three times a year but later once a year or less often. The bailiff was the officer of the court and the suitors were summoned by the rideman as at the Broughton Court. (fn. 10) In 1332–3 a court of 'the Liberty of Ramsey' was held usually at 'Baldewynesgate' but sometimes at 'Pracysgate' and 'le Garite.' It was always held after dinner (post prandium) and took cognizance mostly of pleas of debt. (fn. 11) It is uncertain, however, whether this court was that of the banlieu. The exemption from episcopal power was perhaps represented by the abbot's right to the spiritual jurisdiction of an archdeacon in the vills of Ramsey, and Bury. (fn. 12) The lands of the banlieu also formed a peculiar.
In 1279 and 1286 it was complained that although by charter the banlieu extended only to one league around Ramsey or from the high altar of the abbey church, the abbot had withdrawn places from the county and hundred courts which were from two to seven leagues distant. (fn. 13) A league is an uncertain measurement sometimes denoting one and at others two and three miles, but none of the leugatae (fn. 14) of which there were several in this country, was restricted to a uniform measurement nor a regular boundary. The charter of Henry I, already referred to, only defines the southern boundary running through the vill of Wistow and touching Great Raveley, the boundaries on all other sides are merely indicated as in the marsh. There are two perambulations of the banlieu, one in 1286 (fn. 15) and the other probably of a later date. (fn. 16) So far as the place names in them can be identified, the boundary of the banlieu follows very closely, if not precisely, that of Ramsey parish on all sides but the south. On this side it follows approximately the boundary between Ramsey and Warboys, then the boundary between Wistow and Warboys, passing through the village of Wistow to the boundary between Great Raveley and Upwood and following the northern boundary of Raveley to the point where it changes its direction to the north, then crossing the parish to the eastern boundary of Woodwalton and following that boundary where it joins the western boundary of Ramsey. Thus the banlieu seems to have included the parishes of Ramsey, Bury, Upwood, three-quarters of Wistow (fn. 17) parish and the small northern part of Great Raveley.
The town of Ramsey is situated on what was originally an island surrounded by Bury Fen on the south and Stocking Fen on the north and was approached, as the chroniclers tell us, by a causeway on one side only. The abbey stood on the highest part of the island some 23 ft. above the ordnance datum. Unlike the majority of pre-Conquest monasteries, it is not on a Roman road but lies on the verge of the fens some seven miles east of the Roman road called Ermine Street. The abbot's park stretched away to the east and on the west a town grew up to meet the requirements of the monastery and of the traffic which the abbey brought. Until the end of the 12th century the town was quite unimportant, it is not mentioned in the Domesday Survey (1086) when, and for some time later, it formed possibly a part of the parish of Bury or Wistow. (fn. 18) In 1130 Pope Innocent II confirmed to Walter Abbot of Ramsey the chapel of Bury 'where your servants hear divine service,' (fn. 19) which is suggestive that there was then no parish church at Ramsey.
By 1200 the town had grown sufficiently to make it worth while for the abbot to obtain a grant of market on Wednesdays. (fn. 20) Henry III confirmed this right in 1267 and at the same time granted a fair on the vigil and feast of the Translation of St. Benedict and for two days following. (fn. 21) The fair merely served the needs of the immediate neighbourhood, for the position of Ramsey in medieval times on the outskirts of the fen and on no main line of traffic, precluded any competition with the neighbouring fair at St. Ives. For this reason Ramsey never rose above the position of a small market town; it never became a borough, nor did it ever return a member to parliament. Justice was administered at the court of the banlieu, and at the abbot's courts leet and view of frankpledge. The reeve and later the bailiff of the town were the abbot's officers who carried out the orders of his courts. (fn. 22) Under them the constable arranged for the policing of the town. (fn. 23)
Like the townsmen of St. Albans, Bury St. Edmunds, Wells and other towns which had grown up under the shadow of monasteries, the men of Ramsey rose during the disturbed condition of the country at the end of the reign of Edward II, in order to gain the independence and freedom which were so necessary to a trading community. When Edward III in April 1327, the first year of his reign, visited Ramsey with his mother and Roger Mortimer, the townspeople, both men and women, acclaimed the abbot before the king as a traitor and accused him of taking a great part of the treasure of Hugh le Despenser, then lately hanged. They challenged the abbot's right to the market of Ramsey and asserted that he unjustly withheld from them common rights and other liberties. (fn. 24) The abbot was put to great expense in rebutting these claims and appealed to the Bishop of Ely to represent to the king and the council 'the insolences of the townsmen,' who, he said, persisted in their rebellion notwithstanding the offer of a compromise regarding a disputed right of way. (fn. 25) The controversy, though cloaked under the guise of claims to various rights, as we know from similar risings elsewhere, had at its base the desire of the townsmen to raise their status from villeins to burgesses. The government became alarmed at these widespread confederacies which led to riot and bloodshed, and no doubt the dispute ended at Ramsey as it did elsewhere, by the subjection of the men of the town to the abbey.
We know little of the trade at Ramsey in medieval times. It was mainly agricultural but there were weavers and fullers and others connected with the cloth trade who were presented from time to time at the abbot's court for charging their customers too highly; and fishermen who had special rights for drying their nets. (fn. 26) Tanner, too, was a common surname in the town. (fn. 27) Apparently a most prosperous trade was that of ale-house keeping, for we find as many as fifty-four women at a time presented for selling ale contrary to the assize, (fn. 28) which suggests a concourse of travellers requiring refreshment.
The lines of the streets have changed little since the town was originally laid out. No doubt the approach to the abbey and town has always been by the present road from St. Ives and so along the High Street to the market place, past the church to the open space which always lay outside the great gate of the larger monasteries. Here the retinues of the more important visitors to the abbey assembled and here apparently the fair was held. Near by probably were the inns of the barons or knights of the honour of Ramsey, who in turn were in residence for the protection of the abbey, as at the monasteries of Durham, St. Albans and elsewhere. (fn. 29) Westward of the church was the market place, which occupied the whole space between the High Street and Little Whyte, including the island site. Here, as at other market towns, the market place became built over at an early date, certainly as early as the 15th century when Little Whyte, which occupies a part of it, appears. A fire occurred in Little Whyte on 29 August 1636 when 'fifteen commoning tenements' were burnt down and others damaged. (fn. 30) No houses built before the fire have survived. The present houses are mostly of brick with tiled or slated roofs. The Great Whyte, formerly known as the Whyte (Wythte, le Withe, le Wygthte) turns northwards from Little Whyte; its name goes back to the 13th-century. This and the High Street suffered a like fate to Little Whyte. A great part of the High Street was burnt on 21 May 1731, when all the houses from the School House to the High Bridge on the north side and many of those on the west side of Great Whyte were burnt. (fn. 31) A group of interesting 17th century houses at the bottom of Great Whyte, however, survived the fire. This group includes the George Hotel which has a staircase and parts of the back premises of the early part of the 17th century, but its front has apparently been rebuilt. Eastward of the George Hotel are two 17th-century houses and also the Rose and Crown Inn which bears the initials and date E.H. 1661. The timber framing and plaster of these houses have been largely renewed with brick.
Great Whyte is a peculiarly wide street and formerly included in its width a stream which ran from Wistow and Bury and became the High Lode north of the Great Whyte. The High Street passed over this stream by the Great Bridge or the Old High Bridge said to have been of one pointed arch. The stream down Great Whyte was covered in by a tunnel of three spans, begun in 1852 and finished two years later. (fn. 32) Very few houses here were built before the fire of 1731; the Seven Stars Inn on the east side has remains of 17th-century work and a cottage with overhanging upper story farther north on the opposite side of the road probably belongs to a century earlier. The western part of the High Street was known as Bridge Street (Brigstrate) which led to the Great Bridge. This part of the town seems to have been developed at the end of the 13th century when plots (placeæ) of land were being set out for building. (fn. 33) Other 14th-century names of streets are 'le Kolane,' 'Le Nunnestrate' and 'Turverslane.' Turning off to the west on the St. Ives Road, a little south of the railway station, is Biggin Lane which appears in the early part of the 14th century as 'le Byggyngwey.' (fn. 34) This lane led to the moated grange of the monastery called the Biggin. We have reference to 'Leperes Lane' in Ramsey (fn. 35) and land in Hepmangrove next 'Leperislane, (fn. 36) which would permit of the identification of Lepers Lane with Biggin Lane. In a court roll of the time of Edward II it is recorded that John de Pappeworth fell into the infirmity of leprosy whereby he could not mix with his neighbours at Ramsey, therefore it was ordered that no one henceforth should receive him. (fn. 37) The Biggin may originally have been one of the small leper houses which, when that disease became almost stamped out in the 14th century, were turned to other uses. (fn. 38) Before 1352 Biggin had become a grange supplying the household of the abbey with dairy produce such as milk, butter and great quantities of cheese and bacon, while its garden produce went to the guest-house of the abbey. It was a manor which had a mill but had no customary tenants owing work services. (fn. 39) Biggin remained parcel of the possessions of the monastery until the Dissolution, when it passed with other Ramsey property to Richard Cromwell. Sir Philip Cromwell, brother of Sir Oliver Cromwell, was living here in 1606. The house was pulled down about 1757 and a door bearing the initials H.C. (for Henry Cromwell) was taken to Ramsey House. (fn. 40) A toft in Biggin was conveyed in 1316 by William the Smith of Upwood and Beatrice his wife to Robert le Ferour and Joan his wife; (fn. 41) and in 1333 Joan, as a widow, granted it to John the Cook of the infirmary for eight years and twelve weeks after her death. (fn. 42) Adjoining Biggin Lane was Beterestrate or le Beteris-strate the position of which has not been identified. (fn. 43)
About a mile to the north-east of the town is Bodsey House, originally a hermitage on one of the fen islands only approached by water. There is a tradition that King Cnut had a 'hunting box' here, but the story is improbable as Bodsey seems to have been part of the original endowment by Earl Ailwin to Ramsey before Cnut came to the throne. The hermitage, to which belonged a fishery and ten acres of meadow, came into the possession of the family of Lek or Leyk of Yelling. Early in the 13th century it was conveyed by Henry de Lek to the abbot of Ramsey, the conveyance being confirmed by Theobald de Lek and Katherine, Henry's wife. (fn. 44) Later a dispute as to common rights here was settled in 1220 by Theobald de Lek relinquishing all his rights in Bodsey to the abbot. (fn. 45) Shortly afterwards Abbot Hugh Foliot assigned the hermitage to the office of pittancer of the abbey for an anniversary for his father, his mother and himself. (fn. 46) Bodsey continued as a grange of the abbey until the Dissolution when it was assigned to John Lawrence the last abbot as a dwelling place together with 100 loads of wood, a swan mark with the profit thereof, and £266 13s. 4d. pension. (fn. 47) It was granted to Richard Williams alias Cromwell in 1539, probably subject to the life interest of Lawrence, and descended with Ramsey (q.v.).
In the outlying part of the parish called Higney there dwelt another hermit, named Edwin, who in the early part of the 12th century gave succour to Christine, an anchoress, for whom the priory of Markyate (co. Beds) was founded. (fn. 48)
ABBEY BUILDINGS AND HOUSE.
So little remains above ground of the buildings of Ramsey Abbey that their history cannot be told at any length. The wooden chapel for three hermits built by Earl Ailwin the founder (fn. 49) was soon replaced by a new wooden chapel and offices to accommodate the monks sent by Oswald. (fn. 50) In 969, however, a stone church was begun which was cruciform in plan, with a great tower at the crossing and a smaller tower at the west end. (fn. 51) This church when completed was dedicated to St. Mary, St. Benedict and All Virgins by St. Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury, and St. Oswald, Archbishop of York, on 8 November 974. (fn. 52) Some ten years later, owing to faulty work both in the foundations and masonry, a crack appeared in the central tower which spread from the summit downwards. After long consultation the tower was taken down and rebuilt, the work being chiefly done by the young monks. (fn. 53) Earl Ailwin, the founder, presented the new church with organs and a 'tabula' set with sheets of silver plates and gems, to be placed before the high altar. (fn. 54) In 991 the church was again dedicated by Archbishop Oswald in the presence of a great concourse of people. (fn. 55)
Cnut proposed to found a monastery for nuns adjoining Ramsey Abbey and went so far as to begin a church which was to be dedicated to the Holy Trinity. Providentially, as the Ramsey chronicler wrote, the idea was abandoned. The crypt below the high altar of Cnut's church was completed and remained for centuries in the cemetery of the monks. (fn. 56)
The monastery seems to have been gradually rebuilt during the 12th century. Building operations were evidently contemplated in the 11th century by the acquirement of stone quarries, (fn. 57) but it was not until 1116 that Abbot Reginald began to rebuild the church. As we may imagine by the analogy of other monasteries, this rebuilding was carried out on a larger scale. The monks were excluded from the church for seven years and re-entered it in 1123. (fn. 58) A check was given to the further rebuilding by dissensions within the monastery itself and disturbances without in the kingdom. In 1143 the 'infamous earl' Geoffrey de Mandeville seized the monastery, expelled the monks, and fortified it against the forces of King Stephen. (fn. 59) It took long to repair the damage done by the earl's followers, but probably the rebuilding of the church, already begun, was completed at the close of Stephen's reign (1154) when, we are told, the great tower was built by Abbot Walter. (fn. 60) At about the same time, the refectory and other offices, probably completing the cloister range, were finished. (fn. 61)
The monks continued to press for compensation for the damage done by Mandeville and at length in 1163, by the intervention of Archbishop Thomas [Becket], they obtained redress from the earl's son. (fn. 62) The wealth which the monastery acquired at this time and later was expended rather on the ornaments of the church than on the fabric. Thus in 1192 new shrines were provided for the bones of St. Felix, first bishop of East Anglia, St. Ethelred and St. Ethelbreth, two Saxon princes whose bodies were removed to Ramsey by St. Oswald, (fn. 63) but the shrine of the more famous St. Ive had to wait some seventy years for its renewal. (fn. 64)
A new refectory was begun by Abbot Hugh de Sulgrave (1254–67) but was not finished until 1276 (fn. 65) under the abbacy of William de Godmanchester. The same abbot in 1277 made a water conduit to the abbey. He also erected a new cistern in the abbey court, built the abbot's hall and the south gate in the court and provided a monumental brass for the tomb of Earl Ailwin, the founder, showing the image of the earl 'in subtile workmanship.' (fn. 66) The lady chapel was built or rebuilt about the middle of the 13th century, and a century later references are found to special wardens for the maintenance of that chapel. (fn. 67)
Extensive rebuilding was continued into the 14th century. In 1330 Abbot Simon de Eye began the new presbytery and the greater part of the work was com pleted before his death in 1342 when his body was buried on the left side of the high altar there. (fn. 68) The rebuilding of this part of the church continued for some years later. At the end of the century there was an intention to rebuild the Lady Chapel, and in 1396 lands were given for the maintenance of the Lady Chapel, then to be newly built. (fn. 69) In the same year the Bishop of Lincoln issued an injunction that the timber, lead and marble left by the faithful for the repair of the monastery and chapel of the Virgin were to be restored to the warden of that work and that the nave of the church, notoriously in want of repair, was to be repaired within a year. (fn. 70) We have no evidence whether the Lady Chapel was rebuilt; there are references to new work, but nothing to show what it was. The gatehouse we know from architectural evidence was rebuilt in the 15th century.
After the dissolution of the monastery in 1539 Sir Richard Williams, alias Cromwell, the crown grantee, merely used the monastic buildings as a source of profit, by selling the building material. During the third quarter of the 16th century Gonville and Caius College, King's College and Trinity College, Cambridge, were all very largely built of these materials. (fn. 71) The towers of Ramsey (fn. 72) and Godmanchester (fn. 73) parish churches were built of them, and the gateway at Hinchingbrooke is thought to have been taken from Ramsey. The miserere stalls in Over church and stalls in Somersham church also came from Ramsey (fn. 74) and no doubt much of the material found its way into the walls of the neighbouring houses. (fn. 75)
The Cromwells continued to use Ramsey Abbey as a quarry well into the 17th century, but during the last few years of the 16th or the first year or two of the 17th century Sir Henry Cromwell seems to have begun the present house which he is said to have used as a summer residence. (fn. 76) His son, Sir Oliver, lived at Hinchingbrooke until, owing to financial difficulties, he sold it to Sir Sydney Montagu in 1627 (q.v.). He then took up his residence at Ramsey, a comparatively small building. Ramsey Abbey House at that time consisted of the eastern part of the present building, three stories in height, facing north, with the present four-storied towers at the north-east and north-west corners. Forming the main eastern portion of the basement of that house is the lower part of a large rectangular building, 68 ft. by 23 ft. (internal measurements) running east and west which has now been cut up into various rooms. It dates from the middle of the 13th century and obviously was some portion of the monastic buildings. It is divided into six bays by buttresses, and around its internal walls is a fine 13th-century wall arcade composed of moulded trefoiled arches with moulded and foliated capitals and moulded bases, now sadly mutilated. The west wall of the building is thicker than the other walls and is possibly of the 12th century. There were doorways on each side in the second bay from the west; that on the north belongs to the time of the building of the house and that on the south, now blocked, is of the 13th century. The original windows were above the level of the surviving part of the building; the remains of only one can be seen in the modern corridor. Until recently this building has been taken to be the monastic refectory which is known to have been rebuilt in the middle of the 13th century, but it has lately been suggested that it is more probably the Lady Chapel, projecting eastward from the north transept, in the same position as the Lady Chapel is known to have stood at Peterborough. (fn. 77)
In 1839 the house was considerably altered and enlarged from designs by Blore. A wing was added on the west side and a new north front was built between the towers some 10 ft. northward of the old front, a pierced parapet and a new porch being also added.
At the end of the corridor on the ground floor is a late 13th-century figure in grey marble which is supposed to represent Ailwin the founder of Ramsey Abbey. The figure has a beard and curled hair and wears a civil dress with a long cloak. He holds two keys and a wand in his right hand and his left is placed across his chest. Over the head is a trefoiled canopy and above are angels holding the soul in a sheet. The feet rest on a lion. In the basement is a late 16th-century door said to have been brought from Biggin House, which has an oval boss in the middle bearing the initials H.C. for Henry Cromwell, brother of Sir Oliver Cromwell.
The present lodge is a fragment of the Great Gate of the monastery which when perfect must have been a fine specimen of a 15th-century gatehouse. The arched gateway stood on the west side of the lodge across the present road and was pulled down when the road to Warboys was made in the early part of the 18th century. (fn. 78) The octagonal turret has panels richly carved. In the north side is a plain twolight window lighting the ground floor and a two-light cinquefoiled oriel window above. The gatehouse was at one time used as a prison and was thatched with reed. Possibly at this time the upper part of the house was destroyed.
Ramsey belonged to Æthelstan called 'Half Kyng' of the East Angles, who was living from 925 to 960. He was succeeded by his son Ailwin who founded Ramsey Abbey in 969. (fn. 79) Ailwin at first merely established monks on the island of Ramsey, and it is unlikely that he defined the extent of the watery waste surrounding it which was to be included in his endowment. No manor of Ramsey is entered in the Domesday Survey (1086), at which time possibly it formed a part of Bury or Wistow, but more probably it was omitted on account of royal rights the abbot enjoyed over it. (fn. 80) From the dispute between the Abbot of Ramsey and the Abbot of Thorney in 1281 (fn. 81) it would appear that the manor was then formed and its eastern boundary extended to the boundary of the present parish and county. The abbey held the manor until its dissolution in 1539. After the Dissolution, the site of the monastery of Ramsey, the church, steeple, and churchyard, the lordships and manors of Ramsey, 'Heyghmongrove,' Bury, together with other manors, and the granges or farms called Bigging, Higney and Bodsey, a windmill in Ramsey, the park called Ramsey Park and divers lands, woods, fens and marshes and the impropriate rectory of Ramsey were granted on 4 March 1539–40 to Richard Williams, alias Cromwell, in fee at a rent of £29 16s.; to hold as fully as John, late abbot, held them. (fn. 82) Sir Richard Williams, alias Cromwell, was a man of considerable importance. He was a nephew of the wife of Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex, Henry's celebrated minister and one of his agents for the Dissolution of the Monasteries, being a son of Thomas's wife's sister Katherine who married Morgan Williams. He was therefore first cousin of Gregory, Lord Cromwell, who married Elizabeth Seymour, widow of Sir Anthony Ughtred and sister of Queen Jane Seymour and the Protector Somerset. These family connexions no doubt helped him in acquiring the lands of dissolved religious houses. On account of the advancement of his aunt's husband he took the name of Cromwell. He was sheriff for Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire in 1540–41, with which counties he was connected through his wife Frances daughter of Sir T. Murfyn, sheriff of London. In 1542 he purchased from the crown the sites and estates of other monasteries in the county. (fn. 83) He died in 1544 seised of these lands and of a market and fair, twenty fisheries or meres and a park called Ramsey Park (later called the New Park or Red Deer Park) leaving a son and heir Henry aged seven years. (fn. 84) The wardship and marriage of his heir was granted to Sir Edward North, Chancellor of the Court of Augmentation, who received an annuity from the Cromwell estates. (fn. 85) Henry, who like his father was sheriff of the county, settled his estates in 1583–4 on the marriage of his son Oliver with Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Thomas Bromley, lord chancellor of England. By this settlement he provided for his wife Joan, daughter of Sir Ralph Warren, mayor of London, who predeceased him, and the remainder he left to his son and his heirs male. (fn. 86) Sir Henry married as his second wife Anne, widow of Seignor Horatio Palavicini. He died in 1604 and was succeeded by his son Sir Oliver then aged 37 years. (fn. 87)
Sir Oliver, who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth, settled his estates in 1607 and 1622. (fn. 88) By the extravagance of his father his property was considerably impoverished and his staunch loyalty to the house of Stuart brought him into further difficulties. He had to sell Hinchinbrook to Sir Sidney Montagu in 1627 and went to live at the small summer residence which his father or he had built at Ramsey. On account of the opposition to the party of his nephew, Gen. Oliver Cromwell, his lands were sequestered. In 1645 he addressed a petition from Ramsey, where he then lived, stating he was 84 years of age and his estates were heavily encumbered. His son Col. Henry Cromwell, described as of Upwood, had served with the king and been badly wounded and although then in prison could not move on account of his wounds and sickness. In 1649 Henry, Sir Oliver's son, complained that in setting his fine the committee had not taken account of his debts. He only had the reversion of the estate of his father, who was still living and would probably survive him. (fn. 89) Sir Oliver died in 1655 and was succeeded by his son Henry, who settled the manor of Ramsey and Bury cum 'Hepmangrove,' two mills, 300 a. of land covered with water, free fishery, etc., in Ramsey, Wistow and Bury and the rectories of Ramsey and Bury cum Hepmangrove in 1650, (fn. 90) probably for purposes of raising money; with Henry his son and heir he again settled them in 1654. (fn. 91) Henry the elder died in 1657. He dropped the surname of Cromwell probably on account of differences with his cousin the Protector. His son Henry with his wife Anne conveyed the manor of Ramsey, the park and site of the monastery with lands in Ramsey and Biggin and the rectory of Ramsey in 1664 to John Morris, again probably for raising money. (fn. 92) On 5 January 1670–1, Sir Henry Williams as lord of the manor of Ramsey promoted a Bill in parliament for a rectification of the boundaries settled by the commissioners appointed under the Bedford Level Act, between his property and that of Sir William Leman, but it was rejected. (fn. 93) Sir Henry died in 1673, when his estates passed to his sisters and their heirs, Carina, widow of William Hetley, Elizabeth, widow of Henry English, John Wise and Henry Avery, who together in 1676 conveyed the manor, site, rectory and other lands to Robert—and John Morris. (fn. 94) This purchase was probably made on behalf of Col. Silius Titus, who held a court as lord of the manor as early as 14 Oct. 1675. (fn. 95) Col. Silius Titus was a royalist politician who assisted in the compilation of the pamphlet 'Killing No Murder,' and was member of parliament for Huntingdonshire in 1679 and 1681. He died in 1704 and left Ramsey to his wife and daughters. (fn. 96) Catherine his surviving daughter died in 1732 and left her estate worth about £2,000 a year to a man and woman servant. (fn. 97) The manservant John Smith sold the manor in 1737 to William Fellowes, probably as trustee for his brother Coulson Fellowes. (fn. 98) The manor passed on the death of Coulson Fellowes in 1769 to his son William, who was succeeded in 1804 by his son William Henry Fellowes. Edward, second but eldest surviving son of William Henry Fellowes, was created Lord de Ramsey in 1887 and died in the same year. His son William Henry, second baron, died in 1925. His wife, Lady de Ramsey, took a keen interest in the encouragement of art needlework. He was succeeded by his grandson Ailwin Edward, son of Coulson Churchill Fellowes (d. 1915), who became third Lord de Ramsey, and is the present owner.
HIGNEY (Higkeneia, Hygeney, Higeneye) is an island lying in a detached part of the parish of Ramsey on the west side of Woodwalton parish. It seems originally to have been parcel of the manor and parish of Woodwalton and was attached to Ramsey by Henry Cromwell in the early part of Elizabeth's reign (see below). In 1134 Aubrey, daughter of Reinelm and widow of Eustace de Shelley (Scellea), gave to Ramsey the manor of Walton with the island 'which is called in English Higkeneia.' This grant was made with the consent of Eustace her son and of her over-lord Walter de Bolebec and Helewise his wife, and Hugh their son. (fn. 99) The abbot was to hold by the service of two knights doing the service of other knights of the Bolebec fee, saving ward of the castle of Newcastle. Aubrey de Shelley's sons seized the lands granted, 'tempore guerrae,' probably while Geoffrey de Mandeville occupied the abbey in 1143. Abbot William (1161–77) compromised the dispute arising on this seizure by marrying the widow of Aubrey's son, who held the manor, to his brother, apparently Michael de Walton (fn. 100) and endowing her with the lands seized. Michael son of Michael de Walton made a series of agreements with Abbot Hugh of Ramsey in 1219. (fn. 101) Under them he was to hold two carucates of land in Walton of the abbot, except Derdmannesmere and the island of Higney, four villeins, each holding an acre next the water, a moiety of the wood of Walton, which lay next Raveley, and the moiety of 30 acres of wood in Barewe. (fn. 102) The abbot was also to have the right of pre-emption over the lands retained by Michael. Apparently he exercised his right, as in 1229 he assigned the lands to the use of the office of sacrist of the abbey. (fn. 103) In 1279 we find the abbot was holding the manor of Higney in Walton in free alms. (fn. 104)
Higney remained with the monastery until the Dissolution, when it was granted with Ramsey to Sir Richard Williams alias Cromwell. It followed the descent of Ramsey (q.v.) until the early part of the 17th century, when Sir Oliver Cromwell sold it to the feoffees under the will of Sir Thomas Sutton for the endowment of King James's Hospital, otherwise the Charterhouse, (fn. 105) London. On 2 March 1630–1 these feoffees conveyed it to the governors of the Charterhouse. (fn. 106) The governors of the Charterhouse held the property until 1918 when it was sold as Higney Grange (871½ acres) and Higney Hundred or Lower Farm (114½ acres) to Mr. Thomas Roberts, of Eye (co. Northants.), who conveyed it in lots to Mr. George Keeble of Peterborough, Mr. Edward Henry Jellett of London, and Mr. Thomas Carey. (fn. 107)
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. (fn. 108) 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. (fn. 109) 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. (fn. 110) 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. (fn. 111)
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.' (fn. 112) 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. (fn. 113) 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); to Carina wife of Edward Day (d. 1867); to 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); to Harold Edward Langford (d. Kassasin, 1882); to Heneage Greville, Lord Guernsey (d. on the Aisne, 1914). In south aisle, to Lancecorporal 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).
The registers are as follows: (i) Baptisms, marriages and burials, 4 April 1559 to 6 March, 1642–3 (ii) ditto, 31 March 1653 to 23 November 1673; (iii) ditto, 7 November 1673 to 24 March 1737–8; (iv) ditto, 26 March 1738 to 27 December 1812. (v) The Official Marriage Book, 12 May 1754 to 15 June 1778; (vi) ditto, 22 June 1788 to 12 November 1801; (vii) ditto, 30 November 1801 to 5 November 1812.
The church plate consists of: An Elizabethan silver cup, with two bands of arabesque ornament, hall-marked for 1568–9; the cover-paten of same, inscribed 'RAMSAYE,' and hall-marked as cup; a silver cup inscribed 'The guift of Elizabeth Margetts,' and hall-marked for 1648–9; (fn. 114) a standing paten belonging to the same, with no inscription, but hall-marked as cup; a tall silver cup inscribed 'Donum Joannis Tidmarsh in Usum perpetuum Ecclesiae Parochialis de Ramsey in Com. Huntingdon,' and hall-marked for 1730–1; the cover-paten of same, similarly inscribed and hall-marked; a silver standing paten, inscribed, 'The Gift of Emma Fellowes, 1838,' and hall-marked for 1838–9; a silver alms-dish, similarly inscribed and hall-marked; a Britannia silver flagon, inscribed, 'Ex Dono Robti Pigott Armigeri, Haeredis et Vertutum et Census Johannis Dryden Armigri: Ecclesiae, et Parochiae de Ramsey in agro Hunt, Benefactoris Munificentissimi. Anno Dom: 1713.' and with a shield of the arms of the donor Robert Piggott and his crest, a wolf's head proper, hall-marked for 1712–13; a silver and mother-of-pearl baptismal shell, the mother-of-pearl carved with a panel of Joseph and Mary, with the infant Christ, going into Egypt, surrounded with foliage, hallmarked for 1920–1.
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 church of ST. MARY, two miles north-west of Ramsey, was built by Mrs. Emma Fellowes, widow of Mr. William Henry Fellowes, in 1858. It is of stone in the 14th-century style and consists of a chancel with north vestry, nave of five bays, aisles, south porch and north-west tower with spire.
The church of ST. THOMAS, Ponds Bridge, near Whittlesey, was built by subscription in 1867. It consists of an aspidal chancel, nave, south-east transept and bell turret at the north-west corner. The roofs are of slate.
The church of ST. BENET, at Ramsey Hollow, is a building of brick, consisting of a chancel and nave. It was erected in 1881 and enlarged in 1913.
The church of ST. FELIX, at Forty Foot Bridge, was built in 1902.
At one time the whole of the district which became known as the banlieu was probably served at a parochial altar in the abbey church. In the 12th century, however, the use of the church by the parishioners of the banlieu, which from its liberties must have formed an ecclesiastical unit, would probably interfere with the more elaborate services then introduced into the Benedictine monasteries. (fn. 115) Possibly on account of this, a chapel, to serve the people of the town, was built at Bury, within the banlieu and near to Ramsey town, subordinate to Wistow Church, which was outside the banlieu. Thus, in 1139, Pope Innocent II refers to Bury chapel just after it was built, according to architectural evidence, as being situated next the monastery, 'where your (the abbot's) servants hear Divine service.' (fn. 116) Probably the term 'servants' would cover all the parishioners of the banlieu, as Upwood had not then become a parish. Bury is referred to as a church, with its chapels at Wistow and Raveley, in the confirmation of Pope Alexander III of 30 June, 1178. (fn. 117) In this confirmation the churches and chapels of the abbey are set out, but no reference is made to any church or chapel at Ramsey. A parish church, however, existed at Ramsey before 1291, when we have a return of it. (fn. 118)
The banlieu being exempt from the jurisdiction of the bishop and archdeacon, Ramsey became a donative belonging to the Abbot of Ramsey and the incumbent was styled chaplain and, later, curate. At the Dissolution the church was granted to Sir Richard Williams, and the advowson has since followed the descent of the manor. (fn. 119) The patron's right to a donative and the freedom of the church from visitation of the bishop and archdeacon continued until 1875, when the patron relinquished such rights and the incumbent became a vicar.
The parish of ST. MARY was formed in 1860. The living is a vicarage in the gift of Lord de Ramsey.
A question arose in the early part of the 17th century as to whether Higney was in Woodwalton or Ramsey parish. John Heron, farmer of the island under the Charterhouse, complained in 1638 that within 70 years it had been a member of Woodwalton, when Sir Henry Cromwell, being then lord of both Woodwalton and Ramsey and patron of both livings, sold Woodwalton, reserving Higney, and bound the tenant to pay tithes and taxes to Ramsey, which is five miles from Higney, Woodwalton being under two furlongs. Under this arrangement, John Heron complained, he was denied commonage with Ramsey, and his commonage with Woodwalton was abridged. He stated further that he built a seat in Woodwalton church for his use, but the Lord of Woodwalton had taken it, so that there was no place for him and his family. The matter was referred to Sir John Lambe, Dean of the Court of Arches, to ascertain to which parish Higney belonged. (fn. 120) On 17 April, 1638, Sir Oliver Cromwell, apparently as owner of the great tithes of Ramsey, wrote to Sir John Lambe, desiring him to order the retention of Higney in Ramsey parish, and sending him an extract from a record showing that the Abbot of Ramsey held Higney. (fn. 121) Sir John Lambe seems to have adopted the view that Higney was parcel of Ramsey parish, to which it still belongs.
Chapels have been licensed for marriages as follows: Baptists, at the Great White, in 1837; Salem, in 1858; the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Great White Backs Way, 1872; Wesleyan Methodist, 1864; and Wesleyan, 1883.
Bequest of Mrs. Carina Overall Day. This charity was founded by the will of the donor, proved 9 July, 1867. The endowment of the charity now consists of £400 Consols with the Official Trustees, producing £10 yearly in dividends, which are distributed to the inmates of the Almshouses on St. Thomas's Day.
Town Stock and Poor's Estate Charity. The charity is regulated by a scheme of the Charity Commissioners, dated 3 Jan., 1905. The endowment consists of several pieces of land in Ramsey, together with the buildings thereon, containing 32 acres (approximately); £80 Consols with the Official Trustees; £23 4s. Consols invested in private names and £100 5 per cent. Exchequer Bond. The income, amounting to £120 (approximately), is applied in accordance with the directions contained in the scheme. The trustees of the charity are the rector (ex officio), four representative trustees appointed by the Urban District Council, and four co-optative trustees.
Poor's Land. By a decree of the High Court of Chancery, made 7 July, 1656, land containing 100 acres was set out for the use of the poor. The endowment of the charity now consists of land containing 97 acres, let out in allotments; £339 17s. 10d. Consols with the Official Trustees, and £388 4s. 7d. Consols in the High Court of Chancery. The income, amounting in 1925 to £350, of which onethird is paid to the governors of the Grammar School, is expended in premiums and clothing for apprenticing poor children.
Lands under Care. This charity was founded before the year 1607, for providing habitation for the poor. The endowment consists of several pieces of land in Ramsey, containing in all about 28 acres, let for £115 10s. per annum, together with 30 cottages, let for £31 6s. 8d. per annum. The income, after payment of repairs, etc., is applied towards the parochial and drainage rates.
By a scheme of the Charity Commissioners, dated 21 July, 1916, the trustees of the Town Stock and Poor's Estate Charity were appointed trustees of the Poor's Land and Lands under Care Charities.