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Ramsey Abbey was a Benedictine abbey in Ramsey, Huntingdonshire (now part of Cambridgeshire), England. It was founded in AD 969 and dissolved in 1537.

Ramsey Abbey
Abbey Gate House - - 1330157.jpg
Remains of the abbey gatehouse
LocationRamsey, Cambridgeshire, England
Coordinates52°26′54″N 0°06′03″W / 52.44833°N 0.10083°W / 52.44833; -0.10083Coordinates: 52°26′54″N 0°06′03″W / 52.44833°N 0.10083°W / 52.44833; -0.10083
Built10th–16th centuries
Official name: Ramsey Abbey (remains of)
Reference no.1006838
Ramsey Abbey is located in Cambridgeshire
Ramsey Abbey
Location of Ramsey Abbey in Cambridgeshire

The site of the abbey in Ramsey is now a Scheduled Ancient Monument.[1] Most of the abbey's buildings were demolished after the dissolution. Parts of a few buildings survive, and are now Grade I and Grade II* listed buildings.


The AbbeyEdit

Ramsey Abbey was founded in 969 by Oswald, Bishop of Worcester on land donated by Æthelwine, Ealdorman of East Anglia, where he had already built a wooden chapel for three monks. The foundation was part of the mid-10th century English Benedictine reform.[2] Æthelwine gave the new foundation properties including an estate at nearby Bodsey and Houghton Mill.[3][4]

This Ramsey Psalter of c. 1310 was a gift to the abbot from the cellarer (facsimile)

The important Ramsey Psalter or Psalter of Oswald (British Library) appears to have been made for Ramsey Abbey 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.

Æthelwine at the suggestion of Saint Oswald, Bishop of Worcester founded a small hermitage for three hermits with a wooden chapel at a location indicated by the actions of a bull, on the island of Ramsey with impassible fen on three sides. Impressed by the story Oswald sent a Prior from Westbury (Germanus) and 12 monks to form the Abbey. Starting in 969, a large stone-built church was built over the next five years. Two towers stood up at the topmost points of the roofs, the smaller one at the front of the Church towards the west, 'offered a beautiful sight from afar' to people coming to the island. The larger one, in the middle of a four-armed structure rested on four columns stabilzed by connecting arches. This abbey building remained until a Norman abbot had a grander church built in the 12th century.

In 1143 Geoffrey de Mandeville expelled the monks, used the abbey as a fortress and considerably damaged the buildings.

An effigy of Ailwyn/Æthelwine dating from 1230 is thought to be within the Abbey.[clarification needed]

In the order of precedence for abbots in Parliament, Ramsey was third after Glastonbury and St Alban's.[5]

The abbey was an international centre of Hebrew scholarship in the late Middle Ages. It prospered until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1537. At the time of the Dissolution there were 34 monks.

In 1787 Mark Noble noted:[6]

The abbey of Ramsey, i.e. the Ram's isle, was one of the richest foundations in the kingdom: the abbot was mitred, and sat in the house of lords as baron of Broughton; the abbey had 387 hides of land, 200 of which were in Huntingdonshire: the monks were not famed for their liberality, if we believe the following ancient lines:

Crowland as courteous, as courteous as may bee,
Thorney the bane of many a good Tree,
Ramsey the rich, and Peterborough the proud,
Sawtry by the way that poor abbay,
Gave more almes than all they.

After the DissolutionEdit

In 1540 the Crown sold the abbey lands to Sir Richard Williams (alias Cromwell).[5] He used most of the abbey buildings as a source of stone for walls and cottages at hand, and to provide good Barnack stone for new buildings. He had part of the abbey gatehouse dismantled and re-erected at Hinchingbrooke House. Much stone was taken to Cambridge to build Gonville and Caius, King's and Trinity colleges. Stone was taken for the tower for the parish church of St Mary the Virgin in Godmanchester. This included a doorway from the abbey that was dismantled and re-erected as the west doorway of St Mary's. As late as 1672 stone for a new tower for Ramsey's own parish church of St Thomas a Becket was also taken from the Abbey.

Ramsey Abbey House, remodelled in 1804–06 by Sir John Soane

Around 1600 Sir Henry Williams (alias Cromwell) had a house built on the site of the abbey church. Six bays of the 13th-century Lady Chapel survive as the basement of the house.[7]

In 1737 Coulson Fellowes, later MP for Huntingdonshire, bought the house. It passed down through several generations of the family. In 1804–06 William Henry Fellowes had the abbey house enlarged to designs by Sir John Soane. In 1889 his sone Edward Fellowes was created 1st Baron de Ramsey. In 1931 at the coming of age of John Ailwyn Fellowes, 4th Baron de Ramsey the family moved its seat to Abbots Ripton Hall. In 1937 the Fellowes leased the building for 99 years to Ramsey Abbey School. In 1952 Ailwyn Fellowes, 3rd Baron de Ramsey gave the gatehouse to the National Trust in memory of his sister Diana Broughton.[8]

Surviving buildings and artefactsEdit

Ramsey Abbey Censer and Incense Boat, early to mid 14th-century, in the V&A Museum, London

Ramsey Abbey House, the Gatehouse, and the parish church of St Thomas a Becket all survive,[9] along with part of the abbey's Medieval precinct wall.[10]

Ramsey Abbey House, the former 17th century home of Sir Henry Cromwell and latterly the seat of the Fellowes family, is currently part of Abbey College.

The Abbey Gatehouse is a National Trust property.[11] This is believed to be an inner gatehouse, the main outer 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.[12] Today what remains of the gatehouse also forms a part of the Abbey College.[a]

The Church of St Thomas a Becket, Ramsey was built in about 1180 or 1190 as either the hospitium or the infirmary 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 was consecrated as a church in 1237.

When Whittlesey Mere was 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.[13] The thurible (or censer),[14] and an incense boat[15] are now in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Also found in the bed were blocks of quarried stone,[16] that are conjectured to have fallen from a barge on the way to the Abbey.



The names of abbots from AD 993 onwards are known.[17] Notable among them are:


  1. ^ 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.


  1. ^ Historic England. "Ramsey Abbey (remains of) (1006838)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 27 June 2017.
  2. ^ Brooks, N. P. (2004). "Oswald (St Oswald) (d. 992)" ((subscription or UK public library membership required)). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 30 January 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d e Page, WH; Proby, Granville, eds. (1926). A History of the County of Huntingdon. Victoria County History. 1. London: St Catherine Press. pp. 377–385.
  4. ^ Page, WH; Proby, Granville, eds. (1932). A History of the County of Huntingdon. Victoria County History. 1. London: St Catherine Press. pp. 178–81.
  5. ^ a b   Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1911). "Ramsey Abbey" . Catholic Encyclopedia. 12. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  6. ^ Noble 1787, pp. 18, 19.
  7. ^ Historic England. "Ramsey Abbey School  (Grade I) (1156544)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 27 June 2017.
  8. ^ "Fellowes Family". History of Ramsey abbey. Clive Beeke. Retrieved 12 May 2013.
  9. ^ "Ramsey Town". Archived from the original on 14 May 2008.
  10. ^ Historic England. "Precinct wall running along the eastern and southern side of Church Green, along the eastern and southern side of Abbey Green, and along the eastern side of Hollow Lane  (Grade II*) (1130265)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 27 June 2017.
  11. ^ "Ramsey Abbey Gatehouse".
  12. ^ "About Hinchingbrooke House". Hinchingbrooke House and Performing Arts Centre.
  13. ^ "The Ramsey Abbey Censer". History of Ramsey Abbey. Clive Beeke.
  14. ^ "The Ramsey Abbey Censer". Collections. Victoria and Albert Museum.
  15. ^ "The Ramsey Abbey Incense Boat". Collections. Victoria and Albert Museum.
  16. ^ "Ramsey Abbey Stones". Yaxley History. 12 October 2012.
  17. ^ "Abbots of Ramsey". History of Ramsey Abbey. Clive Beeke. Retrieved 27 June 2017.


  •   This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Noble, Mark (1787). Memoirs of the Protectorate-house of Cromwell: Deduced from an Early Period, and Continued Down to the Present Time,... 1 (3 ed.). London: CGJ and J Robinson. pp. 5–20.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit