This small town began life in 969, when an abbey was built on what was originally a small island in the heart of the Fens. As the Abbey prospered, the nearby settlement grew. So much so, that by the 13th century it had become a booming town, with a weekly market and and annual fair. Since the draining of the Fens (in the 17th/18th century), the area now lies amidst rich cultivated fenland and has become an important agricultural centre for vegetable production.

Ramsey Abbey Green
Abbey Green, Ramsey © Travel About Britain

Ramsey Abbey grew to become one of the most important monastic houses in England, until Henry VIII's Dissolution in 1539. As a result, the abbey buildings were sold off, with all entailing lands, to the Cromwell family. Who then demolished most of the monastic structures for building materials. Records show that much of the stone was reused in the construction of several Cambridge Colleges.

The Cromwell's built a small manor house (called Abbey House) in the grounds, where Sir Oliver Cromwell lived from 1627. The house was later purchased by the Fellowes Family (the Lords De Ramsey), and has been much updated and extended over the years. In 1937 Diana Broughton, the daughter of Coulson Fellowes, leased the house to Ramsey Grammar School. Diana died in 1937 and in her memory Henry Rogers Broughton gifted the Abbey Gate House to the National Trust. In 2015 the Abbey House closed as a school became a venue for hire. The house is normally open to the public once a year in September, as part of the English Heritage open days.

The ruins of the once magnificent Abbey Gate House are still visible from Abbey road. The remaining structure is mostly 15th-c and faces onto the long flat lawns of Abbey Green. A few 18th-c houses also align the green. At the near-end is a group of gabled stone Victorian alms houses and the St Thomas a Becket parish church. The church was originally built as a hospital or guest house for the Abbey (circa 1180), and was converted to its present religious use in the 13th-c.

Ramsey has suffered a number of major misfortunes over the years. During the English Civil War, the Parliamentarians destroyed much of the town. The Great Plague of 1666 devastated the population, and a series of fires during the 17th and 18th centuries destroyed much of what was left. The town expanded somewhat in the mid 19th-c with the arrival of the railway, but this only remained in operation until 1948. The majority of the remaining buildings are now of 19th-c construction, although there are still around 70 listed properties of architectural and historic interest. Two fine 17th-c Inns that have survived these devastations are the George Hotel, on the High Street and the Jolly Sailor, located along the Great Whyte.

Ramsey Alms Houses
Ramsey Alms Houses © Travel About Britain

During the early 19th-c, water-borne traffic could easily reach Ramsey via the Great Lode (High Lode) to the north of the town, where a small port was established. However, nothing now remains of this.

A medieval castle once stood on Booth's hill to the south. It was used as base by the powerful barons who ruled this area during the 12th-c. In the 19th-c it was converted to an Ice House and is currently undergoing restoration.

The town's wide thoroughfare, the Great Whyte, was laid out in 1852 over the top of Bury Brook, which previously flowed openly through the town. There is a good selection of small local shops and cafes here, and also along the adjoining High Street. In the middle of the Great Whyte stands a Victorian cast iron clock, raised on a pedestal. It was erected in 1888 as a memorial to Edward Fellowes, the 1st Baron of Ramsey.

A self guided Heritage Trail, starting near the clock and finishing at the site of Ramsey Docks, is augmented with interpretation boards at various points along its route. A PDF map of the trail can be downloaded from the TIC website.

Sights of Interest in and Around Ramsey

Ramsey Abbey Gatehouse

Ramsey Gatehouse

Only the 13th-c Lady Chapel, the porter's lodge, and part of the 15th-c gateway remain from the original monastic buildings. The ruined gatehouse is one of the most highly decorated of its type in England. It has a small doorway and paneled buttresses. Within there is a marble monument to Aethelwine (or Ailwin) Ealdorman, the abbey's founder.

Opening times: exterior in public view - interior closed
Location: Ramsey, Huntingdon PE26 1DH
Tel: 01480 301494 - Managed by National Trust
Website: nationaltrust.org.uk

Bodsey House

Just north of Ramsey on the Bodsey Toll Road, is the moated Bodsey House (a private dwelling), containing parts of a 14th-c chapel. Once a hermitage attached to Ramsey Abbey, it was converted into a manor house in the mid-16th-c and much altered since. It has a fine 17th-c chimney stack. Legend tells that the original dwelling on this site was a hunting lodge for King Canute. Which is quite plausible as he often visited the area. It is also believed that two of his sons, who were drowned crossing the 'Whittlesey Mere', are buried in the grounds.

Opening times: Private, NOT open to the public.

Ramsey Rural Museum

An interesting agricultural and local crafts museum. There are displays of traditional tools and implements used by medieval craftsmen, such as thatchers, farriers and wheelwrights. Also on display is a selection of restored historic farm machinery once used to work the rich fenland soils. The 17th-c farm buildings were built with stone from Ramsey Abbey.

Opening times: April to Oct, Thurs: 10am–5pm, Sat & Sun: 2–5pm - Admission Charge
Location: Wood Lane, Ramsey PE26 2XD
Tel: 01487 815715
Website: ramseyruralmuseum.co.uk
Image Credit: Shaun Ferguson (CC2)

Woodwalton Fen

A 500 acre National Nature Reserve that is home to many rare birds, insects and aquatic plants. Several waymarked trails are available, taking in key points such as Great Fen view and the bird hides. The grass pathways are wide and level but can be muddy in wet weather.

Opening times: Mon to Fri 8am to 4pm - Free Entry & Parking
Location: Chapel Road, Ramsey Heights Village. Parking is available at the end of Chapel Road, beside the Great Raveley Drain.
Website: greatfen.org.uk
Image Credit: Hugh Venables (CC2)


Map of Ramsey

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Towns and Villages in Cambridgeshire

Cambridge, Chatteris, Ely, Hemingford, Huntingdon, March, Peterborough, Ramsey, Stilton, Sawtry, St. Ives, St. Neots, Thorney, Wisbech, Whittlesey

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Attractions in Cambridgeshire

Anglesey Abbey | Barnack | Chilford Hall Vineyard | Clare Cottage | Denny Abbey | Ely Cathedral | Houghton Mill | Nene Valley Railway | Flag Fen | Gog Magog Hills | Prickwillow Drainage Engine | Ramsey Abbey Gatehouse | Raptor Foundation | Sacrewell Farm | Wicken Fen | Wimpole Hall

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