Ramsey Abbey, Huntingdonshire

Benedictine Monks

Ramsey Abbey can be seen as something of an exemplar amongst British abbeys. There was nothing here in this marshy place until 969 AD when a Benedictine Abbey was founded here. The town quite literally grew up around the Abbey and by the time of the Domesday Book – just over 100 years later – Ramsey was one of the top monastic foundings in the country. At its height over 80 monks were living here – a size matched by very few others – and it had become known as “Ramsey the Rich”.

In 1143 during the Anarchy Geoffrey de Mandeville used Ramsey as a fortress and a great deal of damage was done.

In 1200 the Abbey started the first market in the town which Henry II gave a charter to in 1267. A great school was founded in the Abbey grounds and today there is still a school at Ramsey Abbey – just not much Abbey!

For the next 300 years Ramsey grew and prospered, unfortunately being such a major Abbey meant it was early to come to the attentions of Henry VIII and it was dissolved in 1539. The Benedictines seem to have left without any fuss and the property was sold to Sir Richard Williams (one of the early Cromwells) who began to dismantle the buildings.

Parts survived because of the school which still occupies some heavily amended Abbey structures. The infirmary formed the basis of today’s Parish Church and the Gatehouse, which is today owned by the National Trust, is the most famous surviving portion and the only one to have survived in a more or less original form.

For such a great Abbey the fact that so little remains today is a perfect example of just how destructive the Dissolution of the Monasteries was, and unlike the great ruins like Fountains and Glastonbury it is today very difficult to picture how Ramsey must have looked in its heyday.

Photo - Andrew J. Müller

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and Shaun Runham
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