Ramsey Church, Huntingdonshire

It is difficult to picture it, but the Church of St Thomas Becket in Ramsey was originally built around 1180 as an infirmary for the great Abbey at Ramsey – of which the scant remains now stand across the town green from here. Originally it would have been a long low thin building with a chapel at one end. The original chapel has gone, but at some point in the early 13th Century the townsfolk demanded a parish church and the Abbey allowed their infirmary to be developed into it.

It isn’t altogether certain when the church began to expand to a more normal church form of nave and aisles and transept. But it is known that the south chapel was removed in 1310 and in the south wall of the chancel is a window of a very similar date. The aisles seem to have been added around 1500 – or at the very least rebuilt at that time.

In his will the last Abbot of Ramsey Abbey, John Lawrence, left a stipend to be paid towards “building of a stepull in the parish church of Ramsey”. The will is dated 1537, just two years before the Dissolution arrived at Ramsey and the Abbey was dramatically swept away. The townsfolk of Ramsey seem to have elected for doing this on the cheap and a wooden tower was put up which quickly blew back down again. It was not until 1672 that the stone tower was finally finished – ironically using building stones taken from the Abbey.

Further work was undertaken in the 1840s and again in the early 20th Century. Today the church looks, basically, Victorian but it is actually a much older survivor than that and is one of the major remnants to remain of the greatest of East Anglia’s Abbeys.

Photo - Andrew J. Müller

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