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Ramsey Abbey, Huntingdonshire (now Cambridgeshire): alterations and additions for W.H.Fellowes, 1804-07 ( )


Ramsey Abbey was founded circa 969 and was among the most important English monastic houses with, for example, about 80 Benedictine monks in the twelth and thirteenth centuries. At the time of the Dissolution (1536-40) there were thirty-four monks. The Abbey (with Hinchingbrooke Nunnery) was given to Sir Richard Williams, nephew of Thomas Cromwell, whose name he adopted. It seems that his family eventually lived in part of the Abbey as well as at Hinchingbrooke until the sale of the latter in 1627, when the Abbey became the principal home of the Cromwells until the Fellowes family took over in 1737.

During the Elizabethan period, Ramsey Abbey was used as a quarry, providing stone for three Cambridge colleges as well as for church towers and other buildings. It has not yet been established what part of the Abbey became the home of the Cromwells and then the Fellowes. Dorothy Stroud (Sir John Soane Architect, 1996, p.189) suggests that it was the Lady Chapel. Drawing [20] is assumed to be an outline survey plan of the house as Soane found it. It is irregular with two buttressed towers and some lesser projections. It was a job that he enjoyed, making more than a dozen visits between 1804 and 1806. Earlier, Soane had designed Shottesham Park for Robert Fellowes, a nephew of W.H.Fellowes. Although Soane was not an advocate of the Gothic Revival, his re-organisatiion of Ramsey Abbey was masterly and sympathetic. He extended the house westwards and moved the entrance from the south to the north front which was approached by a porch with a large circular lobby with stair. This north front was given lancet windows and the projecting (one bay) ends were buttressed. The south (back) elevation, apart from the new extension was left much as found, that is, a pictureque cluster of gables and buttresses (see drawing [53]). The interior was organised with a 'cloister' or arcaded passage that ran from east to west and fronted the ground and first floors.

Later work by Edward Blore (1787-1879) made many changes to Soane's work, including the staircase, south elevation and rooms on the south front. (P.Dean, Sir John Soane and the Country estate, 1999, p.190).

In 1937 Lady Fairhaven presented the house to the town to become a grammar school (now Abbey College).

The Gatehouse, of c.1457-1500 (drawings [39] - [43] and [55] with a replacement arch designed by Soane was given to the National Trust in 1952 in memory of Diana Broughton, the daughter of Lord de Ramsey.

Jill Lever
June 2016


C.O.Brien and N. Pevsner, Bedfordshire, Huntingdonshire and Peterborough, 2014, pp.659-662



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Sir John Soane's collection includes some 30,000 architectural, design and topographical drawings which is a very important resource for scholars worldwide. His was the first architect’s collection to attempt to preserve the best in design for the architectural profession in the future, and it did so by assembling as exemplars surviving drawings by great Renaissance masters and by the leading architects in Britain in the 17th and 18th centuries and his near contemporaries such as Sir William Chambers, Robert Adam and George Dance the Younger. These drawings sit side by side with 9,000 drawings in Soane’s own hand or those of the pupils in his office, covering his early work as a student, his time in Italy and the drawings produced in the course of his architectural practice from 1780 until the 1830s.

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Contents of Ramsey Abbey, Huntingdonshire (now Cambridgeshire): alterations and additions for W.H.Fellowes, 1804-07 ( )