The church of St Thomas à Becket, Ramsey was built in the late C12 as a guest house or infirmary for Ramsey Abbey and converted to a church in C13. The church has C15, C17, C19 and C20 alterations.
Reasons for Designation
The Church of St Thomas à Becket, Ramsey is listed at Grade I for the following principal reasons:
* As a medieval church with substantial surviving C12, C15 and C17 fabric;
* For its clear phasing, illustrated by the standing fabric of the church;
* For its Romanesque fabric, illustrating the architecture and layout of a C12 monastic hospitium or infirmary.
* For its origins as a hospitium or infirmary for Ramsey Abbey;
* For its role as the parish church of Ramsey;
* For the history of the development of the church, clearly evidenced in its fabric;
* For its inclusion of an unusual chapel of thanks for the safe return of Lord De Ramsey from the Far East in 1945.
* With the Scheduled Ramsey Abbey (remains of) (NHLE 1006838), the Gatehouse to Ramsey Abbey (NHLE 1130258, Grade I), Ramsey Abbey School (NHLE 1156544, Grade I), the Precinct Wall (NHLE 1130265, Grade II*), the Churchyard Cross (NHLE 1130264, Grade II), Stile (NHLE 1157761, Grade II), Abbey Stable Flats (NHLE 1130260, Grade II), 120-124 High Street (NHLE 1166551, Grade II) and the Grade II houses and war memorial on Church Green.
The town of Ramsey was built around Ramsey Abbey, which was founded as a hermitage by Aylwin, Duke of East Anglia. The abbey church was built in AD 969, and the abbey was dedicated to Our Lady, St Benedict and All Holy Virgins in AD 974, with St Oswald as the first Abbot. The abbey acquired a quarry near Barnack, and the abbey church and claustral buildings were rebuilt in Barnack stone between 1116 and 1154. In 1180, the abbey built a hospitium or guest house with a nave of eight bays, chancel, two aisles and two chapels in the north west of the precinct. The hospitium has also been interpreted as an infirmary. Further alterations were made to the abbey in the C13, C14 and C15, and the abbey was dissolved in 1539 and given to Sir Richard Cromwell. Most of the abbey was demolished, and the stone sold to a number of Cambridge colleges and local churches.
Ramsey had no parish church until the C13, with parishioners worshipping first in the abbey church and then in a chapel in the nearby village of Bury. The hospitium was converted to a church in the early C13 and rededicated as the Church of St Thomas of Canterbury on 22 September 1238.
The south chapel was demolished in 1310, and a window inserted into the south wall of the chancel. The clerestory was added (or reconstructed in the C15), and the aisles and south porch rebuilt around 1500. In 1537, John Lawrence, the last Abbot of Ramsey included provision of £13 6s 8d for the construction of a steeple. A low wooden steeple was constructed shortly afterwards. The wooden steeple fell down in the C17 and was replaced in 1672 by a tower built from stone salvaged from the remains of the abbey. The tower incorporated the eighth and part of the seventh bays of the nave. The west door of the church was relocated to the west face of the tower.
The church was restored by Edward Fellowes in 1843-4. The restoration included the removal of the chancel screen and possibly the demolition of the north chapel (although the date of the demolition is not certain). The font was discovered buried beneath one of the aisles during the restoration, and rebuilt on its current stand.
In 1903, the church gallery was removed, and a new vestry was constructed on the site of the North Chapel in 1910. Several windows commemorating individuals killed in the First World War were installed in the early 1920s.
The east end of the south aisle was converted to a chapel in 1956, to commemorate the safe return of Ailwyn Fellowes, 3rd Baron De Ramsey from the Second World War.
The Church of St Thomas à Becket, Ramsey was built in the late C12 as a guest house or infirmary for Ramsey Abbey and converted to a church in C13. The church has C15, C17, C19 and C20 alterations. It is built from Barnack stone and coursed limestone rubble.
PLAN: the church comprises a west tower leading to an aisled nave and chancel. The north aisle runs the length of the building, while the south aisle runs the length of the nave only.
EXTERIOR: the north and south elevations of the church comprise aisles lit by C15 three-light windows with vertical tracery in four centred heads with labels. Both aisles have embattled parapets and are supported by buttresses with offsets. The south wall of the chancel is lit by an early C14 window of two pointed lights in round head above the remains of the vaulting shafts of the C12 aisle roof. The chancel also has a C16 or C17 doorway with a four centred arch under a square head. The south door is C15, and sits under a four centred arch. The C15 or C16 north doorway has stop moulded jambs and a four centred arch under a square head with blank shields in spandrels and a moulded label. The aisles sit under a clerestorey, each side of which has a range of seven C15 two-light windows with cinquefoil tracery in a four centred head with label. The east elevation is lit by three round-headed windows, each flanked by pilaster buttresses. There is a vesica shaped window above centre bay, and one sealed round-headed window in the gable end. The ends of the aisles are lit by three-light windows with vertical tracery in four centred heads with labels.
The west tower occupies the centre of the west elevation, and is of four stages, with an embattled parapet, crocketed pinnacles at the corners and angle buttresses with five offsets. In the centre of the tower is a late C12 doorway comprising a round-headed arch of four orders, three of which are moulded, supported by free shafts on moulded bases, with moulded bands, abaci and decorated capitals. There is a sunken rectangular panel with a moulded frame above the doorway, inscribed TAKE HEED, WATCH / AND PRAY FOR YE / KNOW NOT WHEN / THE TIME IS / S. MAR. 13.33//. Above the panel is a round, raised panel, and above that, a two light window under a four centred arch. The bell chamber has one two-light window in each wall made up of reused stone. The tower is flanked by the two aisles, each of which contains a three-light window with vertical tracery under a four centred arch.
INTERIOR: the nave is of seven bays, with the westernmost bay slighted by the tower. The arcades are formed from two centred arches of two plain orders with chamfered labels. The arcade piers each have a moulded base and rebated plinth, and are paired. East to west: four grouped keeled shafts; eight grouped round shafts; round piers; square piers with four attached and keeled shafts; octagonal piers; eight grouped and keeled shafts. Each capital differs. North arcade from east to west: waterleaf with square rebated abacus; leaf with grooved round abacus; beaded scallop and leaf with square, rebated abacus; leaves with volutes and grooved, round abacus; scalloped with paired volutes and square, rebated abacus; leaves with volutes and grooved, round abacus. South arcade from east: leaves with volutes and square, rebated abacus; leaf ornament with grooved, round abacus; leaves with volutes and square, rebated abacus; waterleaf and round, grooved abacus; scalloped with square, rebated abacus; waterleaf with round, grooved abacus. A pair of blocked openings above the second pair of piers from the east mark the entrance to the former rood loft. The roof is a series of queen post trusses supported by arch braces springing from carved corbels. Ornamental bracing forming two centred arches sit between the queen posts and rafters and between the queen posts and ridge. Traces of C13-C14 painting remain at the eastern end of the north arcade.
The chancel arch is two centred, of two plain orders with a moulded label with scrolled stop, on keeled shafts with scalloped capitals with grooved and chamfered abaci. The shafts form one group with the responds of the nave arcade. The chancel has a quadripartite vault formed of unmoulded ribs of square section springing from attached shafts with cushion capitals. The east windows have continuous roll mouldings. The piscinae are C13 in date, and are under a two centred arch. The canopies of the adjacent sedilia have been removed, leaving the seats and intervening piers. There is a large Gothic monument to William Henry Fellowes (died 1837) on the north wall of the chancel and a smaller plaque to Emma Fellowes (died 1862) on the south wall. A garlanded cartouche in the south aisle commemorates the restoration of the church by Edward Fellowes in 1843-4.
The pews are C19, are numbered and have poppy head finials. The C15 lectern is of oak, and comprises a square post with a moulded and embattled capital and four traceried buttresses. The C12-C13 font is of dark grey marble. It is hexagonal with a shaped lower edge and six angle shafts around a central C19 shaft. Remains of the vaulting shafts of the late C12 aisle roof survive in the vestry. Much of the glass is early C20, by Morris and Co.
The east end of the south aisle has been converted to a chapel to commemorate the safe return of Ailwyn Fellowes, 3rd Baron De Ramsey from the Second World War. There are no permanent markers to delineate the chapel boundaries, but its presence is marked with a plaque inscribed THIS CHAPEL IS THE GIFT OF / LADY DE RAMSEY, IN THANKSGIVING TO / ALMIGHTY GOD FOR THE SAFE RETURN / OF HER HUSBAND LORD DE RAMSEY FROM / A JAPANESE PRISONER OF WAR CAMP 1945 / 8 AUGUST 1956//.