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Ramsey in 1838

Ramsey is in Hurstingstone hundred, on the edge of the fens, 69 miles from Shoreditch church, London, and 10 from Huntingdon. The parish has an area of 17,660 acres (about 100 acres of which are in North Witchford hundred, Cambridgeshire), and had, in 1831, a population of 3,006, about half agricultural. The town derives its origin from a Benedictine abbey, founded on an island or dry spot to the marshes, called Ram’s ey, i.e. Ram’s island, in the reign of Edgar, A.D. 969, by Ailwine, duke or earl of the East Angles, at the instigation of Oswald, successively bishop of Worcester and archbishop of York. The abbey attained great wealth and repute. Many of the abbots and monks were men of considerable learning. A school almost coeval with the abbey itself was established within its walls ; and the library was celebrated for its stock of Hebrew books, previously belonging to the synagogues at Stamford and Huntingdon, and purchased at the confiscation of the Jews’ property in England, in the reign of Edward I, by Gregory Huntingdon, a learned monk of the abbey. Robert Dodford, another monk, was also eminent for his attainments in Hebrew : and a third, Lawrence Holbeach, of the time of Henry IV, profiting by the labours of his predecessors, compiled a Hebrew lexicon. The Reformation broke up the library, and interrupted the studies that had distinguished this secluded spot in the dark ages. The abbots of Ramsey were mitred. The yearly revenue of the abbey at the dissolution was £1,953, 15 shillings and 3 pence gross, or £1,716, 12 shillings and 4.pence clear.

Ramsey consists chiefly of one long street running east and west, with another street running northward along the Bury brook, a feeder of the Nene, which waters the town. There is a weekly market, which had on the dissolution of the abbey fallen into disuse, but was afterwards revived : there is also a yearly fair. The church is spacious, consisting of a nave, aisles, and chancel, with an embattled tower at the west end. Some of the piers and arches of the church are in the Norman and early English styles intermixed. The only remains of the abbey, which stood not far from the church, are the ruined gateway, a rich specimen of decorated English architecture, but in very dilapidated condition ; and a statue of Earl Ailwine, the founder, supposed to be one of the most ancient pieces of English sculpture extant. The living is a perpetual curacy, of the yearly value of £47.

In the time of the plague, A.D. 1665-66, four hundred people died of that disease, which was brought into the place by some infected woollen cloth. In May, 1731, eighty dwelling-houses, besides shops, granaries, barns, &c., and a great quantity of malt and flour, were destroyed in the town by fire.

There were m the parish in 1833 two endowed day-schools, one for 70 boys, another for 50 girls, and three other day-schools, with 79 children ; also two Sunday-schools with 255 children.