THE FOUNDING OF THE MUSEUM
In 1977 Rev Robert Gwynn, curate of Upwood church and the vicar of Ramsey, Rev Jones, together with Mr Marshal Papworth, a farmer from Upwood, took a party of Sunday school children to Cambridge Folk Museum. On the return journey they called at the private museum of Mr John Deloney and his sons at Haddenham. They were so impressed by the number and variety of items on exhibition which this family had collected or had been donated by local people, that Rev Gwynn was convinced that there must be a wealth of history lying around in fields, barns and sheds in the family area. Furthermore, if these items were not retrieved, restored and housed in some similar place to Haddenham, a considerable amount of them would find their way to the scrap heat or on the bonfire and would be lost forever. Although Mr Papworth agreed in principle with the comments of Rev Gwynn, he expressed doubts that many people would support the idea of starting a museum in Ramsey and, if they did support the idea, where would or could it be housed.
Having found one supporter in Mr Papworth, Rev Gwynn approached several local businessmen, farmers and local people and persuaded them to attend a meeting to discuss the project. In September 1977 the meeting was held and it was generally agreed that a museum would be an asset, both to Ramsey and its inhabitants.
Having overcome the first hurdle of finding support, the next one of finding suitable premises, bearing in mind the lack of funds, was to prove a little more difficult. Several sites and premises were visited but were found to be either unsuitable or too costly to rent. An approach was then made to the Hon John Fellowes and the project outlined to him. He was very sympathetic towards the idea of a rural museum and after further negotiations, agreed that the buildings and land which are part of the Fellows estate could be used to house the museum at a peppercorn rate. The original licence for this use was a period of 25 years but this was later extended to 50 years.
The museum is situated in Hassock Meadow, which is reached by means of a track running at right angles to Wood Lane. The Meadow has probably always belonged to the Ramsey Abbey Estate because when the Abbey was founded in 969 AD, it was granted as its banlieu “the distance of a league around the abbey”. A league may have been anything between three miles and one mile, but even using the latter definition, the meadow would still have fallen within the abbey’s jurisdiction. The land probably remained with the Abbey until the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539, despite the fact that there is no mention of a Ramsey Estate in the Doomsday Book of 1086.
With the dissolution of the monasteries, the Abbey Estates passed to Richard Williams, alias Cromwell. It seems the Williams/Cromwell line petered out in the 1670’s and the estate was bought by Colonel Silus Titus in 1675. Silus Titus died in 1704 and left the estate to his wife and daughters, the last of who died in 1732 leaving the estates to their servants who eventually sold them to the Fellowes family in 1737.
It may well be that the museum buildings were erected during the period in which the Titus family owned the estate. The evidence for this suggestion lies in two rent rolls or books. In “A Rent Roule of Tenants to Silus Titus Esq. from Ladyday 1697 (25th March) to Michaelmas 1697 (September 29th)” a Mr Anthony Ris rented Cookes Close and Hassock Meadow at a rate of £12 for the period. Beneath this is an entry recording the renting of Crosse Sheods by Abraham Ris which may denote a link between the sheods and Hassock Meadow. Nine years later in a “Rent Roule of Tenants to Madam Katherine Titus Senior to Madam Susan Titus and to Madam Katherine Titus Junior from Ladyday 1705 to Michaelmas 1705 and to Ladyday 1706”, Jacob Ris, obviously a relative of Anthony Ris rented Cookes Close, Hassock Meadow and the Cross Sheods (presumably sheds).
It may be that the barns were built at about this time especially as they are built from stones taken from the Abbey. The use of stone in this area is unusual as it is not a local material, the nearest natural stone being Stamford. The abbey however, after its dissolution in 1539 was used as a “quarry “or source of building material well into the 17th century.
During this period the stone was sold for building purposes and was used in the construction of Caius, Kings and Trinity Colleges, Cambridge in the 16th century. The towers of Ramsey and Godmanchester Parish Churches were built of abbey stone and the gateway at Hinchingbrooke House was also taken from Ramsey Abbey.
The barns may have been built after the sale of stone from the abbey had ceased, as being a building considered to be of little importance the owners may have begrudged using stone that may have been otherwise sold off.
The walls of the buildings are of interest; in places they are very thick and tapering towards the top. It is also possible to see dressed stones from the abbey at places in the walls
Since work started on the buildings and prior to the official opening of the museum, the boundary to the South West has been extended to include the well, while to the North East it has been extended to enable the car park to be constructed.
The members of the original committee responsible for starting this museum at the instigation of Rev Gwynn were:
Mr Marshal Papworth – Farmer
Mr Michael Perkins Farmer
Mr Stan Beebe Resident Rtd
Mr Bill Bedford Farmer Rtd.
Who were original trustees of the museum when it was registered as a charitable organisation in 1984.
The land on which this museum stands is part of the Fellowes Estate which has existed since 1720 (See wall charts in Whitehall Barn for full history), All the old stone buildings, together with the Wood Shed are estate buildings. The other buildings originally formed part of the farm and stockyard at Whitehall Farm, Upwood.
The estate buildings are believed to have been built about 1670 using stone which had originally been used for the building of the old Abbey, which then occupied an adjoining site. There are several large stones which bear simple carvings. The buildings were subsequently used as workshops and material stores for the maintenance and repair of the estate property and equipment. The Entrance Foyer and Trades Room were the main workshops with the Trades Room being the carpenter’s shop. The long workbench which used to be in the Entrance Foyer, together with the mortising machine and pit saw in the carpenters section of building of the Trades Room were found in that building when the museum moved to the site. There were signs that at some time there had been a “timber drag” to the site, and it is believed there did exist a timber “saw pit where trees from the estate would have been sawn into planks, but this pit has not been found.
The building, which now contains the Victorian kitchen, lounge and bedroom and first floor period rooms and school room was the stabling block. The schoolroom was the stable with stands, the kitchen was the harness room while the first floor was for the storage of fodder with access by way of the wooden staircase outside the North East end of the building, and this has been retained for use as a fire escape route. This has now been replaced by a metal staircase and was supplied by Thomas Smith of Upwood, then adjusted and fitted by museum volunteers.
Building No 6, the building at right-angles to the Stable Block was for storage of carts and other equipment and, in more recent years, as a sheep fold for the herding of sheep to use a foot bath which ran along the length of the old stables.
The wood shed was used for the seasoning and storing of timber, as it was cut from the copse or woods on the estate, then into planks prior to being used by the workshop.
The other building’s, the tractor hovel, office, chemist shop, cobblers shop, pump room, and barn annex, were originally constructed on Whitehall Farm at Upwood and were kindly donated to the museum by Marshal Papworth. To ensure that they were reconstructed in their original form, each piece was marked and numbered, so as it was taken down, then put back in to its correct place as each building was rebuilt.
RECONSTRUCTION AND RENOVATION.
As this site had not been used as an operational area for about 10 years, much of it had become overgrown and the buildings, all of which had thatched roofs, were quickly nearing the stage of dereliction. Much of the thatch was missing, leaving large holes and exposing the timbers and the wall to the elements, so causing the timbers to rot and allowing large areas of the old lime mortar to be washed out of the stone walls. As it was the wish of the trustees, and indeed a condition of the lease of the property, that the buildings should be restored to their original state, so far as was practical, all the timbers were examined and replaced as necessary, the broken down sections of the walls were rebuilt using the original stone and other areas where the old mortar was breaking down was re-pointed. The cost of re-thatching all the buildings was considered to be far beyond the means of the museum but it was agreed that at least one building, the entrance foyer and kitchen, should be re-thatched. This was achieved only through the generosity of Hon John Fellowes and the work was carried out by Messrs Dodson Brothers of Kings Ripton in 1979
Because of the general dilapidated state of most of the buildings, work was first started on the Trades Room to enable materials and tools to be stored on the site. The roof was stripped of old thatch, rotted timbers replaced and the whole re-roofed with old sheets of corrugated iron taken from old buildings elsewhere. They were late replaced with pantiles the work was, in the main, completed by Marshal Papworth and his workmen by December 1977.
The work of rebuilding and restoration was carried out over a period of some 10 years and some of it is recorded on photographs exhibited in the reception area. All the available material on site, which was reusable, was used to restore the buildings, as near as possible, to their original state. In 1983, a team of previously unemployed people, working for the Cambridgeshire Community Programme Agency, began renovating the buildings. Only a small team were employed at first but by 1984 there were, besides the building department, a growing engineering department and a group working to display and catalogue the exhibits.
To enable the remaining buildings to be made watertight quickly, the old thatch was removed and replaced, after renovation of the roof timbers, with corrugated iron sheets.
While thatching of all the buildings could not be undertaken, it was known that there were a large number of pantiles and corrugated tiles in the area, many of which had been made in Ramsey and Warboys. A concentrated effort was made to obtain these tiles and the estate very kindly donated approximately 8000. Others were collected in varying quantities, from wherever it was learned that a building carrying them was to be demolished. Committee members and volunteers would travel to sites and demolish the building in order to recover tiles. A total of approximately 20,000 tiles were collected and used to re-roof all the buildings except the entrance foyer and kitchen.
This is a newly constructed building which was built by the staff of Manpower Services Commission team which carried out project work on the museum. There is no stone naturally available in this area but the stone used for the building was recovered from rubble excavated from the old wartime runways of RAF stations in the locality. This block had to be built to meet the health regulations before the museum could be opened to the public.
The official opening of the museum took place in May 1988 and was performed by Mrs Sybil Marshall, an author of many books on Fenland Life and the People of the Fens.
The existence of the well, which is situated on the South East side of the museum, was found by accident by Stan Beeby, our present Life President, When ploughing the field adjacent to the museum, a number of large stones and slabs were unearthed by the plough. Because this is unusual in this locality, further investigations were made and an area of the soil in the region of the stones was carefully removed. This revealed other slabs and stones which were found to be covering of the well. The walls of the well had been lined with bricks and the top supported by arching, again in brick, being the usual formation of such structures years ago. In 1988 the well was pumped dry and a quantity of 4000 gallons of water was extracted. It measures 26ft deep by 10ft across and there is always about 16ft of water in it. It has been pumped out twice and within 2 to 3 hours, we have 16ft of water in it again The site of the well did, at the time it was found in 1981, lay beyond the boundary of the land leased to the museum but the Hon John Fellowes again stepped in and ceded an additional strip of land to enable the well to be incorporated within the site of the museum. The structure above the well was constructed by the Manpower Services Unit in 1987. The source of the well water is not yet known and previous knowledge and information about the well has not yet been traced. The roof of the well head was thatched by Arthur Dodson and his team thanks once again to the Hon John Fellowes.
THE MUSEUM MANAGEMENT AND ITS FUTURE.
The management of this museum is under the control of the four trustees and 12 committee members, all of whom are volunteers who give their time so generously towards the upkeep, maintenance and improvement of the museum. They are ably assisted by a number of volunteers who also give their time freely. Every artefact within the museum has either been donated or given on loan for exhibition. The response to this giving since 1976, when work first began on the buildings has far exceeded the expectations of the original trustees and continues to do so. To clean, restore, record, label and exhibit these items, has been and still is a mammoth task. Much of the heavier machinery, which was earlier, stripped, cleaned, painted and reassembled in buildings at the farm of Marshal Papworth but, as these are no longer available for this purpose, this work has to be undertaken at the museum. It is a continuing process of renovation and restoration which could only be undertaken by the many volunteers.