The history of Ramsey Rural Museum from its conception, through the major building renovations, its opening and continuing development.
The Museum was the brainchild of the Reverend Robert Gwynn, curate of Upwood, a small village four miles from Ramsey. He, together with the vicar of Ramsey, the Reverend Jones, and a local farmer, Marshal Papworth, took a group of Sunday School children to a private agricultural Museum at Haddenham, Cambridgeshire. They were very impressed by the number of items and variety of the collection and the fact that everything had a local origin. They realised that there must be a wealth of historic items, especially those peculiar to the Fens, lying around in fields, barns and houses in the Ramsey area and that unless something was done much of the area’s local history could be lost forever.
In September 1977 a group of local businessmen, farmers and local people set up a committee to investigate the possibility of establishing a museum in Ramsey. They made a request for premises to the Hon John Fellowes and as a consequence the Fellowes Estate leased the current site in Wood Lane to the Museum.
The site itself is part of the 10th century Benedictine Ramsey Abbey. After the abbey was dissolved in 1539 the stone from the buildings was mainly sold or re-used by the Cromwell family, and in 1657 a wood yard was built by them using the Abbey stone. The site was eventually purchased by the Fellowes estate with the buildings used as workshops and material stores.
The Original Buildings
By the 1940’s the majority of buildings were derelict. So, when the Museum was founded, it took an army of volunteers to clear the site in preparation for the extensive repair and renovation needed. Existing material, particularly the stone, was recycled to retain the original atmosphere.
The Restoration of the Buildings
All the stone buildings were originally roofed with thatch which had deteriorated beyond economical repair. Over 20,000 pantiles, donated by the public, were used instead. However, in order to retain authenticity, the part of the workshop that is now Reception remained thatched.
The Wood Barn was dismantled and rebuilt on stronger foundations. Its original use as a storage facility continues today.
The Whitehall Barn came from Whitehall Farm in Upwood and its reconstruction at the museum added a much needed indoor display space.
The Museum Opening
The museum was opened to the public in 1983, after the completion of health and safety work. However, much more restoration and preparation of exhibits and displays was required. So, it was not until 1988 that museum was officially opened by local author, and chronicler of Fenland life, Sybil Marshall.
The Final Building Work
The next building development came in 1992 when the shop-block was constructed and the Courtyard area created.
The final major development was the relocation, restoration and rebuilding of the Darlow’s Farm Cottage that was originally in a field by Woodwalton Fen. This work began in 2005 and took until 2012. More details are in Fen Cottage Project.
The Work Continues
Since then it has been a story of constant fundraising and work to maintain the museum and fund building maintenance, improvements to the landscape, expansion of the interior display spaces, renovation of machinery and vehicles and the development of the Ramsey Archives.
The People Who Make it Happen
Ramsey Rural Museum continues to be a real community project. As a Registered Charity it is maintained and managed entirely by volunteers.