Bodsey House

 

Bodsey House click for larger imageBODSEY (It means Boda's Island) was an island in the fens in Saxon times, similar to but much smaller than that on which the town of Ramsey now stands. Being then completely separated from the mainland by over a mile of water, it became the home of a succession of hermits who often settled in such isolated places and, in the l2th century, a hermitage out of which the present house has developed, was in being there.

Records state that the island was given to Ramsey Abbey by Duke Ailwyn on its foundation in 969 and it remained one of the abbey's possessions until the dissolution of the monastery in 1539.  Tradition tells us that, Bodsey House was a hunting box for King Cnut, which is feasible as he certainly visited Ramsey, it also tells us that two of Cnut's sons, who were drowned crossing 'Whittlesey Mere', were buried in the house, and that their tombstone still exists situated in the South-east corner of the existing dining room.

Little is known of its history during the Middle Ages but there was a lawsuit in 1220 over common rights and a fishery which was settled in favour of the abbot.  Towards the end of the 13th century the island became a holiday rest house for the monks where the strict regimen of the abbey was temporarily relaxed and it was probably at this time new buildings were erected for their accommodation which form the nucleus of the present house.  Early in the next century a large chapel was added.

After the dissolution of the monastery the abbey property was granted to Sir Richard Williams alias Cromwell in 1540 and Bodsey became part of the Manor of Ramsey without independent status. The manor subsequently passed through several hands eventually coming into the possession of the Fellowes family (now the De Ramseys) in 1737.   Bodsey House with 185 acres of land was bought by Lt. Col. A. G. Warde, M.C. the present owner, in 1929, and from that date its separate existence after 960 years may be said to have recommenced.  It is now owned in 2005 by Mr & Mrs Cunningham.

Bodsey House was originally surrounded by a large moat of which the southern and part of the western arms still contain water.  The course of the eastern arm can easily be traced but the northern has all but disappeared.  Before the draining of Ramsey Mere and the nearby fens in the 19th century the road from Ramsey ended at the house but, after the reclamation had been completed and the area divided into fields, it was continued northwards, necessitating the destruction of the mid-l6th century parlour adjoining the Hall which stood in its way, and thereby cut off the western arm of the moat from the rest of the site.

So many alterations have been made since the first building was erected that the architectural history of the present house is very difficult to follow.  The earliest part is a long stone range of the late 13th century, some 47ft. x 15 ft. internally, running north and south which was probably built when the hermitage became a rest centre.  As the stone walls only stand about twelve feet high it may be that, if there was a first floor as is most likely, it was of timber but no sure indication remains, the walling above the stonework being entirely of 19th century brick.  There may have been other early buildings but, if so, they have entirely disappeared. Early in the 14th century a large chapel 43ft. 6ins. x l8ft. of three bays was added at the southern end of the 13th century range and about 1500 a great fireplace was constructed at the northern end to serve the kitchen there.  The wooden partition forming a passage between the chapel and the kitchen may also be of this date.

The Cromwells drastically altered the buildings to convert them into a house.

A new timber-framed and plastered wing containing a Hall with screens-passage and a parlour was built at right-angles at the south-west end of the 13th century range.  The chapel was divided into two storeys by the insertion of a floor and the original traceried windows were blocked up and new ones inserted.

In the 17th century the chapel was further mutilated when the eastern bay was destroyed and a large chimney stack erected in the new eastern gable, and attics, one with a fireplace, were contrived in the roof.

Later alterations and additions were made from time to time to bring the house up to date and to provide further accommodation.  In the 18th century a narrow timber-framed wing, now a study and office, was built north of the Cromwellian wing, possibly on the site of an earlier building.  An interesting survival is a double stone privy of the same date erected against the exterior of the east wall of the shortened chapel.  Further alterations were made in the 19th century when a scullery, pantry, servants' staircase, and outbuildings were built and many new windows were inserted.  The 20th century saw the external walls of the two western wings smothered with crushed pebble dash and finished off with cement 'rustication' and the construction of a new entrance hall on the west between the two wings.  Colonel Warde has also left his mark and has done much to preserve the building and to adapt it to modern requirements, chief of which are the insertion of larger windows in the drawing room, the opening up of the magnificent fireplace in the bedroom above the Hall and the rebuilding on a smaller scale of the fireplace in the Hall itself.  He has also excavated the destroyed eastern end of the chapel, uncovering the foundations of the north-eastern buttress and the east wall, thereby enabling a correct plan to be made.

 

Architectural Features

Particular features to be noted are in the 13th century range, the former Hall (now the dining room) and the chapel (now the drawing room) downstairs, and the two main bedrooms upstairs.

There are three stone doorways remaining in the 13th century range.  That opening to the modern WC is contemporary but has been re-set.  The one leading to the dining room is 14th century and has a pointed head with segmental rere-arch.  The one leading into the drawing room is also 14th century and has a fine moulded ogee-arched head, somewhat damaged.  Between this doorway and that to the dining room is a curious ogee-headed recess, possibly for a moveable holy water stoup or a lamp.  There was a fourth doorway in the range, of which only the northern jamb is complete.  It was blocked when the fireplace in the study was inserted and partly destroyed when the present doorway from the passage was made.

In the east wall of the 13th century range are two rectangular lights rebated for wooden shutters, which have been shortened and iron stanchions inserted.  There are traces of two more in the west wall.

High up in the east wall, by the ceiling, are two stones carved with roll mouldings and large jog-tooth ornament.  They are now acting as brackets but probably came from an elaborate 13th century destroyed doorway.

Two of the formerly three traceried windows in the south wall of the chapel remain in part and can be seen on the outside.  They were blocked up in the mid 16th century and in the middle one was inserted a small doorway with a brick arched head, later disused probably when the 17th century chimney stack was built.  The double buttress at the south-west angle of the chapel remains.   Much of the walling hereabouts has been rebuilt, no doubt in Elizabethan times.

The dining room has a stone flagged floor uncovered by Col. Warde and in the north wall is a fireplace of which only the western jamb is original.  He also removed an internal partition which in the 19th century divided the room into two parts and has exposed the timbered ceiling and its massive beams.  Also at the eastern end of the room there was a circular opening in the floor of an unknown depth, which was thought by some, to be an opening for shooting rubbish, others believed it to have been the entrance to the cellars, which are supposed to exist under the building.  A less likely suggestion was that it was the entrance to a subterranean passage leading to the Abbey! 

The ghost of a 14th century nun supposedly visits the house, her brother who was a monk was dying in Bodsey house, the poor girl was caught visiting him and subsequently punished by being bricked up in a chimney breast, within the house and left to die!

Some authorities state that Bodsey House was a hunting lodge for King Cnut and that two of his sons, who were drowned crossing Whittlesey Mere, are buried in the house and that their tombstones still exist situated in the south-east corner of the existing Dining room.

In the kitchen is a huge fireplace of c.1500 now partly filled by a heating stove and a cupboard.  Its northern chamfered and stopped jamb is still visible.  A doorway through the fireplace back was made in the 19th century when a scullery was added on the east.  In the north wall is a blocked 15th century window opening and there is a larger window, probably of the same date, in the west wall, but widened in the 19th century.  The kitchen also contains carvings which can be  clearly seen they take the form of rows of fishes and although they were carved centuries ago the work is clearly definable.

The drawing room retains no features of antiquity except the doorway before mentioned and the excellent timbered ceiling, the beams of which are chamfered and- stopped.

The principal bedroom over the dining room is undoubtedly the most unusual feature of the house.  In the north wall is a fine stone fireplace of c.1550, uncovered by Col. Warde.  It has an arched head and a projecting cornice.  The coved ceiling is possibly unique, and of the same date.  The curved rafters are intersected by long narrow beams dividing its area into rectangles.  It is possible that originally the woodwork was ceiled in hiding it from view.  A small adjoining room was probably a powder closet.

The bedroom above the drawing room has a raftered ceiling and a small room by the side of the chimney stack, no doubt a powder closet, has an early 19th century pointed wooden window.

The present staircase which is modern, apparently occupies the site of the earlier one.   Of particular interest are the "barley-stick" twisted balusters which came from Priory House, St. Neots, built in 1797 and destroyed in 1966.

Externally the most prominent features are the three tall chimney stacks of the 15, 16 and 17th centuries.  The earliest, that of the kitchen, has a stone base with set-offs, above which is a brick stack ending in three tall detached diagonal shafts.  The next in date is that serving the dining room and bedroom over.  It is similar to the earlier one but is largely of brick and has three diagonal detached shafts.  The third, in the east wall of the chapel building and serving the drawing room and bedroom above, only emerges at roof level.  It has two brick flues in one stack but no shafts and an added rectangular chimney rises against its northern side.

Finally, though all the roofs are now tiled they were doubtless originally thatched, the tiling and the curved wooden barge boards being of the 19th century.

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ŠP.G.M. Dickinson Esq. Printed by Anglia Echo Newspapers Ltd. and Caligraving Ltd.

All Photographs used, with kind permission of Mr & Mrs Cunningham