Burwell (Burewelle)

The church here was the property of Ramsey Abbey. John Lawrence the last Abbot of Ramsey Abbey, before his death had a memorial brass made for himself, this is now in the chancel of Burwell church.

Shortly before his death, John Lawrence, had moved from Bodsey to take up residence in the former Abbey’s Manor house at Burwell. It was there that he died in 1542, and was buried in the chancel of the Church of St Mary’s Burwell. His tomb has an inscription around the margin and the Evangelical symbols at the corners are missing. The brass inserts have been much altered. Abbot John, it is said, had the original made about 1520 as an embellishment for his eventual tomb within the Abbey. It showed him in full pontificals with mitre under an elaborate canopy.

Unfortunately by the time of his death in1542, he was no longer an Abbot and the Abbey had become a private residence, so the Abbot or his executors changed the image. The brass figure was turned over and on the reverse side his representation was inscribed picturing him in the habilments of a canon in surplice and amice. Most of the canopy was removed leaving only the top showing the Resurrection of the Saviour wearing the crown of thorns within the halo. Beneath it a canopy from some other brass has been inserted . A triangular depression in the stone bed above the head of the figure had accommodated the mitre of the original.

(Ref 19)

In 1246 the Abbot of Ramsey sought permission from the Bishop of Ely to consecrate a private chapel at his manor of Burwell. The manor was fortified during the fighting between Stephen and Queen Matilda. Ely supported the Queen but amongst the powerful local supporters of Stephen was Geoffrey de Mandeville who had his quarters at Ramsey. His rebellion failed when he was mortally wounded whilst attempting to besiege the castle, which was being erected at Burwell, as one of a string of fortifications to block his route South from the fens.

During the 15th century a separate lodging house for the Abbot was built at the head of Burwell Lode, and this still survives today.

Parsonage farm, in low road Burwell, Ramsey Abbey, held a large estate and manor and it is clear that they planned the development of a new settlement at the head of Burwell Lode encouraged no doubt by the growing importance of the waterway during the early medieval period. Their new manor house replaced one on the site of the castle, and dates from the 14th century, the adjacent barn and outbuildings survive however, although with later alterations mainly in the early 16th century when a floor was inserted in the barn. The quality of carpentry in the barn suggests that it was converted for use as a public building, perhaps as a trading hall although it may have served for the storage of high quality merchandise prior to its transportation to Ramsey.

To the East, is a two storey jettied timber framed row of outbuildings which are also of high quality. The well lit upper hall may have served as a weaving hall with offices below, and storage at the East end. Both buildings remained in the possession of Ramsey Abbey until the Dissolution in 1537. (ref 25)

King Edgar granted five hides at Burwell towards the expense of building the church at Ramsey Abbey.

The excavations of 1935 showed that the (Burwell) castle was unfinished with the moat only partly dug out and large spoil heaps still piled outside the ditch on the North and West. The site was later occupied by buildings which can probably be identified as the manor house of the Abbots of Ramsey, who in 1246 were licensed to erect an oratory (Cartularium Monesterii de Ramseia-Rolls Series LXXIX, II, 193). The excavations, exposed a stone range running the full length of the East side of the enclosure and returning along the South side. The building projecting slightly East near the centre of the range may be identified as the chapel, and the range on the North, with two latrine chutes in the thickness of the wall, probably contained the Abbots camera (camera obscura = dark chamber) in the first floor. (Ref 26)