St Ives Priory

The priory here was owned by Ramsey Abbey until it was destroyed by fire in 1207, all that is left now are the remains of the 88ft * 34ft Priory Barn in Priory Road, it consisted of five bays and dated back to the 14th century.

Ramsey Abbey also owned the bridge with the chapel that now spans the River Ouse. The chapel has had a chequered life, over the years it has been a house of ill repute , an inn and a toll house. The two windows strategically placed low down bear witness to its use of collecting tolls, which proved very lucrative when people flocked into St Ives fair, they visited from all over England and Europe to buy cloth and materials. In 1426 it was dedicated as a chapel.

Little remains of the Priory established by Ramsey Abbey at Slepe (St Ives) before the Norman Conquest. The early history of the site which is recorded in the Chronicle of Ramsey seems to have been largely uneventful. The rapid rise in importance of both the priory and the town took place during the 11th century as the town became an established port and crossing point on the River Ouse.

The Priory was given churches at St Ives, Elsworth, Knapwell, Hemingford, Broughton, Brington, Gidding and Over as well as extensive lands. The profits of the great fair of forty days were also granted to the house and it is probably a reflection of this wealth that when the Priory burnt down in 1207 it seems to have been rebuilt and reconstructed by 1238. Profits fell during the 14th century and the Priory received a number of other grants from Ramsey Abbey.

Despite the initial prosperity of the house, it always seems to have been small and there were only six monks beside the Prior in the 15th century. When the house was dissolved in 1539 it is possible that only the Prior remained, as he was the only monk here to receive a pension. He was given £12 a year and the chapel and a chamber on the bridge in St Ives to live in.

Until the 19th century, both the Priory barn and its adjacent dovecote were still standing, the barn was demolished in 1859 and the dovecote around 1900.

In the garden of the ‘Priory House’ are the remains of the barn which now form the garden wall here. The barn was apparently built during the 14th century and was of roughly dressed Barnack limestone with ashlar dressings. The surviving wall stands to eaves height on the South wall of the building which was divided into five bays marked by buttresses. It appears to have had entrances in the centre of the North and South walls.