The Hospital or Guesthouse
The appearance of this building would have been as a long low barn-like structure without tower or porches. There was no clerestory, and the roof would have swept down on either side to cover both nave and aisles. At the East End was a small rectangular projection (chancel) roofed at the same level, but with side buildings.
On entering, it would be seen that the nave was kept clear and used for all sorts of domestic purposes throughout the daytime, while the aisles were divided into cubicles for sleeping accommodation at night. At the east end was a large arch filled with a screen, which opened into the chapel (chancel) where the priest in charge said mass for the inmates.
North of the chapel was a vaulted vestry, and on the south side was a similar building which was probably the lodgings of the warden. These two side buildings opened to the aisles by arches in line with the arch to the chapel, and were also closed with screens. The aisles would be much lower than the present, though of the same width and were lit by single narrow windows. In the east face of the North East buttress of the present chancel is a sloping chase indicating that other buildings once ran eastwards from the vestry, probably in line with the precinct wall which seems here to have bounded the churchyard on the North. From the west front, in which was a magnificent Norman doorway, the precinct wall continued southwards to the Abbey gate.
The Conversion to a Parish Church and Later
When the ‘hospital’ was converted into a church only a few alterations were necessary. As the former ‘chapel’ was too cramped one or two of the Eastern Bays of the nave were fenced off to make a more worthy chancel. A sedillia of three arches and a double piscina were added on the south side of the chapel which now became a projecting Eastern Bay to the chancel.
Some alterations were made in the vestry, an aumbry or cupboard was made in the south wall ( the North Wall of the chapel) to hold the accessories of the altars, and eastwards of it a piscina was inserted for a side altar which was placed against the East Wall. A font is also provided.
About 1310 the southern building adjoining the chancel, formally the wardens lodging was demolished as it had long since ceased to be of use. A window of unusual form was inserted in its place to give more light to the high altar for, until then,there had been no side windows in the sanctuary which must have been rather dark. No further alterations appear to have been made to the fabric until the end of the 15th century.
It was then that the aisles were rebuilt on the old foundations and considerably heightened. They were given much larger windows than before, and please, together with the new clerestory windows which were added over the nave arcades, greatly improve the lighting of the church. A south porch was also added, but unfortunately it was destroyed in the restorations of 1843 and was never rebuilt, traces of its roofline can be seen on the upper part of the wall. A ‘stepull’ onward containing four bells was also built, apparently within the Western Bay of the nave. It was not until 1672 of the present stone tower was constructed and Ramsey Church assumed its present-day appearance.
The Western tower
The interesting western tower was built in 1672 by the inhabitants, and many of its stones bear the initials of donors to the cost of the work. It is constructed almost entirely of materials taken from the Abbey ruins, and is a strange hotch-potch of detail on various dates. The most striking feature is the truly magnificent semi-circular headed west doorway of c1180 date, which is of four orders which shafted jams – doubtless the original West doorway of the former ‘hospital’ re-set. over the doorway is a rectangular sunk panel inscribed:-
TAKE HEED, WATCH AND PRAY, FOR YE KNOW NOT WHEN THE TIME IS. S. MAR. 13.33
Immediately above it is a raised circle a panel of uncertain use, and above again is a two-light 15th century window of re-used work, and now partly hidden by the clock. The Belfry, which is divided from the rest of the tower by a 12th century stringcourse, this has in each face a two light window, consisting of 12th and 13th century moulded and carved stones. There are Crocketted pinnacles at the corners, and the embattled parapet is made of more re-used work, very noticeable in the central merlon on the west side. The twin corner buttresses have a very slight projection. The tower opens to the nave by a re-used late 12th century pointed arch of four orders having a semi-cylindrical responds with attached shafts and scalloped capitals. A modern screen fills the lower part of the arch, and the head is now filled with stained glass depicting Our Lord with little children. The lintel of the Belfry doorway is made up of a 13th century coped coffin-lid with ‘Omega’ ornament. (34)