A Brief History
After many long years of work by a dedicated team of volunteers, the Ramsey Walled Kitchen Garden, was officially opened by Lord Fairhaven on 18th May 2010, an event attended by many Garden Trust members.
The restoration was initiated by the Gardens Trust after the garden was ‘discovered’ by a Trust member in 1996.
The walled garden is sited within the boundaries of the medieval Ramsey Abbey, although the garden itself is much later. Little now remains of the Abbey and we do not know where the monks' gardens were. On the dissolution of the monasteries, the site was granted, in 1540, to Sir Richard Cromwell. He converted a six bayed ecclesiastical structure into a summer residence. His descendents sold a much reduced estate to a Colonel Titus who was an MP for Huntingdon. He lived in Ramsey during the summer and Bushey Park in the winter. During the 18 th century, the Fellowes family acquired the estate. A survey in 1737 refers to “The Kitching Garden” of 4 acres 1 rood although it is not clear precisely where this was. A Terrier records “The Garden Ground or Wall Garden” near Ramsey Church. Further Terriers of 1809 and 1812 show a Gabriel Rose occupying a plot of three acres. The walled garden lies within this plot. The estate passed to the Fellowes family in 1804 and the architect Sir John Soane was commissioned to modernise the old house, including the construction of a new garden. In 1837, the estate passed to Sir Edward Fellows, later created Baron De Ramsey. He commissioned Edward Blore (later the architect of Buckingham Palace) to make further improvements. The Walled Garden is situated to the north of the school grounds and is bounded to the west by the former gardener's cottage and to the east by a school playing field. The south wall has three gates. The central one, built of Ketton stone, is the main entrance to the garden designed, we think, by Edward Blore in 1842. A sketch of this gate is used as the logo of the Gardens Trust. Parts of the south wall have been lowered to allow light for the school buildings. The remaining walls are 10' to 15' high and there were glasshouses along the northern wall The 1887 ordnance survey map shows the existing walled garden with paths, three glasshouses and two pumps. For more than 100 years, the garden produced vegetables, fruit and cut flowers for the house all year round.
|Former gardener Sam Hoskins at the east gate. Photo courtesy of Ramsey Rural Museum.|
These were sent by rail to London when the family was ‘in town'. Exotic fruits and flowers grew in the glasshouses. The high part of the north wall suggests a central display house as there is at Wimpole Hall. Remains of arches in base of the greenhouse walls suggest vines were grown with their roots outside and the fruit ripening under glass. Photographs dating from around 1904 show the final approach flanked by herbaceous borders backed by a clipped yew hedge up to the main gate. Remains of these yews, now overgrown trees remain. There is little documentary evidence for the 19 th century. We have recently been contacted by a Mr Coleman from Australia who believes an ancestor, John Howlett worked in the garden during the 1850s-1860s. A John Hopkins (then aged 61) lived in the Gardeners House in 1891. In the first part of twentieth century the head gardener was Mr Coombes with Sam Hopkins as foreman. The garden was still in use in the 1920's with strawberry plants being ordered from Fred Chillery & Son in Fenstanton and ‘an esteemed order' with Dicksons of Chester. In 1931, trustees of the 3 rd Lord De Ramsey moved the family residence to Abbots Ripton and Ramsey Abbey was sold to Diana Broughton (his sister and mother of the present day Lord Fairhaven of Anglesey Abbey). Diana died in 1937 at the early age of 29 but had expressed a wish that the Ramsey Grammar School should relocate to the Abbey. In 1938 the property was leased to the governors for ninety nine years at a nominal annual rent. During the 1950's the walled garden was used as a market garden by E.H.C. Jones (Carly Jones), who lived in the gardener's house. Les Complin, who worked in the garden as a boy, remembered what it was like. It was his first job on leaving school at fourteen. He saw a sign advertising for a gardener, went in and got the job. His first week's wage in 1956 was £5 7s 6d. The garden was mainly used for the commercial growing of flowers and the main growing area, three of the four quarters in rotation, was given over to growing scabious which were taken to the L.N.E.R station in Ramsey for sale in Leeds market. The glass houses were intact with one glass house given over to arum lilies, one to freesias and one at the western end to tomatoes, which were misted daily and flooded once a week. The old bothies and sheds on the north side of the north wall were in use with a flower packing shed, tool shed etc. The old boiler house was present but not usable. Vegetables were grown outside the walls in beds to the north of the garden, currently the gardens of houses in Lawrence Road. There was an asparagus bed and, immediately to the north of the well, a patch of Christmas Roses for the winter flower market. In the field to the east of the garden, currently the school playing field, there was an orchard with a variety of tree fruit and a row of blackberries. Box hedges surrounded three sides of each of the four quadrants and all the edge beds. Les remembers keeping the box hedges neat and trim as a bit of a chore. He also had to make sure the blue edging bricks were all the same height and ‘just so'. The apple tunnel was still standing but was made of wood. He remembers that the apple trees along the central axis were not very productive, even then. An aerial photograph of 1963 shows the garden was tidy but not cultivated and the glasshouses were still present along the north wall.
The garden in the 1970s
Subsequently, the garden was used in a rather piecemeal way and fell into decline and the glasshouses were taken down, probably in the late 1970's, although the foundations still remain. Two quarters were cultivated by Mrs Swales and others and a row of cordoned apples and pears were planted. In 1996 a member of the newly formed Cambridgeshire Gardens Trust “discovered” the walled garden. It was so overgrown that it was difficult to get in through the gate. Back to top
The Garden in The 1950's
During the 1950's the walled garden was used as a market garden by E.H.C. Jones (Carly Jones), who lived in the gardener's house. Les Complin, who worked in the garden as a boy, remembers what is was like. It was his first job on leaving school at fourteen. He saw a sign advertising for a gardener, went in and got the job. His first week's wage in 1956 was £5 7s 6d. The garden was mainly used for the commercial growing of flowers and the main growing area, three of the four quarters in rotation, was given over to growing scabious. One of Les's jobs was to cut and pack the flowers to be taken to the L.N.E.R station in Ramsey, to be sold in Leeds market.
The E.H.C. Jones Letterhead
The garden was very different from today and the glass houses were intact. One glass house was
given over to arum lilies, another smaller one to freesias, which Mrs Jones liked. The glass house
at the western end was used for growing tomatoes. These were misted daily and the glasshouse
was flooded once a week.
The walls were covered with tree fruit – pears etc. and chrysanthemums were also grown.
The old bothies and sheds on the north side of the north wall were in use with a flower packing
shed, tool shed etc. The old boiler house was present but not usable.
Vegetables were grown outside the walls in beds to the north of the garden – currently the
gardens of houses in Lawrence Road. There was an asparagus bed and, immediately to the north
of the well, a patch of Christmas Roses for the winter flower market.
In the field to the east of the garden, currently the school playing field, there was an orchard with
a variety of tree fruit and a row of blackberries. A twenty foot hawthorn hedge marked the
northern boundary. Box hedges surrounded three sides of each of the four quadrants and all the edge beds. Les
remembers keeping the box hedges neat and trim as a bit of a chore. He also had to make sure
the blue edging bricks were all the same height and ‘just so'. The apple tunnel was still standing
but was made of wood. He remembers that the apple trees along the central axis were not very
productive, even then. Back to top
The garden in the mid 1990s
The Cambridgeshire Gardens Trust undertook a survey of the garden during 1996 and 1997. This survey revealed the main gates, bricked up gates in the east and west walls, evidence for the glasshouses such as brick arches forming the base of a vine house, tiled flooring, remains of windows and slate slabs. Box hedging, much of it now trees, surrounded most of the central quarters and the edge beds. The east-west axis showed the remains of an apple tunnel which was lined with blue ropetop edging. The apple trees were shown to be diseased and/or returned to root stock and replanting was recommended. A large overgrown black Mulberry covered much of the north-east quadrant. The walls were peppered with nails indicating the former presence of tree fruit. The Trust took the decision to restore the garden and work started with volunteers beginning to clear the site. At the same time, negotiations began to secure a lease. These negotiations were extremely protracted with a twenty five year lease eventually being signed in August 2007, ten years after the decision to go ahead with the restoration was taken. As part of the agreement, the County Council agreed to repair and maintain the walls. Coping stones were replaced, walls repointed, buttresses built to support the high portion of the north wall, sycamore trees cut down and ivy removed. It was decided that the actual restoration and management of the garden did not fall under the remit of the Gardens Trust and would be better undertaken by a locally based group. Thus, the Ramsey Abbey Walled Kitchen Garden Trust was established in 2004 with two trustees being on the Board of the Gardens Trust and two trustees local to Ramsey. Access to the garden was another issue to be resolved. The main entrance gate to the garden is in the grounds of the school (now Abbey College) and for security reasons this could not be used for public access. Agreement was reached with the school and Lord De Ramsey for a flat access path to be created from Ramsey Rural Museum and for use of the Museum's parking, toilets and cafeteria. The lease included a three metre wide strip along the edge of the playing field for the path. Whilst these negotiations were taking place, clearing continued with a group of volunteers attending once a fortnight. The box hedges were cut right back and regenerated. The limbs of the mulberry tree which were growing several meters along the ground were cut back and the tree now fruits prolifically. Decaying fruit trees and self sown saplings were removed with a continual cutting back of brambles, buddleias and other shrubs. Meanwhile, the Trust was successful in its application to the Local Heritage Initiative (part of the Heritage Lottery Fund) for a grant of almost £25,000 to help fund the legal fees, open up the gate in the east wall, make a new gate, create the access path with a bridge over a ditch, recreate the apple tunnel and finance leaflets and display panels. A grant from the Red Tile Wind Farm Trust enabled the water supply to be restored. No more bringing in water in milk cartons from home. Clearing continued. After the removal of brambles and shrubs, weeds such as thistles, nettles and bindweed began to appear. Cleared areas were carpeted with old carpets donated by Gammons in Ramsey. Although intended to be very short term, parts of the garden were carpeted for five years before they were finally removed early in 2010.
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One of the aims of the Trust is to plant varieties of fruit, vegetables and flowers which illustrate the history of horticulture in the County. To date we have planted the apple tunnel with 20 pairs of apple trees bred in Cambridgeshire. These were grafted by the National Fruit Collection at Brogdale in Kent and include varieties such as Huntingdon Codlin, Histon Favourite, Chivers delight and Lord Peckover. We have planted Cambridge strawberries and Cambridge gages and plums, including Willingham Gage and Wallis's Wonder, recently bred by Mr Wallis of Bluntisham. All the Maris varieties of potato were bred in Cambridge and King Edward potaoes were first grown commercially by Jabez Papworth, known locally as the Potato King, in Ramsey Heights. Unwins, formely of Histon, bred many varieties of sweet pea and we will grow sweet peas to illustrate their history. The apple tunnel is being underplanted with aquilegias and in time we hope to build up a large collection. Back to top
Formal opening 2010
2010 was a landmark year for the dedicated team of volunteers who stayed with the project, some for over ten years, when at times it looked as if we would never succeed. We decided to start opening the garden to the public on Sunday afternoons. However, much of the garden was still carpeted and the paths unmade. We were fortunate to secure funding for the paths to be laid with hoggin. We also worked with Community Payback (run by Cambridgeshire and Huntingdon Probation Service) who came initially weekly and now fortnightly to work in the garden. They have dug over most of the garden and cleared the carpet and other rubbish, filling five skips. Without their work, the garden would not be where it is today. A herb garden, with raised beds, was built during the early part of 2010, partly in response to many questions from visitors who were interested in a herb garden. Although this garden has no links to the medieval abbey, we felt that herbs (which would have been grown in a Victorian garden) showed a connection. A handsome sundial donated by Ramsey WI forms the centre piece of the herb garden. Much of the garden is now under cultivation. One quarter is for fruit with strawberries, currants, gooseberries and raspberries. A fruit cage ensured our visitors (and volunteers) could eat the fruit. The other two quarters grow vegetables. Marshalls kindly donated asparagus, potatoes and other seeds. The central north south path will be flanked by herbaceous borders, but this year we have grown annuals and sweet peas. To date, (mid-September) we have had over 800 visitors to the garden. Visitors have the chance to buy the produce we grow. Back to top
|The official opening of the garden in 2010. Pictured here are Lord Fairhaven, David Yardley and John Drake.|
Current work and Future plans
When the volunteers began work on the garden, many areas were inaccessible and in places the walls could not be seen. The box hedging had grown to tree size and the brambles were enormous. Over several years, volunteers have cut down the box hedge and seen it rejuvenated, dug out the brambles, removed dead fruit trees and others that had self-seeded there. Layers of soil have been removed from the paths and the hoggin reached. Nettles, thistles, caper spurge and many other weeds have been cut down and dug up. The traditional layout of the garden can now be seen, with four quadrants separated by paths and bordered in many places by a healthy box hedge.
Despite attempts to find photographic or written evidence of the garden, little has been found. It has therefore been decided to grow fruit, vegetables and flowers which have a link with Cambridgeshire. This will give the garden its own identity and distinguish it from other walled gardens.
The Trust has signed a lease to rent the land for 25 years. We have received a grant of almost £25,000 from the Local Heritage Initiative and much of this has been used to provide the following:
- a path from Ramsey Rural Museum to the garden, marked by a hedge, protected with a fence
- a new entrance made in the east wall with a splendid wooden gate made by local craftsmen
- 20 apple arches which are replacements for the arches that were originally in the garden.
It is a really exciting time for those of us working there, as we can now start to move forward with our plans. It is a great opportunity for people to participate in something creative and inspiring and of benefit to the community. One of the Trust’s aims is to encourage and educate children in horticultural matters. Moreover, it can be fun working in the garden!
We plan to bring the garden into full production and reduce the number of weeds! Much of the garden has been resting for forty years or more with countless weed seeds building up in the soil. Now that we have achieved our original goal of opening the garden, we have recently discussed our future priorities and development plan through a series of meetings with a facilitator funded by Cambridgeshire ACRE and are now in the process of writing our development plan. A number of areas are being explored such as the best ways of selling or distributing the produce, how to engage with local schools and colleges to deliver on our educational aims, how to recruit more volunteers and more research on Cambridgeshire varieties and how to source them. In the medium term we hope to install glasshouses. Although the development of Ramsey Walled Kitchen Garden has been very long and drawn out, the Trustees, committee members and volunteers feel proud of what has been achieved and look forward to a prosperous future when the garden can be of real benefit to Ramsey and the local area. Back to top