A Brief history of the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Ramsey – Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus 10th June 1988
Researched and written by Claudia Logan
The return of the Catholic Church to Ramsey was as a mission affiliated to the Peterborough Mission. It was originated by the Very Reverend Thomas Seed of Peterborough, Canon of Northampton and continued by the Reverend George Davies.
The Ramsey Mission was the first Catholic mission in the County of Huntingdonshire. Ramsey was the chosen town almost certainly because after the Irish famine many Irish migrants came to work in the area as agricultural workers.
Prior to this the few Catholics in the area were overseen by the Kings Cliffe Mission based in the village of the same name, 12 miles west of Peterborough. It was called a ‘Riding Mission’ because the priest needed a horse to visit his widely separated parishioners. In the 1850’s this Riding Mission was in decline and 1855 saw it close. Peterborough now took over the pastoral role for Ramsey and the surrounding Fens, until the opening of the Ramsey Catholic Church.
A Bishop’s visitation to Peterborough reveals that in 1859 Ramsey had a registered Catholic population of 113, Whittlesey of 70, Thorney of 6 and Huntingdon of 33. Canon Seed of the Peterborough mission traveled widely to bring the sacraments to the Catholics in the Fens and as these people were mostly poor he needed to go beyond the local areas to fund raise. He went to towns in England and Ireland for this and it is probable that some of the proceeds went to the Ramsey Mission, so that together with monies collected from the Irish workers it became possible to build a church in Ramsey.
This was the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus opened in 1863 by the Reverend George Davies it’s first pastor. The church, a plain chapel, probably had the presbytery built at the same time as the church, for the two buildings had a connecting door from the presbytery to the choir loft, and were built in such a way that they formed an L shape with the presbytery almost totally screening the church from the view of passers by. This appears to have been deliberate policy, since the church was built at a period of time and in an area which was still somewhat hostile to the Catholic Church. The building still bears evidence of its in-expert setting out which suggests that there may have been a D.I.Y. element in its construction.
Fr Davies was Ramsey’s first resident Catholic priest since the reformation; he served Ramsey until 1866 when he left because of ill health. Fr John Duff was the next pastor. He opened Huntingdon as a Mass centre in 1872 and died in Ramsey in 1873. He has the distinction of being the first Catholic priest to be buried at Peterborough since the Reformation. While on his death bed Fr Duff refused to have Canon Seed from Peterborough prepare him for death but insisted that Canon Rogers from Coldham in Suffolk do so. The Canon helped Fr Duff prepare himself spiritually and temporally. The will was finished at midnight and Canon Rogers called in two Catholic railwaymen, named McDonough to evidence the signing of it. Fr Duff insisted on being buried in Peterborough and so his remains wee taken there by train and he was buried “on May 8 at one o’clock, the dinner hour when the cemetery was packed with people attracted by the special event”. There was some trouble over the inscription for some anti catholic feeling was shown but all ended amicably.
The Reverend Patrick Duffy became the next priest of the Sacred Heart church. He served Huntingdon’s Mass centre at St Michael the Archangel from Ramsey between 1873-76 in which year he moved to the Huntingdon presbytery. In 1870 Ramsey could boast 400 catholics but from 1876 onwards until the arrival of Fr Wilson in 1909, the Church at Ramsey was virtually closed and the people utterly neglected (from Huntingdon at least), with the inevitable results. The decline is illustrated by the figures given by Fr Wilson in his annual returns for his first and last years:-
1909 Catholics 12, Average attendance of Mass 4
1912 Catholics 14, Average attendance of Mass 4.
Fr Wilson was replaced on 13 August 1913 by the Reverend Frederick Williams Lockyer, who had been assistant priest at Peterborough All Saints Church. He was a popular priest in Peterborough and was given a rousing send off. The twin missions of Ramsey and Huntingdon were a hard task for the new priest. To say Mass in Ramsey he had to hire transport. Eventually he solved this problem by buying a motorbike and eventually a modest little car. The letter to The Universe of November 7 1913 is evidence of the financial hardship Fr Lockyer had to cope with.
Nevertheless Fr Lockyer set about restoring Ramsey church. In November 1913 he records in his mission log book that he looked into the repairs needed, the restoration beginning on December 3rd with the cleaning of the church.
“6th December. Fr Lockyer to Ramsey today in bitter wind. Half new floor is done and though the whole church is full of dirt and everything ‘Anyhow’, Mass will be said tomorrow, as a woman said,
“If there aint no floor, nor yet no ceiling, the dear Father won’t let us go without our Mass, we are pretty certain.””
On12th December the Sacred Heart Church receives from Huntingdon an organ, box of vestments and a set of stations of the Cross. There is no record of what had happened to such items as the church owned in 1876, possible items such as vestments were taken to Huntingdon when Fr Duffy moved to the presbytery there.
On Christmas Day 1913 Fr Lockyer at great effort to himself said Mass at Ramsey. He records
“Fr Lockyer said his 3rd Mass at Ramsey and went there on his motorbicycle, it broke down but he just got home fortunately. Miss Lydon sang the ‘Adeste Fidelis’ and Gounod’s ‘Ave Maria’ very beautifully at this Mass and charmed everybody. Fr Lockyer was pleased with the church so far as we have been able to get it. It was a bitterly cold ride across those bleak fens.”
Fr Lockyer was ably assisted by a Miss F.K Gregory of S Kensington, formerly married to (widowed by) Rev. Le Strange Ewen, later married to and widowed by Mr Gregory. Mrs Gregory was also a painter of local landscapes and of religious subjects. Notably she exhibited her work at the Art Exhibition in Huntingdon 19-20th November 1913. It was she who under Fr Lockyer’s direction organised the cleaning and restoration of the Sacred Heart Church. She learned to be a sacristan from Fr Lockyer, she cared for the sanctuary, altars, vestments and linens, she gave religious instruction, was choir master under Fr Lockyer, was the organist and cantor when a solo was required, also doing extra cleaning and repairing. Mrs Gregory seems to have been an indefatigable lady and most devoted to the Church. It was she who wrote-up Father Lockyer’s mission log book.
January 28th 1914 saw the return of the Blessed Sacrament to Ramsey. It was taken by Fr Lockyer every Wednesday for Benediction in the evening. It stayed overnight in the church. Father would return to Huntingdon for the night and come once more to Ramsey next morning to say Mass and remove the Sacrament back to St Michael the Archangel.
In February 1914 the Bishop of Northampton’s Visitation took place in Ramsey.
“The afternoon service in Ramsey was a splendid success, the Church was packed – The Bishop preached and the joy of the people bubbled over in an ecstatic roar of singing in the hymns and in forming en mass outside the church to receive the Bishop’s blessing.”
From 18th March 1914 weekly catechism lessons began for the Ramsey children. Once more the Sacred Heart Church began to be a centre of Catholic activity. Fr Lockyer had received and encouraged Catholic Evidence functions in Huntingdon, now one was held in Ramsey.
Fr Lockyer invited the non-catholics of the town and surrounding area to the lectures given by Fr George Nicholson, to learn what Catholics believe and what catholic practices were.
All this activity for Ramsey by Fr Lockyer came to an abrupt end with the rumblings of war. On August 6, 1914 he writes in his mission log book “poor Ramsey will have to be dropped, for a time at any rate”.
The next Mass to be said at Ramsey was not until 30th October.
Belgium refugees from the war ravaged Continent came to be camped in Ramsey St Marys and a Reverend of the Schrut Missionaries came to live in the Ramsey presbytery and he looked after the Belgian and Ramsey Catholics.
Unfortunately for this history Fr Lockyer was too busy from this point onwards to continue his mission log book. Thus nothing more is known of Ramsey at this period.
Fr Donald Heptomstall briefly looked after the Sacred Heart Church from 1918 when Fr Lockyer left until 1919 when Ramsey became part of the parish of March and was served from there until 1949. The Reverend Louis Allen served Ramsey from 1919 to 1922, the Reverend Wallace Chase until 1936, followed by the Reverend M.J Flanagan until 1944. In 1941 Jack and Margaret Baldwin moved into the empty Church House which they still occupy. In 1947 (Ed – misprint, possibly should read 1974) Margaret was honoured with the Papal Cross. The Reverend Michael Dunleavy served Ramsey briefly and in 1945 the Mountfort Missionaries took over until Fr W.J.Gaffrey arrived in 1947 and served Ramsey until 1949. Nothing is known of these priests other than memories of the older parishioners for at some point the records were lost.
In 1945-6 some of the land belonging to the Sacred Heart Church was sold. The Church had owned all the land behind the church and what is now the car park (the latter was then the site of a pair of cottages) up to the Great Whyte where it fronted the road with terraced houses. The rents, which at the time were 2s l0d weekly, were not sufficient to cover repair and maintenance and Rent Acts prevented the rents being raised, thus in 1945-6 the houses wee sold for £75 each! A few months later one of the houses was sold for £700! All the land that remained to the church was the small garden behind the church and the garages, plus what is now the car park and the frontage to the presbytery and car park.
From 1949 until 1966 Ramsey was served from St Michael, the Archangel, Huntingdon.
Fr Hardwick was with Ramsey for a year and Fr R. Atkinson from 1949 for ten years. He is especially remembered by Phyllis and Stan Smith for it was he who married them, now almost forty years ago. Fr D Thompson who came next in 1959 is also well remembered by many of the older parishioners with affection.
New Sacred Heart Church Front
In 1966 the Sacred Heart Church joined Whittlesey and was served by Canon Francis Sammons, until 1973. During these years the frontage of the Church property changed No 39-41 Newtown Road were declared unfit for human habitation and were demolished in 1966 by order of the then Ramsey Urban District Council. In their place was built the garages in use today and the car park. Also, the church received much needed redecoration as did the presbytery which had the Kitchen improved, walls and windows repaired and other sanitary improvements made to the house.
1973 saw the Sacred Heart Church rejoin the Huntingdon parish under the Reverend D Thompson. The Rev. G Grace served Ramsey from 1975 and Fr Liam Crowley was his curate, later to be parish priest of Whittlesey and Ramsey. It was under Father Grace that the first Church Council (still flourishing) was set up. Father Grace is still to be found serving Huntingdon.
Not long after rejoining Huntingdon, Ramsey was once more transferred to the Whittlesey parish, from 1978 to the present day. Fr Peter Wynekus, a Dutch priest known to his parishioners as Fr Peter because they could not pronounce his name served Ramsey from Whittlesey well until 1982 when he left for a parish in Cambridge. Fr Peter had an energy report made on the church, and a thorough survey of the church, house and vestry. Plans for the renovation of the Sacristy and for major alterations to the choir gallery were deposited with the Huntingdon District Council on 17 June 1982.
The alterations in the church and vestry were seen through by Fr John McNally who took over the parish in September 1982 and the church took on the aspect it presents today. Fr John, was interested in boxing, especially in the career of boxer Barry McGuigan and it is to be recorded that on the night of Barry McGuigan’s world championship fight in 1986 when Father John had been given a ring side seat, the parish sprung on him a farewell celebration, he took his disappointment philosophically.
Fr Liam Crawley followed as leader of the Ramsey flock and remained for two years. Many parishioners remembered him from when as curate he had helped Fr Grace in the Huntingdon parish. Now he was in charge of Whittlesey and Ramsey. He left Ramsey in April 1988.
Since the early 1980s Ramsey has grown tremendously, with the consequent increase in the number of Catholics. Today the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is a thriving community of like minded people, a friendly and welcoming community to all newcomers.
My grateful thanks to all who helped me in writing this brief history of the Sacred Heart Church. Principally my thanks go to Fr Grace of Huntingdon St Michael the Archangel, who put up with my repeated visits and constant questions with much patience; my gratitude goes to the Bishop of Northampton’s secretary who kindly passed on my information request to the Diocesan Archivist Mrs Margaret Osbourne; my appreciation to Mrs Osbourne who beavered on my behalf in the Archives; my fulsome thanks to Fr Liam Crowley who allowed me access to all the letters and records necessary to this work; I am indebted to Bob Addison who showed remarkable patience and forbearance in waiting so long for this history; to Margaret and Jack Baldwin church caretakers who spent much time recalling priests and facts for my benefit; to the Hon. Andrew Fellows who at the last minute was asked for help and who did so without delay. My appreciation goes to Mr Beebe, Chairman of the Ramsey Rural Museum whose knowledge of Ramsey’s history helped to put my own work in perspective and to Phillis Smith who spurred me on with helpful suggestions. Indeed my thanks go to all who in all kinds or ways gave me assistance and encouragement and lastly my thanks to the services of Fr Bell of March, to the services of Ramsey Public Library and of Mrs Lilley of Huntingdon Reference Library.
1 REV THEUSENBETH
2 NORTHAMPTON DIOCESE MAGAZINE ‘OUR DIOCESAN CHURCHES’ NO 28 P19
3 DIARY OF MR C TEMPLE-ROYTAN (ED – SHOULD BE LAYTON) ESQ (BUILDER AND BENEFACTOR OF ST MICHAEL THE ARCHANGEL, HUNTINGDON
4 ‘THE REVIVAL OF ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH 1793-1910’ BY PETER WASZAK MSC
5 ‘THE LAMP’ 1858, JANUARY 28. LETTER OF WILLIAM BISHOP OF NORTHAMPTON
6 ‘PENAL TIMES. HUNTINGDONSHIRE FROM DIOCESE OF NORTHHAMPTON CENTENARY SOUVENIR 1850-1950
7 ST FRANCIS MAGAZINE
8 FR LOCKER’S MISSION LOG
9 LORD DE RAMSEY’S RECORDS
10 LETTERS KEPT AT WHITTLESEY
11 BIRTHS AND MARRIAGES REGISTERS OF MARCH, HUNTINGDON AND WHITTLESEY
12 BOB ADDISON’S RESEARCH
13 CONVERSATIONS WITH MARGARET AND JACK BALDWIN