Newtown Road, Ramsey, Cambridgeshire, PE26 1EQ
A small church of 1863-5, the design apparently supplied by E.W. Pugin, but architecturally very modest and considerably altered. The church was originally largely hidden by the presbytery, probably on account of local hostility to the mainly Irish immigrant congregation. The presbytery was demolished in 1995 and replaced with a narthex and parish room. The building makes a modest contribution to the Ramsey Conservation Area.
In the early 1850s the Catholics of Ramsey were served by a riding mission from Kings Cliffe, twelve miles west of Peterborough. This closed in 1855 and the Ramsey mission was then served from Peterborough. A plain church dedicated to the Sacred Heart was built in 1863-5 under the auspices of the Revd George Davies, the first resident priest. He occupied a house built at the same time, which largely concealed the chapel from the street, an arrangement often found in Catholic churches of fifty years earlier, but very unusual in the 1860s; clearly local antipathy towards the mainly immigrant Irish Catholic community was still strong. The Tablet described the church as ‘remarkable for the fact that a building, in no way devoid of charm, capable of seating 200 persons, together with a suitable presbytery, boundary wall and other conveniences has been erected for the sum of £550. The work is being executed by Mr Bateman, jun., from the design by Mr Welby Pugin’.
The reference to E.W. Pugin is unexpected, for the design is untypical of his work. Further light may be shed by a letter from Fr Davies in the following week’s edition, which stated that the figure of £550 related to the original estimate, but that Bishop Amherst of Northampton had asked for the building to be enlarged, ‘still preserving the identity and character of the very appropriate plans so generously furnished by W.E. (sic) Pugin’; this had increased the building costs to £800. So it appears that Pugin provided basic plans (possibly pro bono), and that (despite claims to the contrary from Fr Davies) there was some departure from these in the execution. In the following months Fr Davies made several further appeals for funds to complete the church, drawing attention to the fact that Huntingdonshire at this time was ‘the only county in England without a Mass’.
In 1872 a Mass centre at Huntingdon was opened from Ramsey. From 1876 to 1909 the priest lived at Huntingdon, and the Ramsey congregation declined. In 1914 the floor and ceiling were replaced (the floor renewed again in 1963). In 1919 Ramsey was transferred to the parish of March, but was returned to Huntingdon in 1949. Since then it has been transferred back and forth between Huntingdon and Whittlesey, from where it is currently served. The original pews were replaced with chairs in 1973 and again by new pews in the 1980s, possibly about the time of the enlarging of the choir gallery (1982). In 1995 the 1860s presbytery attached to the front of the church was demolished and a porch/narthex and small parish room built in its place.
The church is not orientated: the liturgical east end faces west. All directions in this description are liturgical.
The original building is rectangular on plan, with walls of brown brick laid in English bond and dressings of yellow brick. The pitched roof is covered in slate, and there is a tall, thin metal cross on the west gable. The west gable wall has been rebuilt in yellow brick laid in stretcher bond with a red brick corbel table. Presumably this was done in 1995, when a substantial brick porch/narthex with a small flat-roofed addition was added to the west front and a parish room with round-headed window and door openings built on the south side of the church. The side walls are mostly either obscured by later additions or face across adjoining properties. The east gable wall is blind apart from a cinquefoil opening in the gable.
Inside, the worship space is a single volume with plain plastered walls and a boarded and painted roof, whose timber principal trusses are carried down to floor level. At the west end is a deep gallery with a timber front, supported on thin cast iron columns. There is no structural division between the nave and sanctuary; the altar is raised on a single step and is enclosed by iron and timber rails. The side windows are uPVC, but the cinquefoil opening over the altar has stained glass of 1990 depicting the Holy Spirit.
Architect: E.W. Pugin
Original Date: 1865
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Not Listed