Both Abbots Ripton and Wennington are set within a designated Conservation Area (30 July 1979). Abbots Ripton is a small village (pop:253) which lies four miles due north of Huntingdon. A further mile north of the village lies the hamlet of Wennington (pop:59).
Approximately six miles distant is the market town of Ramsey, whose Abbey originally held the manorial rights. Lord De Ramsey, whose family ancestral home is Ramsey Abbey, presides over the Abbots Ripton Estate and lives at Abbots Ripton Hall. Abbots Ripton is connected to Huntingdon by the C115 minor road. At the southern end of the High Street this road joins the B1090 linking St Ives with the A1.
Abbots Ripton and Wennington are set within one of the few remaining areas of substantial woodland in Huntingdonshire. In 1610 the surroundings were shown as one of six deer parks in the County. Travelling from the south of Abbots Ripton, Holland Wood and Wennington Wood give an immediate backcloth to the village whilst slightly more distant, Little Less Wood and Boulton’s Hatch Wood lie on the western side. The large amount of trees in the local landscape is unusual for Huntingdonshire and of particular importance and interest is the predominance of the dominant species of Elm which have survived the devastating Dutch Elm disease (today there are over a thousand living elms – something unique to this area in the country). Many new trees (including lime, ash, oak, horse chestnuts, cherries, yews and birches) have been planted over the past 20 years by both the Abbots Ripton Estate and Parish residents, with the consequence that from the air, both Abbots Ripton and Wennington appear to be set within islands of trees.
Flying Scotsman Crash
The main line London to Edinburgh railway passes within a half mile of the village to the west. A station was constructed north of the main settlement but closed to passengers in September 1958. In 1876 a rail disaster occurred at Abbots Ripton which was to have a fundamental effect on signalling procedures ever after. It is recorded as one of the 50 most serious and important rail crashes to ever have occurred in Britain.
On the 21st January, in freezing conditions and blizzards at about 6pm,the ‘Flying Scotsman’- or more specifically the 10.30am Edinburgh to Kings Cross express – travelling south, crashed into a shunting coal train at Abbots Ripton. Three to four inches of ice clung to telegraph and signalling wires causing the signals to freeze in the ‘CLEAR’ position. Fortunately no-one was killed.
However, because of the terrible weather, the lack of communication and human error, a second crash occurred at 6.52pm between a down express, the 5.30pm Kings Cross to Leeds and the wreckage of the Flying Scotsman. Thirteen passengers were killed and fifty three injured.
As a result of this tragedy, a landmark recommendation was made by the Board of Inquiry that all signals on the rail network be redesigned so that they could not be made inefficient by ice and snow and if they failed this would be indicated in the signal box.
To the west of the railway is the perimeter of Alconbury Airfield, whose creation during WW2 severed the traditional road communications westwards from Abbots Ripton to Little Stukeley. The airfield is at present in the process of redevelopment of a new settlement known as Alconbury Weald for housing and industrial use.
The village of “Riptune” was in existence at the time of the Domesday Survey of 1086. The word “Riptune” is derived from early Saxon meaning “wood”, “woodland” or “adjacent to woodland”. It came within the ownership of Ramsey Abbey which was founded in 969 A.D. and at the time of the Domesday held nearly three quarters of the land in Huntingdonshire. Ripton and Wennington (or Winnington as it was then known),were originally granted to the monastery by Earl Alfwold, brother of Aylwin, the founder of Ramsey Abbey and they were confirmed in the possessions of the Abbey in King Edgar’s Charter of 974 A.D.
In the 12th and 13th centuries, Abbots Ripton became known as Magna Ripton and Riptona Abbatis. Whilst following the dissolution of the monasteries it was known as St John’s Ripton after the family who became Lords of the Manor.
Abbots Ripton was held by the Abbot of Ramesbury at Domesday and on the site of the building now known as Abbots Ripton Hall was a monastery where monks established substantial arable and stock farms and fisheries. Many of the original fields are still farmed today by The Abbots Ripton Estate.
Weavers and artisans who served the monastery lived largely in Wennington, at the time a larger settlement than Abbots Ripton, (the oldest house in Wennington is called Weavers Cottage circa 1246)
As has been mentioned the Parish lies within what was clearly once heavily wooded land and at the time of the dissolution, timber accounted for a substantial part of the value of the Manor. The entire Parish was heavily wooded and along with Somersham Chace and Sapley Forest, the Bishop of Ely claimed the right to hunt deer in the 14th century. Foresters however claimed that the woods bordering the road from Huntingdon to Ramsey through Ripton and Wennington were the King’s forest and not the Bishop’s free chace.
In 1541 the Manor was granted to Sir John St. John in exchange for the Manor of Paulesbury, Northants. His son Oliver became Baron St. John of Bletsoe in 1559. He died in 1582, the title was inherited by his son John, who died in 1596 without a male heir.
The Manor passed to his younger brother Oliver and then to his son Oliver in 1618, who was created Earl of Bollingbroke. He conveyed Ripton to Hugh Audley in 1640, who died in 1662 and the property subsequently passed to Nicholas and Thomas Bonfoy. The daughter of Thomas Bonfoy married Sir Charles Caesar and the Manor then passed to their son Julius Caesar in 1741.
In 1794, the Manor was acquired by William Fellowes and has remained in the family to the present day. His descendant, John Fellowes, Lord De Ramsey, is currently Lord of the Manor. The family home is Abbots Ripton Hall, which was rebuilt on the site of the monastery and an earlier house and whose appearance was completely altered by the architect Salvin when he remodelled it in 1856.