Ramsey: Then & Now

Martyn Smith’s engaging presentation was a trip down memory lane for many members of the History Society. Through a series of photographs, he showed how Ramsey had changed over the past 100 years. In an interactive meeting, members frequently asked questions, revealed their local knowledge, and drew on their personal perceptions of how Ramsey had altered during their lifetime. Captivated by the photographs, members shared their reminiscences which they expressed in nostalgic comments like, ‘Oh, I remember that,’ or, ‘I often went to that old cinema,’ or ‘Wasn’t that once the butchers?’

Our tour began at Palmer’s corner, at the junction between Great Whyte and High Street, with a look at how properties had been modified or updated to meet social changes and new demands. Some shops became banks, even the police station was converted into a bank, whilst other shops had new owners, sometimes leading to their change of function as a retail outlet. Photographs of property development gave a perspective on how the construction industry operated in the past, often with limited consideration for social convenience or health and safety. Moving along Great Whyte, a series of photographs from 1902 onwards revealed how its façade had changed. Early photographs showed the original frontage, whilst others recorded the rubble from disastrous fires and demolitions, resulting in the construction of new rows of shops and homes. In addition, modern facilities such as street lighting, bus stops and car parking areas, all began to alter the appearance of Great Whyte.

Further along the street, the mill and its water tower dominated the skyline, with a 1912 photograph showing the ‘lighters’ moored alongside it at Ramsey docks. The mill’s huge triangular crane would swing over the river to hoist up the sacks of grain for processing, testament to the earlier commercial use of the waterways. Later, a fire on the mill’s upper floor threatened to destroy the building, but water from the collapsed water tower extinguished the fire and saved it. The area is now much changed, with the mill being converted into flats and the nearby north railway station and gasometer both dismantled.

Martyn’s photographs illustrate the social and economic changes Ramsey experienced over a relatively short period. They reveal how it is constantly evolving, making us speculate what Ramsey might look like in 100 years’ time.

Roland Thacker

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