Ely, Cambridgeshire, England

Cambridgeshire is home to one of England’s smallest cities, although it has its fair share of historic buildings…


Status: East Cambridgeshire, Cambridgeshire, City, England

Date: 07/01/2016 & 19/02/2016

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: Peacocks Tearoom

Attractions: Ely Cathedral, Oliver Cromwell’s House, River Great Ouse, St Mary’s Church, High Street, Market Square, Market Street, Minster Tavern, Steel Eel-y, Jubilee Gardens, Ely Porta, Sebastopol Cannon, Bishops Palace, Townhouse Inn etc

Ely is located within the Fens of Cambridgeshire, a vast, flat area which was once a giant area of marshland. During the 18th and 19th centuries, the Fens were systematically drained, resulting in an enormous, incredibly flat piece of countryside.

One of its standout landmarks is Ely Cathedral, and thanks to the flat nature of the surrounding land, it is visible for miles around. We got this picture as we approached the city along the A142 from the Cambridge area, and what a magnificent sight it was!

We had a good reason to be in the area, as one of my distant American Cousins was stationed at a local Airbase, and it was our first chance to meet them. They recommended a lovely little tea shop down by the river, before showing us round…

We had a rather interesting Chocolate Imperial flavoured cup of tea at Peacocks Tearoom, which is set in a lovely Georgian Building which was originally two separate houses. Established ten years ago, the Tearoom has many different teas from around the world for you to sample, and is extremely popular, with a small queue just to get in!

We then took in the beautiful view along the banks of the Great Ouse River…

Looking North West back towards the city centre from the far side of the River, the towers of Ely Cathedral rise up above the various Georgian buildings in this part of Ely.

We had previously visited Cambridge, and taken a walk along the River Cam which flows through its centre. That eventually empties out into the Great Ouse, which then flows through Ely, and completes its 143 mile journey when it reaches “The Wash”, a large basin between the Lincolnshire and Norfolk coasts.

Lining the riverside are the “Jubilee Gardens”, opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 2002. One of its signature landmarks is the “Steel Eel-y” by Peter Baker, gifted to Ely by the Ely Rotary Club in 2006.

We made for the city centre, passing through the Jubilee Gardens, up to  Cherry Hill Park which runs parallel with Ely Cathedral.

It really does dominate the city, from pretty much any angle you care to look at.

We emerged out onto a road called the Gallery, exiting the park through the “Ely Porta”, also known as the Walpole Gate.

In 1083 the present Ely Cathedral was started, succeeding the original Church built by St Etheldreda (636 – 679) in 672. At this time it was an Abbey Church, although it also became a Cathedral in 1109 when it was also jointly the seat of the Bishop of Ely, covering most of modern day Cambridgeshire, and part of Norfolk.

The Abbey covered a large area, which stretched out into the gardens that surround it today. A new entrance to the Abbey complex was constructed starting in 1397, which became the Walpole Gate. It was named after Ralph Walpole, the Bishop of Ely from 1299 until 1302.

Ely Cathedral is rather unique in the UK. It has one of the longest naves out of any Church (12th century), at nearly 164 metres, as well as the stunning Octagonal Tower at the West End. In 1322, the original central Tower collapsed, and instead of simply replacing it, a new design was created. The interior was opened up, creating a vast new Lantern Gallery, atop which sat a new Octagonal Tower.

The final major part of the building work was the wooden ceiling of the Lantern Gallery by William Hurle. By 1350 the vast majority (aside from restoration work) of what we see today was complete, and the next major chapter of it’s history occurred in the 1530’s. Henry VIII instigated the reformation, abolishing the Monastery, after which it became an Anglican Parish Church, retaining Cathedral status. It remains the seat of the Bishop of Ely, as well as the Bishop of Huntingdon, his subordinate.

Lining the Southern edge of the Cathedral Yard lies the old Bishops Palace, built by the then Bishop John Alcock (1430 – 1500). Much of the building has been changed over the centuries, so that only the larger tower to the East (left) and the lower portion of the West Tower (right) are original.

In 1550 Bishop Thomas Goodrich (1494 – 1554) constructed the West Wing, and built up the remains of the West Tower to match the East. Much of the original Palace was then demolished by Bishop Benjamin Laney (1591 – 1675) who built the remainder of what we see today, during the late 1660’s and early 1670’s.

Today the building, along with the Ely Porta (now the School Library), is leased to the “King’s Ely”, an independent school which was established in 970.

The Cannon out in the Cathedral Yard was, like many others in the UK, captured by the British during the siege of Sebastopol in the 1850’s during the Crimean War. Queen Victoria herself later gifted it to the city in 1860.

Leaving the Cathedral Yard, past the cannon, we came out onto Church Lane, by two of Ely’s other notable landmarks.

To the left is the Church of St Mary’s, built by Bishop Eustace (Died 1215, also Chancellor of England in the 1190’s). The main Tower with Spire was added in the 14th century.

The Church is accompanied by a 16th Century timber-framed building, which was the home of Oliver Cromwell (1599 – 1658, Lord Protector of England) between 1636 – 1647. Cromwell was born locally in the town of Huntingdon, and a statue of him stands in the Market Square in St Ives.

Today you can tour the house which has been laid out as it would have looked when Cromwell was in residence. It makes for a cracking Museum, and is certainly worth a look.

We cut through to the High Street, where there are various historic old shops along its length, most dating from the 18th/19th centuries, when modern Ely began to expand.

At the far end lies the Market Square, home to the Ely Market, held on Thursdays, Sundays and other select days of the month.

The city’s Market Charter was first granted in 1224 by King Henry III (1207 – 1272), and it’s position by the river allowed goods to be imported and exported with ease. Until the Fens were drained, Ely itself actually sat on an island within the marshes, and the area was historically known as the Isle of Ely.

Heading along Market Street from the North end of the Market Square, we passed the entrance to “High Street Passage” which runs back through to the High Street.

A lovely network of small alleys hide a plethora of independent shops, crowned by the Cathedral’s Octagonal Tower in the background.

Just beneath the tower is a small shop called “Italian Jewellery”, at Number 4. Despite it’s 16th century brick exterior, the interior is timber framed from 100 years prior.

Continuing up Market Street, we reached “The Townhouse Inn”, which is one half of a stunning 18th century brick house, converted in 1996 into a Pub. The Townhouse sits at Numbers 60-68…

…whilst across the road at Numbers 39-41  you will find the “Market Street Brasserie”. Completed in the 18th century as part of a row of cottages, it was used as a Staging Post until 1845.

A large sign was uncovered on the 1st floor which explains all. It reads:

“Lynn, Cambridge and London. Vans, Fly and Stage Waggon. To the Bull Inn, Bishopsgate Street. Every Day. Isaac Marsh and William Swan Proprietors.”

The company, Marsh & Sons, operated coaches out of Cambridge towards London. Some of these services originated in Norfolk, and others ran on to Downham Market and Ely, before heading to Bishopsgate in the City of London where the Bull Inn was located.

Our last stop was on the Corner of St Mary’s Street and Minster Place, opposite the Western end of the High Street, close to the Cathedral.

One of the towns most ornate buildings is the local Lloyds Bank Branch, although so far I am unable to find a date for it’s construction.

To the left lies the “Minster Tavern”, which proudly boasts on its website that it is the oldest hostelry (Inn) in the city. Again I haven’t found a date for it but I believe it was around 1817 when the pub opened. It is also supposedly haunted by a Monk from the nearby Cathedral.

Ely is a beautiful city, and remains the standout settlement in the Cambridgeshire Fens. The Cathedral is unlike no other in England, in design and scale, and is one of the most visited attractions in the area.

Ely is located just off the A10 which runs between Cambridge and King’s Lynn, as well as the Fen Railway Line which follows the same route.

Various longhaul services pass through the city, including the regular Norwich – Liverpool service via Peterborough and Manchester, as well as other trains towards Birmingham, Leicester and London.

It was time to move on, to the Cathedral City of Peterborough, a few miles away…


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