Towns, Cities, Villages and Hamlets


Samuel Lewis's Topographical Gazeetter 1831

ELY, a city in the Isle of ELY, county of CAMBRIDGE, 16 miles (N. N. E.) from Cambridge, and 67 (N. by E.) from London, containing 5079 inhabitants. This place, which is the capital of an extensive district in the fens, comprising the greater part of the northern division of Cambridgeshire, derived its Saxon name Elig, either from the British Helyg, a willow, with which tree, from the marshy nature of the soils it especially abounded, or, according to Bede, from Elge, an eel, for which fish, from the same cause, it was equally remarkable. Ethelreda, daughter of Anna, King of the East Angles, founded a monastery here in 673, for monks and nuns, which she dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and, though married to Egfrid, King of Northumberland, devoted herself to a monastic life, and became its first abbess. This monastery, which was destroyed by the Danes in 870, was, a few years afterwards, partially restored by some of the monks who had escaped the massacre, and established themselves as secular priests under the government of provosts for nearly a century. In 970, Ethelwold, Bishop of Winchester, having purchased from Edgar the whole of the Isle of Ely, rebuilt the monastery, which he munificently endowed, and placed in it an abbot and regular monks, to whom Edgar granted tine secular jurisdiction of two hundreds within and five hundreds without the fens, with many important privileges, which were subsequently confirmed by Canute, and increased by Edward the Confessor, who here received part of his education. Soon after the Conquest, many of the English nobility, unable to brook the tyranny of William, retired to this place in 1071, where, under the conduct of Edwin, Earl of Chester, and Egelwyn, Bishop of Durhan., they ravaged the adja cent country, headed by Hereward, an English nobleman, who built a castle of wood in the marshes, and made a vigorous stand against that monarch, who besieged the island, constructed roads through the marshes, built bridges over the streams, and erected a castle at Wiseberum; by these means, with the exception of Hereward and his followers, compelling his opponents to submit to his authority. The camp occupied by William upon this occasion, and which Dr. Stukeley affirms to have been a Roman camp repaired by his engineers, is still visible, in a field, which in some records of the time of Henry III. is called Belasis, probably from one of William's generals, who was quarterred on the monastery, of which on his conquest of the isle, he took possession, but suffered the monks to remain with certain restrictions under an abbot of his own appointment, at whose intercession he subsequently restored the privileges they previously enjoyed. Richard, the tenth and last abbot, a short time prior to his death, obtained from Henry I. permission to establish an episcopal see at Ely, which in 1107 was carried into effect, and Hervey, who has been driven by the Welch from his own see of Bangor, was made first bishop. To him and his successors Henry I. gave for a diocese, the county of Cambridge, which had previously belonged to the bishop of Lincoln, and invested them with sovereign powers in the isle. On the accession of Hervey, who was to supersede the abbot, a new division of lands belonging to the abbey took place, between the bishop and the prior and monks; the bishop's share was, in the 26th of Henry VIII., valued at 2134. 18. 6., and that of the prior and monks at 1301. 8. 2. The bishop granted a fair, to continue for seven days, commencing on the 20th of June, the anniversary of Ethelreda's death. A castle was built here, by Bishop Nigel, in the reign of Stephen, of which there are no remains, its probable site being only distinguishable by a mount to the south of the church. In 1216, during the contest between John and his barons, William Bunk, with a party of Brabanters, taking advantage of a frost, together with the Earl of Salisbury and others, entered the Isle of Ely, plundered the churches, and committed dreadful ravages, compelling the inhabitants to pay large sums of money for the ransom of their lives, and the prior two hundred marks to save the cathedral from being burnt.

The city is situated on elevated ground nearly at the southern extremity of the isle, and on the river Ouse, which is navigable from Lynn for barges: it consists of one long street, partially paved, with smaller streets diverging from it, both in the upper and lower parts of the town, in the centre of which is a spacious market-place: the houses in general are of indifferent appearance, and, with the exception of the cathedral and ecclesiastical buildings, the town has few claims to architectural notice. The ground in the vicinity, though flat and marshy, is extremely fertile, producing excellent herbage, and a considerable portion of it is cultivated by market gardeners, who supply the neighbouring towns with vegetables: great quantities of fruit and butter are also sent to the London market, and the strawberries and asparagus produced are remarkably fine. There is a considerable manufactory for earthenware and tobacco-pipes; and there are numerous mills in the isle for the preparation of oil from flax, hemp, and cole-seed. The market is on Thursday, for corn and cattle: the fairs are on Ascension-day and the eight following days, and October 29th for horses, cattle, hops, and Cottenham cheese.

The charter of privileges granted to the monastery by Edgar, in the 13th of his reign, enlarged and confirmed by Edward the Confessor, William the Conqueror, and Henry I., who granted to the bishop jura regalia within the isle, has always been regarded as the foundation of that temporal jurisdiction which the abbot continued to exercise from the time of the re-establishment of the monastery till the erection of the see, and which from that time has been vested in, and is at present exercised by, the bishops of the diocese. The royal franchise of

Ely, in several statutes, was designated the county palatine of Ely, till the 27th of Henry VIII., when, by act of parliament, the justices of oyer and terminer and gaol delivery, and justices of the peace for the Isle of Ely, were ordered to be appointed by letters patent under the great seal, and all writs to be issued in the king's name. Exclusive jurisdiction, both in civil and criminal matters, is vested in the bishops, who, with their "temporal steward" of the isle, are by the same act justices of the peace, and hold a general assize of oyer and terminer and gaol delivery twice in the year, and a court of pleas for the trial of civil actions to any amount, the proceedings in which one similar to those in the Nisi Prius court at Westminster, and quarterly courts of session alternately here and at Wisbeach: the bishop is also Custos Rotulorum of the isle, which includes the three hundreds of Ely, Wisbeach, and Witchford. A court of requests, under an act passed in the 18th of George III., is held monthly at Ely, March, Wisbeach, and Whittlesea, for the recovery of debts under 40s. The municipal government of the city is vested in magistrates appointed by the bishop, who are justices of the peace within the isle; of these, the chief bailiff, called in the act of the 27th of Hen. VIII. "the temporal steward," exercises the functions of high sheriff, his appointment being for life; he summons the juries, both in civil and criminal cases, from the inhabitants of the isle only, who are exempt from serving on juries for the county, and also from all contributions to the public rates for that part of the county which is beyond the limits of the isle. The court-house is a neat and commodious building, consisting of a centre, erected in 1821, containing apartments for holding the several courts, in front of which is a handsome portico of four columns; and two wings, of which the north is an infirmary, and the south a chapel. The common gaol, adjoining it, comprises four divisions for the classification of prisoners, one general day-room, and one airing-yard. The house of correction, situated behind the court-house, and erected at the same time, comprises the governor's house in the centre, on each side of which arc eight cells for male felons, and on the east side of the quadrangle, wards for females and prisoners confined for small debts: it is well adapted to the classification of prisoners, and contains two workrooms, four day-rooms, and four airing-yards.

At the dissolution of the monastery, which was dedicated to St. Peter and St. Ethelreda, Henry VIII. altered the ecclesiastical establishment of the see, and by charter converted the conventual into a cathedral church, which was dedicated to the Holy Trinity; he endowed it with the site and a portion of the revenue of the dissolved priory; and under his charter, re-modelled by Charles II., the establishment consists of a dean, eight canons, or prebendaries, five minor canons, eight lay-clerks, eight choristers, a schoolmaster, usher, and twenty-four king's scholars. The cathedral, begun in 1081, and not entirely completed till 1534, is a splendid cruciform structure, displaying, through almost imperceptible gradations, the various changes which have characterised the progress of ecclesiastical architecture, from the earliest times of the Norman to the latest period of the English style. The plan differs from that of other cathedrals in the length of the nave, which is continued through an extended range of twelve arches, and in the shortness of the transepts, which have only a projection of three arches: the west front, though incomplete from the want of the south wing of the façade, is strikingly magnificent; in the lower part it is in the Norman style, with a handsome octagonal turret at the southern extremity, a projecting porch of early English architecture, and a lofty, massive, and highly enriched tower, with angular turrets, of Norman character in the lower stages, and in the upper, of early English, formerly surmounted by a lofty spire, which has been token down; from the intersection of the nave and transepts rises a noble octagonal lantern, which is considered one of the finest compositions in the decorated style of English architecture, and equally admirable for the excellence of its details and the beauty of its arrangement: it is eighty feet in diameter, and rests on piers which supported a tower, that fell down in 1322. The interior of the cathedral is singularly elegant, and derives a simple grandeur of effect from the judicious arrangement by which the various styles of its architecture are made to harmonise: the nave and transepts are in the Norman style; the choir, partly in the early and partly in the decorated style of English architecture, is separated from the nave by three at the western arches, which were originally part of it, and now form an ante-choir: the eastern part, or present choir, consisting of a range of six arches, is lighted by a double range of windows, and forms one of the richest specimens of the early English style extant; the roof is beautifully groined, and the intersections embellished with flowers and foliage of elegant design; the east window is ornamented with a fine painting of St. Peter; the three western arches forming the ante-choir, are of the decorated character, and assimilate with the beautiful lantern, by which the style of the nave and transepts is finely contrasted. The lady chapel is an elegant edifice in the later decorated style; the groining of the roof, and the series of niches surrounding the interior, are of exquisite beauty: the chapels of Bishops Alcock and West are elaborately decorated with a profusion of architectural embellishments, but inferior in general effect to other portions of this beautiful structure. There are many interesting monuments, among which is the tomb and effigies of Bishop Alcock, under an arch of stone on the north side of his chapel; the monuments of several bishops, and the tomb of Tiptoft, Earl of Worcester, and his two wives, erected in the time of Richard III. The length of the cathedral is five hundred and thirty-five feet from east to west, and the breadth one hundred and ninety from the north to the south transept. Of the cloisters and chapter-house there are scarcely any remains, and the refectory has been converted into a residence for the dean: the prebendal houses retain many vestiges of ancient architecture, of which some are supposed to be of Saxon origin: among those buildings, a chapel, erected by Prior Craunden, is a curious and valuable composition in the decorated style of English architecture, of excellent design, and abounding with interest; the floor is of Mosaic pavement, still in a very perfect state, representing some of the earlier subjects of Scripture history. At some distance from the cathedral is the gate of the ancient monastery, in the later style of English architecture.

The city, exclusively of the liberty of the college, which is extra-parochial, comprises the parishes of St. Mary and the Holy Trinity, in the peculiar jurisdiction and patronage of the Dean and Chapter. The living of St. Mary's is a perpetual curacy, endowed with 200 roya1 bounty, and 800 parliamentary grant. The church is an interesting structure, partly in the Norman, and partly in the early style of English architecture, with a handsome tower surmounted by a spire; the nave is in the Norman style, with clerestory windows of later English architecture; the chancel is in the early English style, with insertions of a later date, and contains some remains of the ancient stalls; the north porch and door are of the early English style. The living of Holy Trinity parish is also a perpetua1 curacy, endowed with 200 private benefaction, 200 royal bounty, and 400 parliamentary grant. The church was formerly the lady chape1 of the cathedral, now fitted up for the parishioners. There are places of worship for Baptists, those in the Countess of Huntingdon's connexion, Independents, and Wesleyan Methodists. The king's grammar school was founded in 1541, by Henry VIII., on the establishment of the cathedral: it is under the control of the Dean and Chapter, who appoint, the master. Jeremiah Bentham, the celebrated political writer, received the rudiments of his education in this school, which at present is not attended by any scholars. A charity school was founded in 1730, by Mrs. Catherine Needham, who endowed it with lands and tenements producing nearly 400 per annum, for the instruction and clothing of thirty boys, with each of whom an apprentice fee of 20 is given, for which latter purpose, Bishop Laney, in 1674, bequeathed lands and tenements. A National school for boys and girls is supported by subscription; the boys are taught in that part of the abbey called the Gallery, formerly used as the grammar school. There are several charitable bequests.

For the Family Historian details of available records can be found on the Ely page of GENUKI Cambridgeshire.

Domesday Book Entry

This section under construction.


War Memorial

The war memorials and the men on them have been documented on the Roll of Honour Cambridgeshire pages for World War 1, World War 2, Holy Trinity and the Boer War. There is also a Roll of Honour for King's School 1914-1918 and a list of war graves in Ely Cemetery.

Ely, Bishop of - F H Chase 1853-1925

Ely Cathedral

Ely, firemen with horse drawn fire tender

Ely from the River 1920

Ely, Offical Function 1920

Ely, RAF Hospital

Ely Railway Station

Ely Seal

Ely, St Peter's Church Interior

ELY is a city and head of an episcopal see, the head of a union, county court district and petty sessional division and is the capital of the Isle of its name, in the Eastern division of the county, with a station on the Great Eastern railway, 72½ miles from London by rail and 67 north-east by road, 16 from Cambridge by road and 15 by rail; 26¾ from Lynn harbour and 13 from Newmarket by road; the Great Eastern railway affords ample means of communication with Cambridge and London, Huntingdon, Lynn, Peterborough, Yarmouth and Lowestoft, via Norwich, and through these places to all parts of the kingdom: there is also a short line from Ely to Haddenham, Sutton and St. Ives, and a branch to Newmarket, opened in September, 1879: there is navigation by the rivers Ouse and Cam to Cambridge, Lynn, Wisbech, St. Ives, Huntingdon and other market.

A Cemetery of 10½ acres was formed in 1855, at a cost of £3,500, and 5½ acres have since been added at an additional cost of £1,300. The cemetery is under the control of a Burial Board of 15 members.There are two mortuary chapels connected by a tower, carried on open arches, and surmounted by a spire.

The district church of St. Etheldreda, at Adelaide Bridge, erected in 1883-4 at a cost of £700, is a plain edifice of brick, consisting of nave, south porch and a turret containing one bell: there are sittings for 140; the services are conducted by the clergy of Holy Trinity.

The district church of St. Peter, in Broad street, erected in 1890 at a cost of £4,050, is a building, of stone in the Early Decorated style, consisting of chancel, nave south porch, organ chamber and a south-west turret with hexagonal spire containing one bell: the chancel has a piscina and sedile: the east window is stained and there are 220 sittings."

A parish room for Holy Trinity was erected in Newnham street in 1889 by the vicar; there is also one for St. Mary's in the Cambridge road, built in 1891.

The Catholic church, in Egremont street, was built in 1891, and is dedicated to St. Etheldreda.

Zion Baptist chapel is in High Street passage; the Countess of Huntingdon's in Chapel street, and the Primitive Methodist chapel in Victoria street; the Wesleyan, in Chapel street, was renovated in 1891, at a cost of £600.

The Shire Hall, built in 1820, is a structure of brick, consisting of a centre and two wings: the former contains apartments, for holding the courts and public meetings; the north wing is appropriated partly as an armoury for the H Company 3rd (Cambridgeshire) Volunteer Battalion Suffolk Regiment, and the south wing forms a police station; the hall will hold about 250 persons. At Fore Hill is a reading room for the public and volunteers. There a militia depot here, and Ely is also a central recruiting station for all branches of the service.

Needham's charity provides education and clothing for poor boys of Ely, and was founded by Mrs. Catherine Needham, of New Arlesford, Hants in 1790, who left land in the parish, originally producing £80 yearly, but now brining in about £400 a year, for this purpose. The charity is managed by a body of governors, now comprising the Dean of Ely, Archdeacon Emery, C.M. Bidwell esq., Rev. E.H.Lowe and W.I. Evans esq.; treasurer, A Hall esq.; school master, Mr. Henry S. Boyden.

The Corporation of the Bedford Level, which, though deprived by Act of Parliament, of one half of its jurisdiction, still superintends the drainage of a very large district of marsh land called the South Level of the Fens, has its offices here.

The Corn Exchange, in the Market place, was built in 1847, and a cattle market formed, both of which are the property of the Corn Exchange, Fairs and Cattle Market Co. and are well attended. Thursday is the market day.

The fairs, anciently held on Ascension Day or Holy Thursday and October 29th, the former for three and the latter for nine days, have been reduced to three days each, the May or summer fair commencing on the last Thursday in May, except when that day falls on Holy Thursday, and then the Thursday before, and the October or winter fair on the last Thursday in October.

Parsons's charity, an ancient benefaction, produces upwards of £1,000 net yearly revenue, from lands in Ely and Stretham, out of which the feoffees or governors pay £360 to the National schools for education and clothing, £150 to the Ely Dispensary, £10 10s to Addenbrooke' s Hospital, Cambridge, £200 in the distribution of coal to the poor, £40 to the poor people in their almshouses, £75 for general relief to the poor, £50 in renting of allotments of land and sub-letting to the poor, and besides this a considerable portion of the charity land is let to the poor in husbandry allotments: there is also another large charity, derived from estates at Soham and Fordham, left by Benjamin Laney, Bishop of Ely, 1675-77, for the apprenticing of poor children of Ely and Soham to honest trades, the premium not to exceed £20.

Ely was constituted a Local Board district 23 July, 1850, but is now governed, under the ' Local Government Act, 1894' (56 & 57 Vict. c. 73), by an Urban District Council.

Under the ' Public Health Act,' 1848 (11 & 12 Vict. c. 63), applied by Order in Council in 1850, the city has been drained and supplied with water, mainly by the zeal of Dr. Peacock, then dean: the works and pumping station are at Isleham, the supply being derived from springs in the chalk, and the water forced thence into a tank at Ely, from which it is distributed to all parts of the town. To cover the cost, loans were contracted with the Public Works Commissioners of £13,428 in 1885 and £6,000 in 1887, repayable in 60 half-yearly instalments. In 1891 the capital debt was reduced to £16,599. The town is lighted with gas from works in Station road, the property of the City of Ely Gas Company Limited.

The diocese of Ely was created in 1108, out of the see of Lincoln, the first bishop being Herveus, Bishop of Bangor, consecrated at Ely, 27th June, 1109: by an Order in Council, 19th April, 1837, the archdeaconries of Bedford and Huntingdon were transferred from Lincoln to Ely, and part of the archdeaconry of Sudbury from Norwich; and by a second order, 10th April, 1839, certain other parishes were transferred from Lincoln. The area includes Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire, Huntingdonshire and part of Suffolk.

The boundaries of the city of Ely include 16,734 acres; the population in the Urban district in 1891 was 8,017; the areas of the parishes are - Holy Trinity, 3,798 acres of land and 35 of water; St. Mary, 3,459; Ely College, 33; intermixed lands rated to Holy Trinity and St. Mary, 8,916 acres; the rateable values are of Holy Trinity, £27,092; of St. Mary, £15,370; and of Ely College, £726. The population of the parishes in 1891 was - Ely College, 85; Holy Trinity, 4,864; and St. Mary, 3,059 (including 113 officers and inmates of the workhouse).

[Extracts from Kelly's Directory - Cambridgeshire - 1900]

The Monastic Buildings and the College

No trace now remains of the Anglo-Saxon monastery founded in 673 and re-founded in 970. After the Norman Conquest of 1066, and the putting down of the local rebellion of Hereward the Wake immediately after, the first Norman Abbot began to rebuild the Abbey on a new and larger scale. Parts of the Cathedral Church belong to these years, but the buildings of the monastery that are visible now were all additions later in the Middle Ages. From 1109 onwards the church was also the seat of a bishop of the new bishopric of Ely.

The oldest standing buildings are the prior's house with its vaulted undercroft and the central part of the infirmary complex both built in the 12th-century. The infirmary was a long rectangular building with a high roof over its central hall and an aisle on either side. The hall has lost its roof and is now a road called Firmary Lane. The blocked arches that led from the central hall into the side aisles are visible here. At the east-end of the lane a stone wall with a 12th-century door separated the hall from the infirmary chapel, which has also now lost its roof. At the end of the lane the sanctuary of the chapel stands within the 19th-century brick building which forms part of the Chapter Offices.

By the end of the 13th-century the cathedral and its monastic buildings were largely complete, and included the Almonry on the east side of the north range, the Great Guest Hall for lay visitors, and the Black Hostelry for visiting Benedictine monks.

Major works began again in 1321, with the commencement of the Lady Chapel, and accelerated after the collapse of the central tower of the cathedral in 1322. During the next 30 years the octagon was built, the Lady Chapel was finished, and some of the monastic buildings were substantially altered: it was a remarkable and expensive programme. Prior Crauden's Chapel was finished in 1324, and the Queen's Hall in the 1330s. At the same time the Sacrist's Office was built by the Sacrist Alan of Walsingham, who was responsible for organising most of the building work. In the old infirmary the north aisle was demolished and replaced by a large L-shaped house, Powcher's Hall (named after Prior William Powcher), and Alan of Walsingham's building. Most of the other surviving buildings show some signs of extension or re-modelling during this period, after which there was a clear pause in activity.

Towards the end of the 14th-century we can see changes at the southern end of the site, next to the old 11th-century castle mound, itself perhaps a response to Hereward's rebellion. A monastic barn was built to store the Abbey crops, next to a new gatehouse, the Porta. Both probably replaced earlier buildings with the same purpose.

In 1539 Henry VIII dissolved the monastery. The bishopric remained, and the bishop continued to live in the medieval bishop's palace [now the Sue Ryder Home] until the early 20th-century. The main houses of the monks around the cloister [dormitory, refectory and chapter house] were now surplus, and have thus largely vanished. The church required staffing, nonetheless, and so in 1541 a Royal Charter established a College of secular priests, and the old Infirmary buildings (which already contained several separate 14th-century houses) were adapted for their occupation. The Dean, successor to the Prior and head of the new establishment, took over some of the guest halls and prior's buildings, and so these still survive. Further work was necessary to bring the buildings up to modern standards around 1800, when Canonry House was extended by the construction of the South Wing. Major restorations took place between 1860 and 1890, which included further building in the Infirmary Complex, and another restoration of some of the buildings proved necessary between 1987 and 1996.


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