Ely’s (population 14,500) history as a Christian place dates from 673, when Etheldreda, daughter of the king of East Anglia, founded a nunnery here. She later became a saint. Iron age houses and Roman graves have been uncovered in Ely. The Danes sacked the city in the 870s. Later rebuilt, it became the site of a male monastery. The city’s claim to fame today is as the site of Oliver Cromwell’s home and Ely Cathedral.
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Start a walking tour of the city at Oliver Cromwell’s House The tourist information centre is located here and has walking brochures for the city.
Second place on the tour is St Mary’s church, which dates from the 13th century, the tower and spire from the 14th. It was built by bishop Eustace. This is the site of the baptism of Cromwell’s two youngest daughters.
Note the Russian cannon on the palace green. It was captured at Sebastopol and presented by Queen Victoria to Ely. Next on the tour is the Bishop’s Palace, dating from the 15th century (now a Sue Ryder home). In the garden is a 300 year old plane tree.
Ely Cathedral is the fifth tour stop. Be sure to visit the stained glass museum in the cathedral.
The Walpole gate, sometimes called the Ely porta is a surviving gate to the Ely monastery that dates from 1396. It is now King’s School library. The 14th century school dining room once served as the monastic barn. Near the cathedral are prior Crauden’s chapel dating from 1324 and the prior’s house, both serving King’s College today. Other halls are the 14th century Queen’s, the Black Hostelry and the Powcher’s Hall (used by the cathedral).
At the east end of the cathedral is a 17th century sun dial and here is a Tudor archway, Steeple gate, leading into the High St. The local Ely Museum is located on Market street. The old gaol is from the 13th century and was used by the bishops of Ely as a prison.
Ely also has a riverside walking trail. This leads from the cathedral down Fore hill to the Waterside, passing Crown Point, an ancient house. Eventually the trail reaches Quay house and the Maltings, a former barley-sprouting house, now a restaurant. Follow the river Ouse along the Quai d’Orsay. There are boathouses and the Jubilee gardens, celebrating Queen Elizabeth II’s golden jubilee. By crossing Broad street you reach Ely park which leads back to the cathedral. A motte and bailey castle once stood on the high ground. A wildflower meadow is nearby.
Ely City Tourism website: City of Ely
The Old Gaol, Market St
Tel. 0 1353 666 655
Open: summer, Mon-Sat, 10.30am-5pm, Sun, 1-5pm; winter until 4pm but closed on Tue
Web: Ely Museum
St Mary’s Church
St Mary's St.
Tel. 0 1353 659 550
Web: Ely Parish Church
photos © by Barbara Ballard