Ely is a cathedral city in Cambridgeshire, England, 14 miles (23 km) north-north-east of Cambridge and about 80 miles (129 km) by road from London. Æthelthryth (Etheldreda) founded an abbey at Ely in AD 673; the abbey was destroyed in 870 by Danish invaders and was rebuilt by Ethelwold, Bishop of Winchester, in 970. Construction of the cathedral was started in 1083 by the first Norman bishop, Simeon. Alan of Walsingham's octagon, built over Ely's navecrossing between 1322 and 1328, is the "greatest individual achievement of architectural genius at Ely Cathedral", according to architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner. Building continued until thedissolution of the abbey in 1539 during the Reformation. The cathedral was sympathetically restored between 1845 and 1870 by the architect George Gilbert Scott. As the seat of a diocese, Ely has long been considered a city; in 1974, city status was granted by royal charter.
Ely is built on a 23-square-mile (60 km2) Kimmeridge Clay island which, at 85 feet (26 m), is the highest land in the fens. Major rivers including the Witham, Welland, Nene and Great Ouse feed into the fens and, until draining commenced in the 17th century, formed freshwater marshes andmeres within which peat was laid down. There are two Sites of Special Scientific Interest in the city: a former Kimmeridge Clay quarry, and one of the United Kingdom's best remaining examples of medieval ridge and furrow agriculture.
The economy of the region is mainly agricultural. Before the fens were drained, the harvesting ofosier (willow) and sedge (rush) and the extraction of peat were important activities, as were eelfishing—from which the settlement's name may have been derived—and wild fowling. The city had been the centre of local pottery production for more than 700 years, including pottery known as Babylon ware. A Roman road, Akeman Street, passes through the city; the southern end is atErmine Street near Wimpole and its northern end is at Brancaster. Little direct evidence of Roman occupation in Ely exists, although there are nearby Roman settlements such as those at Little Thetford and Stretham. A coach route, known to have existed in 1753 between Ely and Cambridge, was improved in 1769 as a turnpike (toll-road). The present day A10 closely follows this route; a south-western bypass of the city was built in 1986. Ely railway station built in 1845 is on the Fen Line and is now a railway hub, with lines north to King's Lynn, north-west toPeterborough, east to Norwich, south-east to Ipswich and south to Cambridge and London.
The King's School is a coeducational boarding school which was granted a royal charter in 1541 by Henry VIII; the school claims to have existed since 970. Henry I granted the first annual Fair, Saint Audrey's (Etheldreda's) seven-day event, to the abbot and convent on 10 October 1189; the word "tawdry" originates from cheap lace sold at this fair. Present day annual events include the Eel Festival in May, established in 2004, and a fireworks display in Ely Park, first staged in 1974. The city of Ely has been twinned with Denmark's oldest town, Ribe, since 1956. Ely City football club was formed in 1885.
|City of Ely
West façade of Ely Cathedral from Palace Green, the former village green
City of Ely shown within Cambridgeshire
Annual fairs have been held in Ely since the twelfth century. Saint Audrey's (Etheldreda's) seven-day fair, held either side of 23 June, was first granted officially by Henry I to the abbot and convent on 10 October 1189. At this fair, cheap necklaces, made from brightly coloured silk, were sold—these were called "tawdry lace"."Tawdry", a corruption of "Saint Audrey", now means "pertaining to the nature of cheap and gaudy finery". Two other fairs, the 15 day festival of St Lambert, first granted in 1312 and the 22 day fair beginning on the Vigil of the Ascension, first granted in 1318. The festival of St Lambert had stopped by the eighteenth century. St Etheldreda's and the Vigil of the Ascension markets still continue, although the number of days have been considerably reduced and the dates have changed.
Present-day annual events in Ely include Aquafest, which has been staged at the riverside by the Rotary Club on the first Sunday of July since 1978. Other events include the Eel Day carnival procession and the annual fireworks display in Ely Park, first staged in 1974.The Ely Folk Festival has been held in the city since 1985. The Ely Horticultural Society have been staging their Great Autumn Show since 1927.
A cannon, captured during the Crimean War at the Siege of Sevastopol (1854–1855) and given to Ely by Queen Victoria in 1860, is located on Palace Green, west of the cathedral. The inscription reads "Russian cannon captured during the Crimean War presented to the people of Ely by Queen Victoria in 1860 to mark the creation of the Ely Rifle Volunteers". The cannon was cast at the Alexandrovski factory in 1802, the factory's director being the Englishman, Charles Gascoigne. The serial number is 8726. The calibre is 30 pounds and the weight is 252 poods, or about 9,000 pounds (4,100 kg). The cannon is mounted on an iron carriage which would previously have been mounted on a "heavy iron traversing slide" known as 'Systeme Venglov 1853'. The Ely Rifle Volunteers, formed in 1860, became part of the Cambridgeshire Regiment during 1914–1918 then subsequently part of the Royal Anglian Regiment until disbanded in 1999.
The River Great Ouse flows through the south-eastern boundary of the city. King Cnut arrived at Ely by boat for the Purification of St Mary; "When they were approaching land [at Ely], the king rose up in the middle of his men and directed the boatmen to make for the little port at full speed". Archaeological excavations in the year 2000, between Broad Street and the present river, revealed artificially cut channels "at right-angles to the present river front" thus "evidently part of the medieval port of Ely". In 1753, Carter reports that "for the conveniency of paſſengers, and heavy goods to and from Cambridge" a boat left Ely every Tuesday and Friday for Cambridge; the 20 miles (32 km) journey took six hours.