"ELY, comprises the parishes of St. Mary, Holy Trinity and others, it is a city, market and assize town, in the hundred of the same name, in the Isle of Ely, county Cambridge, 16 miles from Cambridge by road, or 15 by rail, and 67 from London by road, or 72½ by rail. This city is situated on a considerable eminence in the middle of the county, near the river Ouse, and forms the capital of the division of Cambridge called the Isle of Ely. Its boundaries include 17,480 acres, and, according to the census of 1861, contained 1,559 houses, with a population of 7,428 inhabitants, against 6,176 in 1851, showing an increase of 1,252 in the decennial period." (There is more of this description).
[Transcribed and edited information from The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland - 1868]
"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." [Kelly's Directory - 1900]
"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." [Kelly's Directory - 1900]
"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."
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.