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ELY: Geographical and Historical information from the year 1835.

[Transcribed information from A Topographical Dictionary of England - Samuel Lewis - 1835]
(unless otherwise stated)

"ELY, , a city, in the Isle of ELY, county of CAMBRIDGE, 16 miles (N. N. B.) from Cambridge, and 67 (N. by B.) 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 soil, 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, rebuiltthe monastery, which he munificently endowed, and placed in it an abbot and regular monks, to. whom Edgar granted the 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 placedn 1071, where, under the conduct of Edwin, Earl of Chester, and-Egelwyn, Bishop of Durham, they ravaged the adjacent 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 Herewar 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 te called -Belasis, probably from one of William's ge was quartered 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, whicd 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-fromit, both in the upper and lower parts of thie 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 buildingsj 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 con-, firmed by Edward the Confessor, William the Conqueror, and Henry I., who granted to the bishop jura regaliawithin the isle, has always been regarded as the foundation of that temp9ral jurisdiction which the abbot continuedto 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 are 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 are 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 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. Thecathedral, 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 eccle-. siastical 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; thewest front, though incomplete from the want of the south wing of the facade, 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, andin the upper, of early English, formerly surmounted by a lofty spire, which has been taken down; from the intersection of the nave and transepts rises a noble oe-, tagonal 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 of 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 these 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 royal 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 perpetual curacy, endowed with £200 private benefaction, £200 royal bounty, and £400 parliamentary grant. The church was formerly the lady chapel 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 Needh.am, 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 16? 4, 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."

[Description(s) transcribed by Mel Lockie ©2010]