One of the nicest things about Ely is that there is so much green space within the city. Ely Park is pleasant in itself, but if you look carefully you can still see the earthworks remaining from the original Norman 'motte & bailey' castle. The castle mound itself (hidden in the trees in my photo) was used in the 14th century for a windmill to grind corn for the monastery. Immediately below the cathedral is Dean's Meadow, which is now preserved as a wild flower meadow.
The park lies between Broad street and The Gallery. entrance via the Ely Porta, or from Broad Street.
Walk to the side of the main entrance to Ely Cathedral, and look closely. You can see clearly how the building has changed and grown over time. The Galilee porch was added to the Western entrance during the 13th century.
The weblink below details all the changes undergone by Ely cathedral; such buildings have never been the solid, static entities they might appear.
You'll notice these in various places around the UK. Basically, the corners of houses were removed so often by large carts (and, later, lorries) that it became simpler to make them less sharp. This one is on the corner of Waterside; I imagine large carts carrying loads from the river quay kept bumping into the house when the roads were narrower.
Now the 'Stagecoach Restaurant', this building is tucked away on Market Street and would be easily missed. As you can see from the photo, this is where the stagecoaches stopped on their way to King's Lynn in Norfolk.
Travelling by stagecoach must have been a miserable business for much of the year; cold, damp, extremely bumpy and cramped. Wonder what sort of accommodation this place offered at the time; stagecoach inns were notorious for verminous beds!
The restaurant is supposed to be pleasant though, 'traditional English' with local produce used.
All old English cathedrals (and most churches) were once highly decorated. We tend to think of them being calm, grey places but, in fact, most of them were originally a riot of colour; stonework detailing picked out in paint, pictures painted on walls, gilding ...... everything to the glory of God. Henry Vlll's Dissolution and, later, the rise of Puritanism (during Cromwell's time) destroyed or covered over much of this splendour, but you can still see traces in many religious buildings if you look carefully.
The stonework detailing in one part of Ely cathedral has been picked out in blue. Whether this is restoration of the original, or whether it is an attempt to show how the cathedral once might have been, I could not find out.
Almshouses are fairly common in England; most towns and larger villages have some. Funded by independent charities, they usually provide accommodation for the old and needy. Their architecture is often interesting, and they are always built in groups. The first almshouses were built in York, in the 10th century, by King Athelstan.
Ely's almshouses are next to the Tourist Information Office (in Cromwell's house). they date from the 19th century, being provided by one Thomas Parsons, a 'great benefactor of the city'.
The name 'Ely' derives from 'place of the eels', and the new gardens constructed for the Queen's Golden Jubilee contains this rather magnificent eel-y sculpture (I think the t-shirt is a recent addition!). There's also an eel mosaic, made of bits of Medieval pottery discovered during the archaeological investigations on the site in 2000. It's a nice little park to visit anyway, by the river and with bandstand and a rather good fountain which is much appreciated by the ducks!
I'm always fascinated when I spot ancient stonework being re-used. I spotted this beautiful ?Norman window arch in what is probably a shed/ storeroom at the back of Oliver Cromwell's house. Medieval architecture pops up in the oddest of places in the UK, and gives a real sense of continuity from past to present.
The small town of Littleport, located just north of Ely, is easily accessible by bus as it's only 20 minutes away from Market Street. I went to Littleport looking for antiques and could not find a single shop. What I did discover though was a Harley Davidson motorcycle monument in front of the local church. (see photo #2) The co-founder's father is a proud Littleport native, and so the Harley sits near a bench in the park across the street from where riots occured in 1816. (See photo #3)
The Littleport rioters were not motorcycle gangs, but rather unhappy peasants angered by England's high taxes following the war against Napoleon at Waterloo. One of the local rioters was in fact named Isaac Harley, and he was later executed in Ely. On the southwest buttress of St. Mary's Church you can see a plaque commemorating the burial of Harley and 4 other men who were sentenced to hang in Ely for their role in the Littleport riots.
(See photo #4)
What did East Anglia look like before the draining of the fens, or wetlands? Ely was an island, surrounded by these low, marshy fens. Very few remain today. Here is a prime example. Wicken Fen is a National Trust property. Located nine miles south-east of Ely off the A1123 in Wicken. The address is: Lode Lane, Wicken, Ely CB7 5XP.
It's not exactly off the beaten path, but I'm sure many people see this without realising what it is. A modern sulpture, situated outside the Maltings (see seperate tip), it is actually a representation of eel glaves (or gleaves). These were implements used to capture eels, which was an important local trade (so important the town was named for it).
I wouldn't have known myself what they were except there is rather a nice collection of them in the local museum.
So now you know!