Sunday, May 20, 2012

Ely the Town

On a recent trip to the southeast of England, we visited the town of Ely. The town is famous for its cathedral and for being the home town of Oliver Cromwell. The story about its name is also interesting.

Our GPS led us through town and we found some free three hour parking not far from the cathedral. The cathedral was so large and impressive it will (no surprise to regular readers) get its own post. Walking into town, we could see it quite easily.

Lucy was behind me, don't worry

We walked past the Porta (the medieval entrance to the monastery of Ely; now a library for the King's School) and the bishop's house on our way to the cathedral.

There was a large garden area on the other side that we did not explore

The bishop's house, not open to the public

At the cathedral, we saw many of the buildings that provide support to the cathedral, including the offices across the street. This set of medieval buildings is the largest still in use today.

Pretty swanky office building--they don't make them like that anymore!

After touring the cathedral, we went to the high street to get a snack. (The high street is the main shopping street in a town, even if it isn't named "High Street.") Lots of stores with clothes or mobile phones or trinkets or food or gambling or stationary or anything else you might imagine can be found on the high streets of England.

In this picture, Jacob is behind me

The other end of the high street

Where we had our snack--yummy baked goodness!

We stopped in the cathedral shop and were told the tourist information spot was back up past the cathedral at Oliver Cromwell's house. Cromwell's was another place we wanted to see just because of how famous he is. We had to go through the church yard, which had a cannon in the middle of it! The sign by the cannon says it is a "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."

Pointed not at the cathedral, but towards Cromwell's house--is that intentional?

Jacob enjoys the cannon

Another distraction on the way to Cromwell's was a small garden next to the Old Fire Engine Restaurant. The garden was through a doorway. The children loved sneaking in, though I don't think we would have gotten into any trouble there.

The garden wasn't quite in bloom yet

We also saw some nice Tudor homes and the parish church.

We wished we had some bread for the ducks!

The arch had black ribbons and flowers, maybe from a recent funeral?

Finally we made it to Oliver Cromwell's House (and tourist information centre).

Sign at the Cromwell abode

Oliver Cromwell's House in Ely
A museum on Cromwell is also available to tour for a slight fee. When it was open, which for us wouldn't be for another five minutes. We decided to relax on a nearby bench.
Jacob and Lucy relax

You may be wondering what is written on the bench. We were too. We discovered Mrs. Cromwell's recipe for cooking eels. Assuming you would be dubious, I took a picture as proof.


For those of you wishing the full text, I did not transcribe it, so you will have to visit yourself. We did go into the house but did not take the tour. Instead, we admired the tourist sign outside the house, which also conspicuously depicted a certain water animal.

Not a snake!

Reading up a bit on the history of the town, originally it was surrounded by water and marshlands and the area was known as the Isle of Eels. Eels were apparently a large part of the economy and it is assumed that's why the town is named after them (yes, Ely is pronounced "eel-e"). One story tells of how invading armies were never able to conquer Ely because they could not find a way through the swamps. Until the day that a local traitor led some invaders along one of the secret paths. Nowadays, the land is quite flat and mostly dry, though eels are still caught in the Great River Ouse that runs through the area.

Another mystery that we were not able to solve was the symbolism of three keys, which is found in many spots around Ely.

Decoration in the King's School gate

Googling brings up mention of Robert Orford, Bishop of Ely from 1303-1310, who apparently had three keys in his coat of arms, but much more information about him is not available, especially why three keys. But I digress...

After seeing some of Cromwell's digs, we were approaching lunch time and the end of the children's patience, so we headed back to our car and our hotel. It was fun to visit Ely and maybe we'll come back for one of the eel festivals. Or not!

More on the Cathedral tomorrow (or next post, as the case may be).

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