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Ely Cathedral
Grid reference: TL535799
Location: 52°24’-0"N, 0°15’36"E
Population: 15,102  (2001)
Post town: Ely
Postcode: CB6, CB7
Dialling code: 01353
Local Government
Council: East Cambridgeshire
South East Cambridgeshire

Ely is a cathedral city in Cambridgeshire, 14 miles north of Cambridge. Although one of the smallest cities in the United Kingdom, it has held the status of a city since time immemorial.

Ely stands on a hill amidst the level fenland and before the fens were drained it was an island amidst the fen waters. Ely Cathedral stands atop the hill dominating the horizon for many miles, and is known romantically as "the Ship of the Fens".

Ely retains many historic buildings and winding shopping streets. There is a market on Thursday and Saturday each week. The city is on the River Great Ouse and was a significant port until the 18th century, when the fens were drained and Ely ceased to be an island.

The river is a popular boating area with a large marina. The University of Cambridge rowing team has a boathouse on the bank of the river, and trains there for the annual Boat Race against the University of Oxford. In 1944 the Boat Race took place on the River Great Ouse near Ely, the only time it has not been held on the River Thames. On that occasion the race was won by Oxford.


The name "Ely", from the Old English Elig, mean "Eel island", a reference to the eels caught in great numbers in the fenland rivers; this derivation was first recorded by the Venerable Bede in The Ecclesiastical History of England.[1]

Ely Cathedral

Main article: Diocese of Ely

The Cathedral Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity is known as the "Ship of the Fens",[2] a name inspired by the distant views of its towers, which dominate the low-lying wetlands.

An abbey was founded in Ely in 673, to which he town owes its origin. The Abbey was refounded in 970. Hereward the Wake sought refuge in the Abbey at the end of his rebellion, after which the new Norman abbot rebuild the abbey in a grander, Romanesque style.

The diocese of Ely was created in 1108 out of the see of Lincoln, and a year later the bishopric of Ely was founded. The cathedral was started by William I in 1083.

In 1322 the Cathedral's main tower collapsed. In is place a new tower was raised, an octagonal structure known as the Octagon, surmounted by a lantern. The Octagon is 74 feet wide, which was too great to support a stone vault, and so it was built in wood and covered in lead. The Octagon's internal height is 142 feet and its total weight is 400 tons; it is considered a masterpiece of mediæval engineering, and took 18 years to build.



  1. Historia Ecclesiastica,IV:XIX
  2. "Ely Cathedral website". Elycathedral.org. http://www.elycathedral.org/history/ship_of_the_fens.html. Retrieved 2010-07-17. 

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