What to See in England
By Gordon Home
Public Domain Books
=How to get there.=–From Liverpool Street or St. Pancras. Great Eastern Railway. =Nearest Station.=–Ely. =Distance from London.=–70-1/2 miles. =Average Time.=–Varies from 1-3/4 to 3-1/4 hours. Quickest train 1 hour 38 minutes.
1st 2nd 3rd =Fares.=–Single 11s. 3d. ... 5s. 11-1/2d. Return 20s. 0d. ... 11s. 11d.
=Accommodation Obtainable.=–"Bell Hotel” and others.
Ely is situated on an eminence in the midst of the flat district forming the centre of the county of Cambridge, and was originally a settlement termed by the Saxons Eleg or Elge, i.e. “an eel,” from the number of eels found in the fenny district around. St. Etheldreda, daughter of a king of the East Angles, founded an abbey here, where she died in 679, being afterwards canonised as a saint. The monastery was destroyed by the Danes in 870, and did not regain importance till one hundred years later.
In Hereward the Wake Kingsley tells us how gallantly the Isle of Ely was defended against the attacks of William the Conqueror, but the chieftain was at last forced to surrender, and the monastery was seized. Ely was created a bishopric by Henry I. in 1107.
The cathedral is one of the most beautiful and remarkable in England. The oldest portion was erected in the reign of William Rufus and Henry I., and additions were continually made to the fabric until 1534, so that it contains an almost unbroken series of the architectural styles prevailing from the Conquest, yet so wonderfully has the design been managed that no disagreeable effect is produced.
The nave of the cathedral, considered one of the finest specimens of Norman work in England, was completed about 1174, and the west front, built by Geoffrey Ridel, the third bishop, about ten years later. Originally there stood a square tower in the centre of the building, but this fell in 1322, crushing three arches of the choir. The repair of this misfortune was undertaken by the sacrist, Alan de Walsingham, who erected in 1342 the octagonal tower now existing.
The choir contains much rich decorated Gothic; and the east end of the cathedral, with its two tiers of lancet windows, is very beautiful. Another most interesting feature is the Lady Chapel, with a magnificent fan-vaulted roof; the walls were originally decorated with countless niches and statues of saints and martyrs, not one of which escaped the destroying hand of the Puritan.
[Illustration: Photochrom Co., Ltd. ELY CATHEDRAL.
The remarkable octagonal tower was rebuilt in 1342 by Alan de Walsingham.]