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The History of Ely

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Ely lies in the flat Fenland region of East Anglia, once surrounded by marshland, and water, rendering it an island that first saw habitation as far back as the Bronze Age. Rich dark, fertile, soil enabled the Iron Age Settlers to farm here, and, later when the Roman Legions invaded Britain they were met with resistance from the Celtic tribes living here, and even though they built dams, and walls in order to drain the fens it proved troublesome for the ingenious Romans .

When Etheldreda the daughter of a Saxon King arrived she brought Christianity in 673 when she founded an Abbey that was home to both Monks and Nuns, where she became its 1st Abbess. After her death she was declared a saint, her remains were moved later inside the cathedral and remained in tact until it was destroyed during the Reformation of the Monasteries. Kings School was established in 970 and saw Edward the Confessor educated here, and even though the school was re-named in 1541 after Henry the VIII 's Reformation it still survives today and can be found nestling within the shadows of the Cathedral.

William the Conqueror arrived with his army and landed on England's shores in 1066 , conquering and leaving their mark as they went, building castles to protect and strengthen acquisitions, and churches, Ely was no different and a building boom ensued with one of the finest examples or Norman architecture, Ely Cathedral , where building began in 1083, and took some three hundred years in the building. Eels were the currency of the day, and it's said that over 50 thousand Eels were caught in one year alone. King Canute came to Ely during his quest for the throne, and when Henry I , who was the fourth son of William the Conqueror became King, he granted Ely a Charter to hold a fair in 1100.

The 13th Century saw the building of the Bishop's Gaol in the heart of the city, which has stood the test of time in Market Street; and close to the Cathedral, but centuries apart, still stands Oliver Cromwell's home - the statesman, soldier, politician and Lord Protector who attended a local school before he married his wife and had eight children. Interest in the politics of the day led him to being elected as an MP. When trouble was brewing all around, from Pirates on the high seas to uprisings both in Scotland, Wales and Ireland, Parliament and the Monarch of the time Charles I disagreed vehemently. Cromwell openly criticised the monarch and when finally Civil War broke out, he took a lead in the military actions and planning of the time, which led to eventual victory at the bloody battle fought at Naseby in 1645. On becoming Lord Protector Cromwell closed the Cathedral after a confrontation with the clergy and kept his cavalry horses there for over ten years.

The 18th Century saw trade increase together with the Barge, and Narrow Boats supplying an important Trade Route, this led to numerous warehouses and Wharves being built which lined the riverside, and saw an abundance of elegant Georgian houses and buildings emerge.

The 19th Century brought hunger to the population, when prices dramatically rose, and jobs diminished, this fuelled the Hunger Riots in 1816 where food stores were ransacked by the hungry mob, special constables were brought in to help the small attachment of Dragoon Guards deal with the masses. They were eventually tried in Ely, five were executed, nine were transported and eleven were incarcerated. The twentieth Century saw trade and industry flourish, with the farming and processing of sugar beet playing a major role, together with agriculture, and tourism whose hunger for the past is well catered for.

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It is better to lose health like a spendthrift than to waste it like a miser. - Robert Louis Stevenson
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On this day:
The Hundred Years War begins - 1337, Ashmolean Museum Opens - 1683, Westminster Bridge Opens - 1862
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