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Ely (and Stuntney) in the late 17th Century

From Celia Fiennes rides 1698 (Newmarket to Ely)


From thence I went 8 mile to Ely wch were as long as the 12 I Came from St Edmondsbery, ye wayes being very deep; its mostly Lanes and Low moorish ground on Each Side deffended by ye ffendiks wch are deep ditches wth draines. Ye ffenns are full of water and mudd these also Encompass their grounds, Each mans part 10 or a dozen acres a piece or more, so these dieks are the fences. On Each side they plant willows so there is 2 rows of trees runns round ye ground wch Looks very finely to see a flatt of many miles so planted but it must be ill to Live there. All this while Ely minster is in one's view at a mile distant you would think, but go, it is a Long 4 miles.

A mile distant from ye town is a Little Hamlet from wch I descended from a steep hill and so Cross a bridge over water wch Enters into ye Island of Ely, and so you pass a flatt on a Gravel Causey wch way ye Bishop is at ye Charge to repaire Else there would be no passing in ye summer. This is secured by some dikes wch surround more grounds as ye former, full of Rows of trees and willows round them wch makes Ely looke finely through those trees, and yt stands very high. In the winter this Caussey is over flowed and they have no way but boates to pass in. They Cut peate out of some of these grounds.
The raines now had fallen so as in some places near ye Citty ye Caussey was Covered, and a Remarkable deliverance I had, for my horse Earnest to drinke ran to get more depth of water than ye Caussey had, was on ye brinke of one of these dikes, but by a speciall providence wch I desire never to forget and allways to be thankfull for, Escaped. Yt bridge was over the River Linn wch Comes from Norfolke and does almost Encompass the jsland of Ely wch is 20 mile in bigness, in wch are severall Little towns as Wisbech and many others.
There is another River that joyns wth ye Linn wch Compasses this land into an jsland. At this bridge is a gate, but by reason of ye great raines ye roades were full of water, even quite to ye town wch you ascend a very steep hill into, but ye dirtyest place I ever saw, not a bitt of pitching in ye streetes, so its a perfect quagmire ye whole Citty, only just about ye palace and Churches the streetes are well enough for breadth, but for want of pitching it seemes only a harbour to breed and nest vermine in of wch there is plenty Enough, so that tho' my Chamber was near 20 Stepps up I had froggs a nd slow worms and snailes in my Roome, but suppose it was brought up wth ye faggotts. But it Cannot but be jnfested wth all such things being altogether moorish ffenny ground wch Lyes Low: it is true were the Least Care taken to pitch their streetes it would make it Looke more properly an habitation for human beings and not a Cage or nest of unclean Creatures. It must needs be very unhealthy tho' the natives say much to the Contrary wch proceeds from Custom and use, otherwise to persons born in up and dry Countryes it must destroy them Like Rotten sheep in Consumptions and Rhums.
The Bishop does not Care to stay long in this place not being for his health; he is the Lord of all the jsland, has the Command and ye jurisdiction. They have lost their Charter and so are no Corporation but all things are directed by the Bishop and its a shame he does not see it better ordered and ye buildings and streetes put in a better Condition. They are a slothful people and for little but ye takeing Care of their Grounds and Cattle wch is of vast advantage. Where the yeares prove drye they gaine so much that in Case 6 or 7 wet yeares drown them all over, the one good yeare sufficiently Repaires their loss.
There is a good palace for the Bishop built of stone, but it was unfurnished. There are two Churches; Ely minster is a Curious pile of Building all of stone, the outside full of Carvings and great arches and fine pillars in the front, and the jnside has the greatest variety and neatness in the works. There are two Chappels most Exactly Carved in stone all sorts of figures, Cherubims Gilt and painted in some parts. Ye Roofe of one Chappell was one Entire stone most delicately Carved, and hung down in great poynts all about ye Church. The pillars are Carv'd and painted wth ye history of ye bible, Especially the new testament and description of Christs miracles. The Lanthorn in ye quire is vastly high and delicately painted and fine Carv'd worke all of wood, in it the bells used to be hung, five, the dimention of ye biggest was so much when they rung them it shooke ye quire so and ye Carv'd worke that it was thought unsafe, therefore they were taken down. Its 80 odd steps to the top of ye Lanthorn and 160 steps round in Compass.
There are very good monuments and abundance of niches in the walls where Statues have been; there is one of white marble Laying at length an d so Exactly Cut yt ye hand lookes Extreamely natural, the sinewes and veines and every turn of ye fingers so finely done as to appear very proper. There is another that was a Bishop made by Queen Elizabeth whose garments and all are marble and so finely Embroydered Carv'd and painted and gilt and a verge all down before and Round ye neck wth ye ffigures of the apostles done in Embroydery as it were, all marble very fine. There was 4 or 5 more good Marble Statues. There was on one of ye Pillars ye shape of ye seameless Coate wch Christ wore. In another place there is a great Red Cross very high on some of ye arches, and its very dangerous to go or Climbe round, the pillars to it being of a vast height and this used to be as a pennance to ye people in ye tyme of popery.
There is one Chappell for Confession wth a Roome and Chaire of State for ye priest to set to hear ye people on their knees Confess into his Eare through a hole in ye wall. This Church has ye most popish remaines in its walls of any I have seen. There still remaines a Cross over the alter; the Candlesticks are 3 quarters of a yd high massy silver gilt very heavy. The ffont is one Entire piece of White Marble stemm and foote, the Cover was Carv'd wood wth ye image of Chsts being baptised by John and the holy Dove Descending on him, all finely Carv'd white wood wth out any paint or varnish. They Draw up the Cover by a pully and so Let it down again wch shutts Close unless against raines then it swells open as it did now and I believe in yt Citty its usually annoy'd with wet.
This Cathedrall was much frequented by the priests in K James the Seconds tyme and many of their Relicts washed ffaire to be seen, and ye woman told me the priest use to shew her where Every thing was, and they hoped quickly to be in possession of it, and made many promises how kind they would be to them their retainers to the Church; but blessed be God yt put a tymely stop to the protestants utter ruin and ye hopes of the papists.
When I was upon the tower I Could see Cambridg and a great prospect of ye Country wch by reason of ye great rains just before under water, all the ffenny ground being all on a flatt unless it be one side of the town wch is all the high dry grounds, into wch they drive up their Cattle to secure them in the wet seasons. There is no tradeing in the town, their maine buissiness and dependance is on draining and fencing their Grounds and breeding and grasseing Cattle. There is a fine gate of stone arch'd Like a Church wch is Called the abbey, but no remaines of ye Abby Left, only as its built into houses for the Doctors and Clergy, within which is the palace for the Bishop which is their temporall as well as spiritual prince or Lord.

From this Citty I passed over those higher grounds on wch was some good Corn but mostly is for grass for their Cattle. You see many pretty Little towns 4 or 5 in view together 2 or 3 miles distant.
I went to Sutton, one of them, 6 miles off the Citty, this was a Little Market town; thence to ye ffenn banks on ye top of which I Rode at Least two miles wth ye ffenns on both sides wch now were mostly under water, a vast tract of such grounds wch are divided by the Dikes wth out trees, as those I observ'd before, and these high banks are made to draine and ffence out ye water from ye Lower grounds, and so from one banck to another wch are once in many acres of Land 100, so that at length it does bear off the water but in the winter it returns, so as they are forced to watch and be all wayes in repaireing those bancks; and Considering ye vast allowance yearly for draining those fenns at least 3000? [P] an. I wonder they have not perfectly runn off ye water and so Barracadoed it as not to (?)soe it often overflows it againe as it does in many places; but they are all a lazy sort of people and are afraid to do too much.
Here I see yt many swans nests on Little Hillocks of Earth in the wett ground that they Look as if swimming wth their nests, some were with their young signetts, 3 or 4 in heape wth their damms hovering over them for their security. This brought me to the Armitage along 8 mile in all from Ely town, and here I Repass'd the River Lin on a wooden Bridge and so went out of ye jsland of Ely wch was in Cambridgshire and Entred into Huntingdonshire.

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