BBC Countryfile In Ely: The Eel Catcher

In our third instalment featuring video from the BBC’s Countryfile in Ely episode we present what was arguably the most interesting segment of the show featuring Ely’s one and only remaining eel catcher, Peter Carter.

Peter Carter uniquely tells how eels are caught still using the same traditional traps that were used throughout his family for centuries. The segment ends with a trip to Ely’s ‘Old Fire Engine House’ to see how this highly regarded restaurant prepares eels for it’s customers.


Ely was once known as the ‘Isle Of Eels’ a translation of the Anglo Saxon word ‘Eilig’. It was named so because of Ely’s early history based around the trade of eels, indeed the segment states that the Domesday Survey of 1087 (The domesday book, prepared in 1086 at the order of William the Conqueror, gives a detailed and comprehensive picture of transition from Anglo-Saxon to Norman rule over England.) stated that 52,000 eels were caught on the river Ouse in one year alone. Later documents record many thousands of eels being supplied to the monarch and other wealthy customers in London and elsewhere.

The final instalment will feature a little known story on how Ely hosted the Cambridge/Oxford boatrace during World War 2.

14 replies
  1. Peter Carter
    Peter Carter says:

    I know Sid very well Debbie, but I was taught by my Grandfather. Like all fen boys, they kept thier eel trade fairly quiet. It was only when I was told I’m the last still making and using the willow traps I thought it was time to start doing talks etc. before it was all lost. Sid only used the nets.

  2. Debbie Kitchen
    Debbie Kitchen says:

    Did you learn your trade from Sid Merry as you were never mentioned when programs talked about eel catching, they always said he was the famous eel catcher of Ely.

  3. Peter Carter
    Peter Carter says:

    Someone asked about buying eels. You can now buy eels from my shop in outwell. The shop is opposite the Post Office. Opening hours depends if I’m out on the Fen enjoying the sun.

  4. Irene Patmore
    Irene Patmore says:

    Peter Carter gave a talk to my local WI last night . He was brilliant and kept everyone enthralled for almost 2hours . If you get the chance go and see him , you wont be disappointed

  5. peter carter
    peter carter says:

    My shop and workshop is now open to the public. Eels can be bought here. Also displays of Fen life, baskets, nets and more. its in Outwell, opposite the Post Office.

  6. Terry Banham
    Terry Banham says:

    Went to Ely on Sunday looking for a restaurant that sells eels having seen a program on TV recently, but was unable to find one, does anyone know of a restaurant or pub that offers such fare ?

  7. Diane Grantham
    Diane Grantham says:

    A great article. I teach American children living in the area about local history and culture. I’m using this clip to support a unit about Fen history.

  8. Peter Carter
    Peter Carter says:

    I didnt think there would be so much interest in the ol’ eels.
    I would like to thank everyone who has stopped and chatted about it since its been on. If anybodys interested I will be at the Ely eel festival making me traps so please come along as I do like a good ol’ chat.

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