St. Martin’s Jam Factory, Ely

Image: Jam Label

If you go back several decades you may be surprised to learn just how industrious Ely was. It had a well renowned brewery, ‘Ely Ales’ and Ely was also had a major Sugar Beet Factory built in 1928 by Joanness Van Rossum (The factory closed in 1981). And for nearly twenty years (from 1939 to late 1958) Ely had it’s own Jam Factory at the end of Bray’s lane. The factory was called St. Martin’s Jam Factory.

Late last year Ely Online received an email from the nephew of St. Martin’s Jam Factory’s managing director (Arthur Strevens). The email read:

“My uncle, Arthur Strevens, was Managing Director of the St Martin’s Jam Factory for many years in the 40s & 50s. My wife was his executrix, and when he died we ended up with various boxes of records and some small artifacts from the factory (Ely & Grimsby). We were reluctant to throw them away in case they might be of interest to local historians, but never got round to doing anything about it!”
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David Dimbleby In Awe Of Ely Cathedral

Last night the BBC aired the first episode of their landmark series, How We Built Britain. The first episode featured Ely Cathedral.


In the Middle Ages, the East of England was the richest corner of the nation and the Norman conquest of 1066 led to the first construction boom in our history.

The visionary Normans used their building skills to demonstrate their power over the local population. Ely Cathedral would take 300 years to complete, with its intricate stonework and majestic nave. But 1,000 years later it still towers over the Fens.

Says David Dimbleby: “There were no architectural drawings, there was no architect. Working with little more than a set square, some compasses and a grasp of geometry, medieval masons were able to raise this glorious building to the heavens.”

David joins modern-day stonemasons as they restore the cathedral, and embraces tradition by leaving a time capsule – including TV schedules and a Mars Bar – for future generations to discover.
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All The Fun Of The Fair

Ely’s biennial fair is back in the city later this month, but did you know the origins of the fair goes back centuries?

Image: Ely Fair

In fact, Henry I (c.1069 – 1135) granted a fair to the abbot and convent for 7 days, beginning 3 days before the feast of St. Etheldreda (or St Awdrey as she was generally called), a celebratory day remembering the anniversary of her death on 23rd June AD 679. The fair was popular and sold cheap, trifling objects to pilgrims by way of souvenirs; the word ‘tawdry’, a corruption of St Awdrey, derives from this practice.

In 1312 a fair was granted to the prior for 15 days at the festival at St. Lambert and in 1318 a fair was granted to the bishop for 22 days, beginning on the Vigil of the Ascension.

Throughout the Middle Ages the fairs were marts of great activity, particularly that of St. Etheldreda which continued to thrive. So popular was the fair that booths were erected all round the precinct walls, at the gateways, in the streets, and on the wharves.

By the 15th century representatives of large commercial firms bargained in Ely over the sale of iron and timber. Townspeople took part in the lively scene. St. Audrey’s ribbons, held in veneration even in the 16th century as having touched the shrine of St. Etheldreda, were in wide demand. So profitable were the fairs to the grantee that a jealous eye was kept for fear that any other fair should queer the pitch.
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Timeslip 1970: Little Downham & The Giant Balloon

When one recollects childhood memories, invariably there are many that standout. For me – growing up in Little Downham – these included my first day at Feofee’s primary school, the tragic death of Susan Cockerton (Susan and my Auntie Steph used to babysit me) in April, 1968, a little shop forever frozen in time called ‘Lofts’, making houses out of straw bales in the field bordering on our house (sorry Mr. Parsons!), fishing down the ‘Hurst’ and the ‘giant hydrogen-filled balloon’ that drifted over our primary school in September, 1970.

I was recently researching old Ely Standard news via microfiche at Ely library when I came across the original story. Here is that story. I am sure many people who attended Feofees in 1970 will remember this day.
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BBC Countryfile In Ely: The 1944 Boat Race In Ely

Here is the final feature that made up BBC’s Countryfile episode from Ely. Not many people know that in 1944 the Oxford and Cambridge Varsity Boat Race was raced on the River Great Ouse. It was the it’s the only time the boat race has not been held on the Thames in its 150 year history as the country was still in the grip of World War II and London was deemed unsafe for such an event.

The race was won by Oxford despite Cambridge being ahead early in the contest.

The feature has an interview with Martin Whitworth, one of the eight that made up the Cambridge crew of 1944 along with interviews of the current team .


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.

Timeslip: Spy Was Parachuted Into Ely

Image: Agent Zig Zag

A British double agent offered to assassinate Adolf Hitler in a suicide mission but his plan was rejected by MI5, archive papers reportedly have revealed.

Edward Chapman, known as Agent Zigzag, was a burglar and expert safe blower before the Second World War.

He was jailed in Jersey and captured by the Germans in 1940 during their occupation of the island. Once imprisoned, he offered to act as a spy for the Nazis.

Chapman was trained by German intelligence and parachuted into Ely, Cambridge, in 1942 where he immediately turned himself into the British authorities.

He was taken on by MI5 as a double agent and it was then that he put forward his plan to kill Hitler.

According to National Archive papers seen by The Times, Chapman, then 27, made the offer to his case officer Ronnie Reed.

He said his German spymaster Stephan von Groning, known as Dr Graumann, had promised to take him to a Nazi rally if he completed a mission successfully in Britain.

Chapman said his reward would be to be placed “in the first or second row” at the rally, close to Hitler’s podium.

“He believes I am pro-Nazi,” the double agent said. “I believe Dr Graumann will keep his promise.
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BBC Countryfile In Ely: Wicken Fen

Earlier in the week we published video of Ely Cathedral from BBC’s popular rural program Countryfile, that was based in Ely recently. As promised here is the second segment featuring the wetland reserve at Wicken Fen.

Four hundred years ago the cathedral city of Ely was an island surrounded by wetlands but all that changed when the fens were drained to create farm land. Now the National Trust is hoping to reverse that trend by acquiring agricultural land to extend Wicken Fen and thus restore this traditional habitat.


Wicken Fen is one of the last remaining undrained fenlands in East Anglia. The reedbeds, fen meadows, sedge fields and scrub offer a superb range of habitats for the 7000 species that live here. A visit to the Fen Cottage takes you back to the turn of the 20th Century. There is a 3/4 mile boardwalk for easy year round access and a raised dipping pond for wheelchair users and toddlers.
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BBC’S Countryfile Visit’s Ely Cathedral

Last week, BBC’s popular countryside and environmental show ‘Countryfile‘ themed a whole episode from Ely.

The show started with a fascinating interview with Ely Cathedral curator, John Webster. The interview can be viewed below.


Over the next few days we will also bring you Countryfile’s features on Wicken Fen, Eel Fishing and Ely’s association with the Cambridge/Oxford Boat Race.

Memories Of Little Downham’s ‘Lofts’ Shop

When one recollects childhood memories, invariably there are many that standout. For me – growing up in Little Downham – these included my first day at Feofee’s primary school, the tragic death of Susan Cockerton (Susan and my Auntie Steph used to babysit me) in April, 1968, the ‘giant hydrogen-filled balloon’ that drifted over our primary school in August, 1970, making houses out of straw bales in the field bordering on our house (sorry Mr. Parsons!), fishing down the ‘Hurst’ and a little shop forever frozen in time. That shop was ‘Lofts’.

Image: Mrs. Hillen

‘Lofts’ closed sometime in the late 80s. It was a childhood memory that had not – physically – changed since my earliest visits on the way to primary school in the late 60s. Truth is, it probably hadn’t changed that much from the day it opened in the early 1900s!

Loft’s was a small dark foreboding place lost in the modern world; an amalgam of Royston Vasey’s ‘local’ shop in The League Of Gentlemen and Arkwright’s store in Open All Hours. But to a child in the late 60s and early 70s that lived east of St. Leonard’s Church it was first stop (we were to lazy to walk to ‘Barlows’ or ‘Proctors’) on the way to school or the ‘field’ (playing field), you see, the shop had a lot of sweets, in the big front window and the jars on the back wall, it also had Corona fizzy and Lyon’s ice lollies. What more could a kid wish for?
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Ely Ales & Forehill Brewery – A Brief History

Image: The Original New Story

I recently redesigned the website for Ely Museum and while gathering information I came across the museum exhibits for the Brewery in Forehill and Ely Ales. I have lived in the area all my life and was aware Ely once had a brewery but didn’t realise how important it was to Ely at that time!

While viewing the exhibits I saw a reproduction news article detailing the history and beer making process of the Forehill Brewery when it was owned by Hall, Cutlack and Harlock (It was later owned by East Anglian Breweries) and decided (with the kind permission of Ely Museum) to reproduce it here. The article featured on page 11 of the Ely Standard on 15th April 1938.

The Brewery itself is long gone but if you are interested, it was located at the very bottom of Forehill, to the left, just before the sharp turn into Broad Street.

If you worked there be sure to leave a comment.

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The Hibernation Of Hedgehog Records

Image: David Cooke at Hedgehog Records

It’s just over a year now since Hedgehog Records ceased trading in Market Street and I for one miss the shop and David Cooke, the proprietor.

Hedgehog Records was special, a record shop with a great selection of music (you name it David probably had it), a guy with great musical prowess and superb customer service (if it wasn’t in stock it would be in a couple of days) .

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Ely Cathedral – The Magnificent Norman Cathedral

Written by Dr Carol Davidson Cragoe, April 2002

Image: Ely Cathedral

Ely has been a place of Christian worship since at least 673, when Etheldreda, daughter of the king of East Anglia, founded a nunnery there. She later became a saint. Ely was sacked by the Danes in the 870s, but it was rebuilt and by the 10th century had become a monastery for men. Nothing survives of the Anglo–Saxon church, which was entirely demolished when the present structure was built after the Norman Conquest. In 1109 Ely became a cathedral as part of the Norman reforms of the English church.

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Hereward The Wake – 1066

Most English know of Hereward the Wake (meaning ‘wary’), the Fenland’s most famous hero, who lead a revolt against Duke William the Bastard of Normandy, who had usurped the English throne after defeating the English army at the Battle of Hastings, and killing the last king of the English, Harold Godwinson, and the flower of the English nobility in the process. But what is fact and what is legend?

Image: Hereward The Wake

The real Hereward held lands in Warwickshire and Lincolnshire at the time of Edward the Confessor, left England some time after 1062, and later reappeared to plunder the Abbey of Peterborough (1070) — the Anglo–Saxon Chronicle (at this time being written at Peterborough) says simply that among those at the sack of Peterborough were ‘Hereward and his crew’. At the time, or shortly after, he was holding the Isle of Ely, with its Camp of Refuge, against the Normans (1071). During this time Hereward sometimes he had Danish help. He also attracted many dissidents such as the Earl Morkar, and Siward Bain. The isle took a lot of Norman effort to capture. Hereward was one of those to escape. He continued the struggle for sometime, operating in and near the Fens. Eventually he made his peace with King William.

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C4’s Time Team Excavate In Ely

Image: Tony Robinson

September 2000: Ely took a step back in time when actor Tony Robinson (pictured right) brought members of the Channel Four Time Team to the archaeological dig in Broad Street. The documentary team visited the site while members of the Cambridge University Archaeological Unit carried out work on the dig.

Work began on the site recently and lasted 20 weeks. During that time, archaeologists were expecting to uncover evidence of activity from the Bronze and Iron Ages. Roman remains, including coins, clothing decorations and statuettes, have previously been found in Ely.
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