Ely was a great centre for guilds, of
which eleven existed at the time of the
1389 inquiry, and another (St. Anne) by
1458. (fn. 27) Two others, of St. Withburga and St. Sexburga, are mentioned in 1516-17. (fn. 28)
The earliest foundation was that of St. Etheldreda,
which was said to have been founded 'a hundred years
and more' before 1389. It was thus the oldest guild in
the county except perhaps that of St. Mary at Cambridge. (fn. 29) It also seems to have always been the most
important of the Ely guilds. In 1389 it possessed £5
worth of goods, (fn. 30) and at the Dissolution was the only
guild in the city known to have had any real estate. This
consisted of an inn called the Crown, with houses, shops,
cellars, solars, stables, and garden. It was in the tenure
of Richard Mey, and was granted in 1549 to John Harford of Bosbury (d. 1559) (fn. 31) and Richard Willison of
Ledbury (Herefs.). The value of this property is not
known, but from the Crown Inn 12d. rent was payable
to the bishop. From the remainder of the premises 6d.
was payable to the bishop, 5s. 8d. to the dean and chapter, and 8s. to Sir Edmund Knyvett. (fn. 32) A messuage called
the 'Guyldhall in Ely', perhaps the former hall of this
guild, was held by Robert Warden in 1609. (fn. 33)
The guild of St. Peter had been founded eighty or
more years before 1389, and that of All Saints in St.
Mary's church in 1331; otherwise the dates of foundation, where stated in the certificates of 1389, are late in
the reign of Edward III or in that of Richard II. The
guild of Corpus Christi is interesting as having had a
monk, Robert Aylesham, as its co-founder.
Most of the guilds served the usual objects of such
institutions-saying masses for deceased members, maintaining lights before certain altars, and, in a few cases,
distributing small sums to the poor. Three of them (All
Saints in St. Peter's church, Corpus Christi, and St.
Peter) made allowances to indigent members according
to their means. Most of the Ely guilds admitted women
to their membership.
The guilds already existing in 1389 were: in St.
Mary's Church, those of the Assumption (in the 'new
chapel' of the Blessed Virgin), All Saints, St. John
Baptist; in Holy Trinity, those of Holy Trinity, Holy
Cross, St. Peter, St. Etheldreda, St. Katherine; in St.
Etheldreda or St. Peter, those of All Saints, Corpus
Christi, St. John Baptist. It is noteworthy that the oldest
guilds, those of St. Peter and St. Etheldreda, were in
Trinity, whereas others, including the Guild of Corpus
Christi, were allowed to remain in the nave of the
cathedral where the parishioners of Holy Trinity had
formerly worshipped. (fn. 34) It is not known to which
church the later guilds of St. Anne, St. Withburga, and
St. Sexburga were attached. (fn. 35)