City of Ely: Churches

A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 4, City of Ely; Ely, N. and S. Witchford and Wisbech Hundreds. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 2002.

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T D Atkinson. Ethel M Hampson. E T Long. C A F Meekings. Edward Miller. H B Wells. G M G Woodgate, 'City of Ely: Churches', A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 4, City of Ely; Ely, N. and S. Witchford and Wisbech Hundreds, (London, 2002), pp. 82-86. British History Online [accessed 25 June 2024].

T D Atkinson. Ethel M Hampson. E T Long. C A F Meekings. Edward Miller. H B Wells. G M G Woodgate. "City of Ely: Churches", in A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 4, City of Ely; Ely, N. and S. Witchford and Wisbech Hundreds, (London, 2002) 82-86. British History Online, accessed June 25, 2024,

Atkinson, T D. Hampson, Ethel M. Long, E T. Meekings, C A F. Miller, Edward. Wells, H B. Woodgate, G M G. "City of Ely: Churches", A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 4, City of Ely; Ely, N. and S. Witchford and Wisbech Hundreds, (London, 2002). 82-86. British History Online. Web. 25 June 2024,


Presumably there was originally but a single parish, whose spiritual needs were adequately met by use of a part of the abbey church. (fn. 1) The chapel of the Holy Cross, in the mother church, was so used before the division of the monastic property between bishop and prior in 1109. Even at this date, however, there existed the second parish of St. Mary: a specific grant of its church was then made to the convent. (fn. 2) The chapel of the Holy Cross was merely included in the general grant to the mother church of all the emoluments and oblations of her altars. (fn. 3) The church of St. Mary was apparently rebuilt and endowed by Bishop Eustace (1198-1215). (fn. 4) For a short period the monastery granted this new church to a priest named Baldwin, but recovered it in 1232 and reallotted it to the sacrist's office. Thenceforward both parishes continued until the Dissolution to be so appropriated, each being served by a chaplain appointed by the sacrist. (fn. 5)

The name of the original parish underwent changes, as the following account will show. The parishioners used the nave of the monastic church with the altar of the Holy Cross immediately west of the pulpitum as their principal altar. Early in the 14th century complaints were made of the inconvenience of services conducted simultaneously in nave and monks' choir. (fn. 6) A commission of inquiry was appointed by the archbishop in 1315. The return spoke of the two parish churches as 'the church of St. Peter or the greater parish' and 'the church of St. Mary or the lesser church'. (fn. 7) A new church for the greater parish was decreed and work was begun in 1341-2. (fn. 8) Prior to its consecration, between 1362 and 1367, (fn. 9) it was referred to either as the church of 'the greater parish' or as that of Holy Cross. (fn. 10) The dedication may have been changed upon consecration: at least by 1373 the parish was known as that of the Holy Trinity. (fn. 11) This church was not finished until 1459-60. A lean-to against the north wall of the north aisle without sun or cross ventilation, the building was, it would appear, unsatisfactory from the first. (fn. 12) It served the parish, however, until 1566, (fn. 13) when the Lady Chapel of the cathedral (q.v.) was devoted to this use, by day but not by night, and so continued until 1938. Entrance was by a new doorway from the transept; the passing-bell for a departed parishioner was rung by the sub-sacrist. The old church appears to have been taken down about 1566. (fn. 14) The ruins were removed and the cathedral aisle refaced in 1662.

At the Dissolution the parsonage and emoluments of both churches were granted to the dean and chapter, (fn. 15) whose custom it was to appoint prebendaries or minor canons to the two curacies. In 1929 the benefices were united under one incumbent. The rectory and tithes of the two parishes were frequently leased. The most famous lessees were the Stewards, who acquired the rectory of Ely, in addition to Stuntney manor (q.v.), in the 16th century. Oliver Cromwell inherited the property, on the death of his uncle, Sir Thomas Steward, in 1636. (fn. 16)

In 1605 Robert Walden left rent charges of £2 per annum to the minister of St. Mary's church for the preaching of two sermons a year. (fn. 17) In 1724 William Cole left a rent charge of £3 per annum to the churchwardens of Holy Trinity, £2 of which was to provide sermons. (fn. 18) In 1772 John Howard left £100 to the dean and chapter to provide an afternoon sermon in the same church. (fn. 19)

The ancient chapel at Stuntney was served in the Middle Ages by 'archpriests' and later by the curates of the parent parish of Holy Trinity. (fn. 20) The patronage remained with the dean and chapter after the alienation of the secular property.

Chettisham had a chapel at least as early as the 15th century, under the same patronage as the parent church of St. Mary. (fn. 21) Chettisham became a separate ecclesiastical parish in 1876. (fn. 22)

The church of ST. MARY consists of chancel, clerestoried nave, aisles, south chapel, north porch, west tower and spire, and vestry. The material is mainly rubble with stone dressings, and the spire is of Barnack stone; the tower and south clerestory are plastered externally. The roofs are covered with slates except those of the south chapel and vestry, which are tiled. The chancel, nave, and aisles were erected at the beginning of the 13th century; a few years later the south chapel was added. The tower and spire date from about 1300 and the porch from the first half of the 14th century. The clerestory belongs to the first half of the 15th century, and towards the end of the same century the aisles were provided with new windows. A drastic 'restoration' was begun in 1877, when the whole church was reroofed. Later, a vestry was erected against the south side of the tower.

The chancel has an east window of three lights with rectilinear tracery, which dates from the end of the 14th century. There are the original clamped angle buttresses round which the string-course extends. In the north and south walls are two plain lancets. There is a doorway in the north wall with a two-centred arch of two orders with a continuous chamfer. The north-west window is a 15th-century insertion with three cinquefoiled lights under a square label. The south-west window, dating from the end of the 14th century, has early rectilinear tracery, which has been renewed on the exterior. The original internal string-course has been cut away at the west end on both sides to accommodate the inserted windows. The lofty chancel arch is twocentred and of two orders with keel-shaped responds having modern foliaged caps and bases concealed by the modern floor. There is a much renewed double piscina of the 13th century with a central shaft and turned responds and deeply moulded arches. The sedilia without divisions has an acutely pointed trefoiled arch.

The nave has arcades of seven bays with two-centred arches of two orders having keel-shaped mouldings and a hood-mould; the columns are round with square caps and bases. Two of the caps (those of the eastern responds) have been entirely renewed and one on the south has been partially renewed. The columns rest on rough stone basements. The clerestory windows have two cinquefoil-headed main lights with a quatrefoil above. Beneath the clerestory is a plain string-course. The parapets are plain and apparently much renewed. The nave opens to the tower by a two-centred arch of two orders with moulded caps and bases to the semioctagonal responds; it is of early-14th-century date.

Plan of St. Mary's Church

The south aisle has three lateral buttresses with one set-off, the upper parts of which have been repaired with brick, probably in the 16th century. There is a blocked doorway in the south wall with a two-centred arch having zigzag mouldings and caps with stiff foliage; the jamb shafts are missing. In the 15th century a doorway with continuous mouldings, now also blocked, was inserted within the earlier entrance. There are two windows of three lights and one of two, all with cinquefoil heads under a square label. The plain parapet has modern coping. The aisle opens to the chapel by an arcade of two bays with two-centred arches of two orders having moulded caps and bases to the octagonal column and semi-octagonal responds. The chapel has an east window consisting of three plain lancets under a containing arch. In the south wall are two windows of two cinquefoiled lights under a square head. The west window consists of two lights with uncusped heads and a quatrefoil above and is of 13th-century date. There is a plain modern doorway in the south wall. The gables have old coping and broken crosses on the apex. There is a good double piscina similar to that in the chancel but in a more genuine state. There is a plain image bracket in the north-east angle.

The north aisle has an east window of three cinquefoiled lights under a depressed arch. There are two angle-buttresses with one set-off at the north-east and one at the north-west corner. The fenestration of the north wall consists of two windows of three lights and four of two lights, all cinquefoiled under a square label and much renewed except the second one from the east. The plain parapet has been renewed. The north doorway is particularly notable. It has a two-centred arch of three orders with elaborate dogtooth and other mouldings and banded jamb shafts with stiff foliaged caps and moulded bases; some of the mouldings have been repaired in plaster. Inside the doorway is a plain stoup recess. The porch has a two-centred outer arch with a continuous chamfer. In the east and west walls is a two-light window with cinquefoil-headed main lights and rather clumsy tracery of 14th-century date.

The tower has angle buttresses with four set-offs extending to the parapet. The plain west doorway is of three orders with continuous chamfer and a hood-mould. The west window consists of three lights with plain intersecting tracery. The belfry windows are of two trefoil-headed lights with a quatrefoil above and a plain hood-mould. There is a plain parapet with pinnacles at the angles, which are embattled and finished with conical caps. The newel stair is contrived in the south-west angle and is entered by a plain doorway having a continuous chamfer. The octagonal spire has two-light gabled openings at the base on alternate faces and single lights similarly arranged towards the top. On the southwest buttress is a tablet commemorating the burial of five men executed for complicity in the Littleport riots of 1816.

All the roofs are modern.

The fittings are modern and mediocre. In the churchyard is the bowl of an ancient font of Barnack stone, of irregular shape.

The plate consists of a communion cup of silver, 1684, a chalice of silver, 1870, a paten of silver, 1684, a paten of silver, 1873, a flagon of silver, 1878, a cruet of glass with silver mountings, 1878, and an alms-dish of pewter.

The tower contains eight bells, all by Edward Arnold of St. Neots, 1781, except the third, which is dated 1766. The sanctus bell was cast by Joseph Eayre of St. Neots, 1778. The oak bell frame was reconstructed in 1882, but retains some timbers of 17th-century date.

The registers begin in 1670 and are complete except for the entries of baptisms and burials between 1702 and 1773 and of marriages between 1702 and 1763. (fn. 23) The registers of Holy Trinity (see above) date from 1559.

The church of ST. PETER, Broad Street, was erected in 1890. It is a stone structure in the Early 'Decorated' style and consists of chancel, nave, south porch, and south-west bell turret with one bell. There is a particularly fine wooden screen and rood loft decorated in colours which was designed by Mr. J. N. Comper. It originally served as a chapel of ease to Holy Trinity.

The church of ST. ETHELDREDA, Queen Adelaide, erected in 1883, is a brick structure consisting of nave, south porch, and west turret containing one bell. It originally served as a chapel of ease to Holy Trinity, Ely.

The church of ST. PETER, Prickwillow, was erected in 1868. It is a brick structure on a foundation of wooden piles in the 'Early English' style, and consists of chancel, nave, transepts, south porch, and a central bellturret with a short spire. There is one bell, dated 1691, and a handsome font of Italian marble, dated 1693, both formerly in the cathedral. The font has an elaborately carved wooden cover, which is suspended from the roof by the figure of an angel. The ecclesiastical parish was formed in 1878 from Holy Trinity and St. Mary Ely, Littleport, Lakenheath, and Mildenhall (Suffolk). The register of marriages dates from 1864, of baptisms from 1874. There is no burial register as the dead are buried in Ely.

Plan of St. Michael and All Angels' Church

The church of ST. MICHAEL AND ALL ANGELS, Chettisham, consists of chancel, nave, south porch, north vestry, and west bell-cote. The nave and chancel are continuous without any structural division.

The fabric is of late 12th-century date, but was drastically restored in the 19th century and the porch, vestry, and bell-cote are modern. The east wall contains three modern lancets with a trefoiled opening above, also modern. There are four plain lancets in the south wall, two in the north, and one in the west, several of which have been much renewed. In the west wall above the lancet is a modern sexfoiled opening. There are four buttresses on the south and three on the north wall, all with two set-offs, which have been considerably renewed. The north and south doorways are very plain, with continuous chamfers, and of the first half of the 13th century. The roofs are modern, that of the chancel being of the braced-rafter type, and that of the nave couple close with collars and tie-beams; the collars and tie-beams are apparently old, but of uncertain date. The bell-cote is tiled and shingled. The porch is of wood on a stone base. There are two plain aumbries with modern doors in the east wall. The font is of 15th-century date and cup-shaped, with an octagonal bowl having quatrefoils enclosing blank shields on each side. In the vestry are portions of three stone capitals and a corbel of late 13thcentury date.

Pane of the Church of the Holy Cross

The plate consists of a communion cup of silver, 1569, with a paten cover of the same date, and two pewter alms-dishes. There is one bell without inscription. The registers for baptisms begin in 1701, those for marriages in 1754, and burials in 1842, but the first interment in the churchyard was in 1854.

The church of the HOLY CROSS, Stuntney, consists of chancel, south vestry and tower, nave, and quasisouth aisle. The material is rubble with ashlar dressings and the roofs are tiled. The fabric is of 12th-century origin, but a disastrous restoration in 1876, which virtually amounted to rebuilding, has robbed it of most of its interest. Before these alterations occurred the church consisted of chancel and nave only, with a double opening in the west gable for the bells. Owing to insecure foundations and the wide span of the nave roofs it was necessary to undertake further restoration in 1903, when the modern chancel arch was removed and a wooden arcade inserted to form a quasi-south aisle.

The chancel has three round-headed windows in the east wall and angle buttresses with one set-off, all modern. On the north are two round-headed windows, which appear to be partially ancient but which have been reset. The rest of the fenestration is of similar design but is entirely modern. There is now a wooden chancel arch inserted in 1903. The western portion of the chancel is wider than the eastern and seems to occupy part of the site of the original nave. The fine 12thcentury chancel arch is now on the south side of the chancel and opens to the base of the tower, which serves as an organ chamber; it is of two orders and semicircular in form with angle shafts having stiff foliage; there are slight traces of red on the arch. The ugly modern tower has round-headed belfry lights and a gabled top. There is a large 12th-century corbel carved with a human head now lying on the ground outside the tower. The original north doorway is now inserted on the west side of the base of the tower at the east end of the south aisle; it has a round arch with zigzag mouldings and renewed angle shafts. The south doorway, which still serves as the principal entrance to the church, is similar in design but has billet as well as zigzag mouldings. All the roofs are modern.

The 12th-century font has a cup-shaped bowl with large scallops; the oak cover is of 17th-century date. All the other fittings are modern with the exception of a small 17th-century alms-box. The plate includes a chalice of 1700 inscribed 'Stuntney in Trinity parish in Ely' and 2 silver patens.

The tower contains one bell by W. Dobson of Downham, 1807.

The registers begin in 1545, but those for burials are missing from 1813 to 1849.


  • 1. Atkinson, Archit. Hist. Ely, 8.
  • 2. Bp.'s Mun., Ely, Liber M, f. 143.
  • 3. Ibid., f. 143.
  • 4. Ibid., f. 165.
  • 5. Sacrist R., ed. F. R. Chapman, i, 141, ii, 121, and many other entries; Cal. Pat. 1416-22, 183-5.
  • 6. Sacrist R., ed. Chapman, 101-2.
  • 7. Injunction of Archbishop Reynolds, B.M. Add. MS. 41612, f. 34b; cf. Baker MSS., vol. 38, f. 123. The original dedication of the monastic church was to St. Peter and B.V.M. (Liber Ellen. ii, c. 52).
  • 8. Sacrist R., ed. Chapman, ii, 121. Stone for the foundations came from 'Overtone'-perhaps Overton (Orton) Longueville or Waterville on the south bank of the Nene just above Peterborough.
  • 9. Sacrist R., ed. Chapman, i, 104.
  • 10. Ibid. ii, 148, 171, &c.
  • 11. Visitation of Holy Trinity by Thos. de Wormenhale, Cant. Reg. Whittlesey, f. 152b. The churchyard of Holy Trinity is mentioned in Bishop Fordham's Survey of 1416-17 (B.M. Harl. MS. 329), but this is not, as Chapman says, the first use of the name Holy Trinity for the greater parish. (Sacrist R., ed. Chapman, i, 104). The name occurs also in 1383 (Reg. Arundel, f. 47) (Archd. S. J. A. Evans has furnished these refs.). See also Sacrist R., ed. Chapman, ii, 148, 171, and Bentham, Ely, 162.
  • 12. The doorway from the nave was in the seventh bay from the east and its remains are hidden by the monument of Bishop Woodford.
  • 13. Sacrist R., ed. Chapman, i, 103.
  • 14. R. Gardner, Dir. Cambs. (1851), 471.
  • 15. MS., C.C.C., Camb., Misc. XX, 391 et seq.
  • 16. Gardner, Dir. Cambs. (1851), 485.
  • 17. Rep. Com. Char. (Cambs.), [103], p. 230 H.C. (1837-8), xxiv.
  • 18. Ibid., p. 231.
  • 19. Ibid., p. 229.
  • 20. Reg. Gray, f. 224.
  • 21. Ibid. 'Chesham Chapel' is mentioned also in S.C. 6/Eliz./282, m. 1.
  • 22. Clergy List (1915).
  • 23. a. Infm. Major J. G. A. Beckett. Diocesan transcripts of all types of register exist for 1606-40, 1642, 1648, and 1661-9.