This week’s #FascinatingFactFriday is about The Porta – one of Ely’s much-loved landmarks and now home to our beautiful, Harry Potter-esque School Library.

Did you know that one of The Porta’s former uses was as a brewery?

The Porta, also known as Walpole’s Gate, was once the main entrance to the monastery, and through it have passed pilgrims, monarchs, and other nobility over many centuries. It is reported that the gate was started in 1396 and completed in 1417.

Mrs Elizabeth Stazicker, who manages our archives, said: “The school’s “Big School Room” in the Upper Porta, which is now part of the School Library, was where all the boys, large and small, had their lessons in the early part of the nineteenth century. At that date, it was common everywhere for beer to be brewed on local premises. Beer for the Cathedral Canons was brewed by Senior Verger, William Southby, who had been Verger since 1820, and it was said to have been of high gravity as well as of high repute, not just in Ely, but in London, Feltwell, and Wisbech (where The Dean and Canons had homes).

“So far so good, but Southby’s brewhouse was in the lower part of The Porta, on the south side. This was no doubt convenient for him, since he lived opposite (in the northern part). But both the brewing process itself, and its waste product, heaped outside The Porta, were definitely smelly! When Dean Harvey Goodwin took up his post in 1859, he could hardly avoid noticing it – and noticing the inconvenience to the school. He made enquiries, learnt that ‘home-brewing’ was becoming unfashionable, and discovered, he said, that “A postcard sent to Burton on Trent would save a great deal of dirt in and about the College”.

“The Canons’ beer was thereafter purchased ready-brewed – and the rooms the brewery had previously occupied were turned over to provide more classroom space!”

Today, The Porta is home to our main School Library. Run by Mrs Charlotte Smith and Mrs Genny Snell, the Library is an amazing space for our students and staff to read, study, research, and relax.

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