TO MARK the re-opening of the Old Bishop’s Palace as King’s Ely’s new Sixth Form centre, the Ely Society has published the first ever history of the Palace, which is the largest mediaeval building in Ely after the Cathedral.
A History of the Bishop’s Palace at Ely: Prelates and Prisoners was written by Francis Young, the Assistant Director of Sixth Form at King’s Ely, and draws on records in the British Library, Cambridge University Library and the Archbishop of Canterbury’s library to tell the previously unknown story of this remarkable building.
The booklet reveals that the Palace in Ely was just one of ten palaces once owned by the powerful Bishops of Ely, only two of which still survive intact. Built by Bishop Alcock in the 15th century, the Palace was once a much larger complex of buildings including a now-demolished great hall. It witnessed the turmoil of the Reformation and was turned into a prison for Catholics by Queen Elizabeth I. The prisoners turned against Elizabeth and her successor, King James I, and in November 1605 the sons of two of the men imprisoned at Ely, Francis Tresham and Robert Catesby, were involved in the Gunpowder Plot to blow up the King and the Houses of Parliament. Later, Oliver Cromwell’s soldiers ripped the lead roof off the Palace to make shot and the building was meant to be pulled down. Miraculously it survived, and went on to house the Bishops of Ely until 1940 when it became a Red Cross Hospital and, after the Second World War, a school for disabled children. From 1983 until it was acquired by King’s Ely in 2010, the Palace was a Sue Ryder care home. The Palace officially re-opened in September 2012 as the home of King’s Ely Sixth Form, providing outstanding 21st century facilities in a historic and beautiful setting.
Author Francis Young will be speaking to the Ely Society on ‘The Bishop’s Palace: its History and Development 1486-1781’at the Methodist Church Hall in Chapel Street, Ely, from 7.30pm on Wednesday October 10.
The booklet is on sale in Burrow’s Bookshop, Topping’s Bookshop, the Cathedral Shop and Ely Tourist Information Centre in Oliver Cromwell’s House, priced £3.99.