HIS Royal Highness The Duke of Gloucester KG GCVO officially opened the Old Palace as the new setting of King’s Ely’s Sixth Form Centre on Friday (25).
The co-educational day and boarding school acquired the lease to the Old Palace – home to the Bishops of Ely for centuries and, more recently, a Sue Ryder Care Home – in 2010, thanks to a substantial anonymous donation.
After two years of intensive refurbishment and keen anticipation, the newly restored Tudor building, which is adjacent to Ely Cathedral, now houses King’s Ely’s Sixth Form Centre, the Head’s Offices, the Admissions team and the Media and Development offices. The Old Palace also provides spacious and elegant boarding accommodation, enabling students to live and study right next to the cathedral with which the school’s history has been intertwined for over a thousand years.
HRH The Duke of Gloucester enjoyed a guided a tour of the building by the Heads of School – Sixth Form students Jamie Huffer and Emily Green – before joining over 1,000 students, parents and staff for a blessing at Ely Cathedral. After returning to the Old Palace, he then unveiled a commemorative plaque to mark the historic occasion, where he remarked on what a thoroughly enjoyable experience the day had been. The Queen’s cousin, who read Architecture at Cambridge University, also said that he was pleased with the sensitive way in which the school had restored the building and had not been afraid to bring it into the 21st century.
Head of King’s Ely, Sue Freestone, said: “We have waited a very long time for this occasion, which marks a defining moment in the history of King’s Ely. The restoration and refurbishment of the Old Palace has allowed us to demonstrate the school’s respect for tradition and honour for the past while embracing innovation in providing for the future. We are grateful and delighted that HRH The Duke of Gloucester has officially opened the Old Palace and helped us celebrate a new beginning in the life of this ancient school.”
The Old Palace is integral to the history of the City of Ely. Built by Bishop Alcock in the 15th century, it was one of ten palaces once owned by the powerful Bishops of Ely. It witnessed the turmoil of the Reformation and was turned into a prison for Catholics by Queen Elizabeth I. In November 1605, the sons of two of the men imprisoned – 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 Old Palace to make shot and planned to demolish the building. Miraculously it survived, and went on to house the Bishops of Ely until 1940 when it became a Red Cross Hospital, then a school for disabled children and, in 1983, a Sue Ryder Care Home. In turning a medieval palace into a contemporary learning environment, the school has done much to restore the building’s former glory and original dimensions. Developers also discovered Tudor ceilings and ancient fireplaces, walls and a range during the redevelopment, which have been restored and exposed where possible.