Hammer And Tongs. 10th June

Jubilee Gardens, Ely

Oops, not Sunday!

Thankfully we didn’t have a shouting cat this morning demanding to go out. Tilly had managed with this outside, but wasn’t overly impressed. We took advantage of this and headed out to explore for ourselves and hopefully come back impressed.

The East end of Ely Cathedral

Where else could we go other than the cathedral.

Just look at that front door!

We walked up through Jubilee Gardens, climbed up Cherry Hill Park past where the castle once had stood. Surrounded by King’s School buildings we walked up to the South transept of the cathedral then followed the paths anti-clockwise round the cathedral to the west door where we could enter.

Coronation dress

Stood in the nave was a replica of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation dress. This had been commissioned for her diamond jubilee by Harrods and was used in the filming of The Crown. Bejewelled, embroidered in gold and silver thread by a team of costume specialist makers it took 4 months to make. A rather stunning job they did of it too.

Etheldreda was ‘ere

The first monastery was founded by the Saxon Queen Etheldreda in 673, followed by a Benedictine monastery in 970 which was the second wealthiest in the country. It stood high on the hill , the Island of the Eels.

Looking down the Nave from the choir

The Norman building was started in 1081 and became a cathedral in 1109 where the remains of Etheldreda lay. Pilgrims flocked to her tomb which necessitated the building to be extended adding the presbytery in 1252.

Looking east to the alter

Cracks began to show around the structure of the central tower, the monks moved their services outdoors. On the 13th February 1322 just after a 4am service the Norman central tower collapsed. It is thought that water had undermined the foundations of the tower which had been caused by the building of the Lady Chapel.

What we going to do?!

Work began to rebuild the tower, redesigned by Alan de Walsingham. Firmer foundations were found further out than the original ones and the idea of building the Octagon came about. The width, at 74ft, was too wide to support a stone vault, so it was built from timber, glass and lead all standing on eight massive pillars. It took 18 years to build with an internal height of 142 ft.

The Octagon

At the centre is a painted wooden carving of Christ surrounded by fan vaulting, this is followed by stained glass windows, below that painted angels followed by more fan vaulting. You just have to take a seat and stare upwards. There are tours up the Octagon, but sadly they have to be booked in advance and would have upped our entry price again.

1349 the lady Chapel was completed, the largest in the country. Originally it was richly adorned with statues of saints, bright paintwork and tall stained glass windows. But in 1541 came the dissolution of the monastery’s, windows were smashed, all but one sculpture were defaced, chipped away or removed completely.

Red roses on the ceiling, why so uneven?

In 1566 the chapel became Holy Trinity Church the parish church for Ely. The walls were white washed and the windows filled with plain glass, which is more or less how it looks today. A small amount of colour remains on the stone work by the alter and roses on the ceiling, but this is upstaged by a sculpture of the Virgin Mary made by David Wynne. A modern figure of a woman dressed in azure blue. The chapel was handed back to the cathedral in 1938, but it was cold and dark in the winter months. Restoration works in the 1990’s changed this, today when we walked in the chapel was decidedly warm, it’s now used for services and concerts.

The north side of the nave is currently the home for A Table for the Nation. At 13m long by 1.5m wide it has been made from a 5000 year old giant sub-fossilised black, or bog, oak tree which was found in 2012 near Downham Market. It has taken ten years to make. First the tree was cut into planks which then had to be dried out over 9 months removing 400 gallons of water and shrinking in depth by 50%. We had first seen it on the local news when it had been positioned under the Octagon and was turned round. Today it sits in what feels like a corridor, information panels alongside and big bright lights blasting into it’s black grain. It feels a touch side lined and is almost impossible to photograph.

Can’t forget the organ, present case by Sir Gilbert Scott

Our tickets included a visit to the Stained Glass Museum which was well worth a visit.

Hammer and Tongs c1920 by Karl Parsons

Up the stairs in the West Transept the museum fills one side of the balcony of the nave. Examples of stained glass through the centuries are displayed all back lit, showing the techniques that were developed.

From black or brown painted on lines, paintwork scratched through for extra details. Yellow stains applied to the back of the glass to enamel pigments that came in in the 1500s. Leading and solder that hold all the glass together keeping out the weather. Add into the mix coloured glass. Square bottles of glass that were cut into their four sides. Patterns added onto the surface and details added.

Portraits created in glass following the styles of artist of the times. The Victorians drew on the pageantry of the Middle Ages, Burne-Jones influenced greatly by the Italian Renaissance.

Several 1:6 scale models show how stained glass is made. Small details in the models, receipts from the renowned Alec Tiranti, a large box of Wuffomeat and the jumper a lady wears knitted on what must have been tiny needles.

Modern windows are shown too. Some more to our taste than others, I think we prefer colour to the darker windows where lead or black paint take over.

Just why was the North West Transept dismantled?

A very interesting afternoon, although it would have been fascinating to see what lay in storage covered in decades of dust on the opposite balcony.

It’s rubbish round here!

Tilly was given some shore leave when we got back. She still wasn’t that impressed with Ely! Thank goodness we’d enjoyed our day.

0 locks, 0 miles, 1 collapsed tower, 1 removed transept (why does no-one mention that, including me?), 8 sides of wonder, 1 very blue lady, 1 hammer, 1 tong, 1 replica dress, 5000 year old wood table, 1 corridor, 1 disappointing font, 1 slice of pizza dropped from heaven.

Are the captions better Dan?