St Etheldreda (and Ely Palace)

St Etheldreda – detail (Statue in Ely Cathedral)

June 23rd –  Today is the Feast of St Etheldreda …

The church of St Etheldreda

The church of St Etheldreda in Ely Place was originally built as a private chapel in Ely Palace (see below), owned by the Bishops of Ely,  in  around 1293, and pressed into service as an Anglican church after the Reformation.  It was undamaged  in the  Great Fire of 1666, although it has been somewhat modified subsequently.  It was “restored to the old faith” in 1874.  The interior contains a number of memorials to Catholic martyrs, including John Houghton, Prior of Charterhouse, who was hanged, drawn and quartered  at Tyburn in 1535 for challenging King Henry VIII’s  supremacy over the Church.  The exterior  is a rare, restrained  and fine surviving example of the Decorated Gothic style of ecclesiastical architecture.  The church is easily  overlooked on account of its tucked-away location (and small size).  Etheldreda was the Abbess of Ely in the seventh century.

John of Gaunt

John of Gaunt

Ely Palace

John of Gaunt lived in Ely Palace after his own Savoy Palace was destroyed in the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381, and he died there in 1399.  In a scene in Shakespeare’s  “Richard II”, set here, his dying speech includes the immortal words:

“This royal throne of kings, this sceptr’d isle,

This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,

This other Eden, demi-paradise

This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England”.

Reconstruction of Ely Palace (in the Crypt of St Etheldreda)

Reconstruction of Ely Palace (in the Crypt of St Etheldreda)

The palace’s gardens were said to produce the finest strawberries in London, in honour of which a “Strawberrie Fayre” is still held nearby  every June.  In a scene in “Richard III”, Gloster says to Ely:

“My Lord of Ely, when I was last in Holborn, I saw good strawberries in your garden there; I do beseech you, send me some of them”.

The palace’s Great Hall was famed for its banquets.  One such, in 1531, attended by the then king, Henry VIII and his queen,  Catherine of Aragon, is said to have lasted for five days!  According to surviving records, the guests managed to get  through 24 oxen, 51 cows, 91 pigs, 100 sheep, 168 swans, 444 pigeons, 720 chickens and over 4000 larks!

Sir Christopher Hatton

Sir Christopher Hatton

In 1576, the palace was ordered by Elizabeth I to be leased to  her  favourite Sir Christopher Hatton, for a rent of £10 a year, ten loads of hay, and a rose picked at mid-summer.   It remained more or less continuously  in the possession of the Hatton family until the death of the last Lord Hatton in 1772, when it was finally demolished to make way for what is now Hatton Garden.

The church and the site of the palace are  visited on our “Historic Smithfield, Clerkenwell and Holborn” standard walk, and on our “Medieval London”  themed special.

Further details of all our walks are available in the “Guided Walks” section of this web-site.

Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section of the web-site, by e-mail (lostcityoflondon@sky.com), or by phone (020-8998-3051).

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