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Ely, Cambridgeshire

Historical Description

Ely, Isle of, the northern portion of the county of Cambridgeshire, comprising the hundreds of Ely, Wisbech, North and South Witchford, the city of Ely, borough of Wisbech, and the liberties of Whittlesey and Thorney. Its length north-westward is about 28 miles, its extreme breadth is 17 miles, its area is 239,259 acres, and the population 63,861. In ancient times, before the great draining of the fens, Ely was very difficult of access, and could easily be converted into a secure retreat during civil war or foreign invasion. Even now it is almost an island, the water which surrounds it forming a boundary passing through Earith, Witcham, Downham, Littleport, Ely, Aldreth, and round again to Earith. It was once nearly all a marsh, subject to flooding from the streams which creep through it, and it has been rendered habitable and cultivable only by an elaborate cutting and maintenance of artificial drainage. Its southern side is diversified by one or two ridges of comparatively high land; its northern portion is diversified only by some small elevations, mostly the sites of villages; and all the rest of it is a continuous plain, stretching away from all interior points of view to the horizon. Formerly the isle was in reality a county palatine, like those of Chester and Durham, the jurisdiction of the bishop being exclusively exercised, but this jurisdiction was abolished in 1837. It has separate quarter sessions and commission of the peace, and a county council consisting of 42 councillors and 14 aldermen, and is divided into four petty sessional divisions. It is almost entirely agricultural, and it is famous for its vegetables, notably asparagus, and for its fruit, large quantities of each being sent to the London markets.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England & Wales, 1894-5


The following is a list of the administrative units in which this place was either wholly or partly included.

Ancient CountyCambridgeshire 
Poor Law unionEly 

Any dates in this table should be used as a guide only.

Directories & Gazetteers

We have transcribed the entry for Ely from the following:

Land and Property

The Return of Owners of Land in 1873 for Cambridgeshire is available to browse.


Online maps of Ely are available from a number of sites:

Newspapers and Periodicals

The British Newspaper Archive have fully searchable digitised copies of the following Cambridgeshire papers online:

Visitations Heraldic

The Visitations of Cambridgeshire 1575 and 1619 is available online.

DistrictEast Cambridgeshire
Postal districtCB7
Post TownEly