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Cambridge University Library


Ely was a Benedictine abbey first founded by St Etheldreda in 673. It had extensive lands and endowments in the Isle of Ely and Cambridgeshire. In 1109 the diocese of Ely was formed (out of Lincoln diocese), and the Abbot of Ely became the first Bishop, the Prior then becoming the head of the monastery.  At the Reformation the monastery was dissolved, and a Chapter of a Dean and eight Prebendaries (or Canons) was established. The Chapter (now a Dean and two Canons) remains the governing body of the cathedral.

The archives consist of the administrative records of the cathedral, the College (or close), the cathedral school, and the extensive manors and estates of the Dean and Chapter, and include records of the medieval monastery, the `Prior and Convent' of Ely.  The monastery and later the Dean and Chapter were huge landowners in the area and this collection is a superb source of information about social and economic history and agriculture, including many records about drainage.  Manorial court records also provide hundreds of years of informaton about criminality on a local level.  The collection also includes one of the four surviving original 1225 Charters of the Forest.

The early history of the monastery to the end of the twelfth century is recorded in the Liber Eliensis (EDC 1). There is an extensive series of charters, both royal and episcopal, from c.1100, detailing the medieval rights, privileges and endowments of the monastery, and surveys of monastic property (1317, 1522, 1539). The medieval monastic administration is documented through a series of obedientiary rolls, kept by the various officers of the monastery (sacrist, almoner, chamberlain etc.).

The records of the Dean and Chapter (from 1539) include charters of foundation, rights, statutes and endowments, order books (from 1550), recording the deliberations and decisions of Chapter meetings, and leiger books of leases, grants of office, pensions and bedesmen's places, 1537-1841. Financial records include treasurer's accounts 1537-1873, day books of receipts and payments 1834-1942, and bailiffs' accounts for Dean and Chapter estates, mostly sixteenth and seventeenth century. Fabric papers, recording expenditure and work on the cathedral and College buildings, include clerk of works accounts for the eighteenth century, John Bacon's books (manuscript accounts of cathedral and College restoration in the nineteenth century), fabric vouchers for routine expenditure 1660-1846, and miscellaneous fabric papers (plans, estimates, correspondence, memoranda, appeals, etc.) 1660-1907.

Estate records include long runs of medieval court rolls and bailiffs' accounts for the manors of the Prior and Convent, and extensive court books and papers for the Dean and Chapter estates from 1540. The Dean and Chapter commuted their estates to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in 1870, and some court books and many leases were taken over by the Commissioners. These have been returned to the Library and are available as Church Commissioners [CC] papers. There are terriers, surveys and valuations, mostly eighteenth and nineteenth century, of Dean and Chapter estates for leasehold renewal, and a series of parliamentary surveys, 1649-50, ordered when cathedral establishments were suspended under the Commonwealth.

Smaller groups of papers relate to the bedesmen, to Ely Grammar School (late nineteeth century), to the lay clerks and organ, and to the cathedral library (mostly deposited in Cambridge University Library in 1970 under the classmark 'Ely').

A draft typescript catalogue is available in the Manuscripts Reading Room. For the medieval muniments there is a description by Dorothy M. Owen, `The muniments of Ely cathedral priory', in C. N. L. Brooke and others (eds.), Church and government in the middle ages, Cambridge, 1976, a copy of which article is kept with the typescript catalogue.

The Ely music manuscripts, though part of the Dean and Chapter archive, are separately catalogued and classified. They are largely the work of James Hawkins, organist 1682-1729, who collected up the remains of the old choir books which had been scattered and destroyed during the Commonwealth, and transcribed them into volumes. The manuscripts contain transcriptions of many late sixteenth century and early seventeenth century choral works, and also copies of anthems, services and responses in use in the cathedral in the eighteenth century.

There is a catalogue by W. E. Dickson, A catalogue of ancient choral services and anthems, preserved among the manuscript scores and part-books in the cathedral church of Ely, Cambridge, 1861, a copy of which is available in the Manuscripts Reading Room.

Ely Cathedral manuscripts [ECM] are manuscripts donated to, or deposited in, the cathedral, but are not part of the Dean and Chapter archives. They include notebooks and commonplace books of bishops and priests, antiquarian notes on Ely and elsewhere, working papers for F. R. Chapman's edition of the sacrist's rolls, correspondence of James Bentham, and plans and sketches by D. J. Stewart, for his Architectural history of Ely (1868), and papers of the Cathedral surveyor S. Inskip Ladds.

A draft typescript catalogue of Ely Cathedral manuscripts (EDC 14) is available in the Manuscripts Reading Room. For the medieval muniments there is a description by Dorothy M. Owen, 'The muniments of Ely cathedral priory', in C.N.L. Brooke and others (eds.), Church and government in the middle ages, Cambridge, 1976, a copy of which article is kept with the typescript catalogue.

The archives of the Dean and Chapter of Ely were deposited in Cambridge University Library in 1970. Associated with them are the Ely Music Manuscripts and Ely Cathedral Manuscripts [ECM]. The Ely Diocesan Records are also deposited in the Library.

Contact: Sian Collins (01223 333141;