Historical links with the river
AQUAFEST has been held in Ely since 1987, so it is a relatively new way to host fun events on the river. It is wonderful to see the river being used for so many sports, pastimes, fun activities and just a pleasant place to take a stroll. In fact, since
AQUAFEST has been held in Ely since 1987, so it is a relatively new way to host fun events on the river.
It is wonderful to see the river being used for so many sports, pastimes, fun activities and just a pleasant place to take a stroll.
In fact, since 2004, the entire 150-mile length from her source at Styrham on the Northants/Bucks borders, through Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk is now the Ouse Valley Way walk.
It is interesting to think just how many communities the river links together and why historically it has been such a vital part of communication, on which these settlements, both large and small have relied.
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Not only that though, over the centuries there has been thousands of industries that have flourished and died, all located by the riverside and dependent on the River Great Ouse for their livelihoods.
If we think about Ely over time, the river provided the means of transport for the building stones and materials for the cathedral.
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As the only feasible source of communication, the river was actually re-routed in Mediaeval times to run closer to the burgeoning monastic city.
In common with other settlements along the River Great Ouse and her tributaries, as a port, Ely became a natural focal point for trade, which included the upper stretches into Bedfordshire and out to the Wash via King's Lynn, the third largest port in England.
Annesdale became the centre of the boat building trade, as well as having quays for loading and off-loading goods. These ran along Quayside to Waterside.
There are many late nineteenth early twentieth century pictures showing dwellings and small business premises all away along the river and also on the opposite bank of the river, a separate area, called Babylon (now the marina).
Men, women and children can be seen bringing in osiers to Ely be stripped and then worked by the basket makers into baskets for potato harvesting, eel grigs and domestic wares.
Locally caught fresh fish brought by river are shown being sold in the city by the fish game merchant PF Tow. Fen lighters are pictured moving along the Ely stretches of the river, carrying imports from the Baltic and beyond to urban centres such as Cambridge and taking local produce to Lynn for export.
Brewing was clearly a trade that had taken place in Ely for centuries. In the year 1257, Henry III ordered the mayor and burgesses of Lynn, to permit the men of Ely to come to their town and sell their ale without let or hindrance.
The monastery also brewed ale; the last place for the brewery was in the Ely Porta, closed by Dean Goodwin in 1858. The Quayside became the location for the largest of the breweries, which after amalgamations of a number of local smaller brewers over the years became Hall, Cutlack and Harlock Ltd. in 1930.
The river provided the access and transport. For the thirsty workers there were numerous brewers and taprooms doted around the riverside.
Many of the local traditional crafts and trades were passed on from father to son and there are long lines of families associated with Ely and her trading links.
This applies to all of the other settlements along the course of the River Great Ouse. So the Harlocks, Cutlacks, Gotobeds, Appleyards of this community have their equivalents in Bedford, King's Lynn and the others.
The one thing that runs a constant between time and community is the River Great Ouse.
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