Jam, a royal visit, 'unashamed weeping' and jobs

Chivers James advertisement.

Chivers James advertisement. From July 11, 1962. A large proportion of the strawberries you eat will have been picked by Cambridgeshire women who have spent most of their lives working on the land. There is no age limit and the most efficient are over 60 years of age. - Credit: Chivers

From those working on the land in 1962– to those losing their jobs in the recession of 1983. 

Ely has shared in the ups and downs of employment throughout its long history.  

And work is one of the topics covered in our weekly reflection on historic Ely and East Cambridgeshire compiled by local historian Mike Petty.  

His Facebook page – Fenland History – continues to absorb and delight.  

This week we will also feature a royal visit, “unashamed weeping” at Shippea Hill and thei  intriguingly titled ‘no hurry ferry”. 



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Ely Recession Problems July 16 1983 

Viv recalls the old Co-op store and says “such a loss when it closed down – it was a lovely shop”.

Viv recalls the old Co-op store and says “such a loss when it closed down – it was a lovely shop”. - Credit: Archive

Ely is wrestling with the problems of the recession which has seen 750 people lose their jobs.  

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The city’s economy has been rocked by the shutdown of four of its biggest firms – Borden UK, Lytton Boat Building, Dorman Sprayer and the British Sugar Corporation. 

It had been hoped that the new Club Mews shopping precinct would be a boon to small traders but they are finding the annual £400 rates too much. 

However, a new Tesco supermarket in Broad Street and a Boots store on the site of the Rex Cinema will bring 100 new jobs.  

Viv recalls the old Co-op store and says “such a loss when it closed down – it was a lovely shop”. 

And Diane remembers going to the Co-op “with my mum and going to a counter where she paid into a dividend account. Gosh such a long time ago"


Ely House of Correction - ‘January 28 1843 

House of Correction 1843

House of Correction 1843: The initial building, seen in the engraving, was so badly designed and constructed that it had to be extensively redesigned. - Credit: Archive

To Builders, Ely House of Correction. 

Builders who may be desirous of delivering Tenders for the Works to be done in Erecting the New Buildings, and making the Alterations for the House of Correction at Ely. 

They may see the Drawings and Specification at the office of Messrs. Evans and Son, at Ely, on and after the 23rd day of January inst., between the hours of ten and five. 

The Tenders to be addressed to “Hugh Robert Evans, Esq., Clerk to the Magistrates”, at Ely, and delivered to him on or before the 22nd February next, indorsed “Tender for Ely House of Correction.” 

The Tenders will be opened at the Sessions House, at Ely, on Thursday the 23rd February next, at Twelve o’clock at noon. 

The Magistrates do not pledge themselves to accept the lowest or any tender, unless satisfactory. 

Neither are they or the Architect to be held responsible to any of the parties tendering for any charges for making their Estimates, or for any expenses incurred in so doing. 

Each Tender is to be accompanied by a schedule of prices, which are to be the prices (should the Tender be accepted) for valuing deductions from, or additions to, the Contract, if any. 

N. B. Mr Basevi the Architect, is ready to give, in writing, every further explanation required of the Drawings and specification, while the Estimates are making, on application to him, at his residence, 17, Saville Row, London, or by letter. 

Footnote: The House of Correction was the gaol that stood on the site of the present ECDC offices and behind the former Magistrates’ Court.  

It was intended to supersede the ‘Bishop’s Gaol’ which forms part of the present Ely Museum.  

The initial building, seen in the engraving, was so badly designed and constructed that it had to be extensively redesigned. 


Ely Tithe Barn to be taken down November 19 1842 

Ely Tithe Barn: To Be Sold by Auction by Elliot Smith & Son, 1842

Ely Tithe Barn: To Be Sold by Auction by Elliot Smith & Son, 1842 - Credit: Archive

To Road makers, Inclosure Contractors, Carpenters and Others 

Rectory Premises Ely 

Valuable Building Materials of the Great Tithe Barn, well known as the largest in England, in Lots a Capital Wheat Barn and other buildings (to be taken down) 

To Be Sold by Auction by Elliot Smith & Son. 

On the Premises, on Tuesday and Wednesday 29th and 30th November 1842, precisely at 11 o’clock each day, by direction of the Very Rev. the Dean and Chapter of Ely. Comprising a variety of Sound Materials viz: 

Twenty Oak Aisle Posts, each 21 ft long, 15in by 14in; 20 Tie Beams; 440 feet run of Plates, 9in by 6in; large quantity of 6in by 6in; 230 feet run of 8in by 6in; joists; about 10,000 feet run of Rafters, Purlins, Ridge etc. four pairs of large Barn Doors. 

The sound Reed taken off 108 squares of roof. 

The tiling and Rag Slates of about 78 squares 

About 3 ton of old Lead, a good Lead Pump, quantity of Bricks etc. 

Also, to be Sold in Lots and taken down by the Purchasers 

About 1220 cubic yards of rubble Stone Walling 

Also, a 4 bay Wheat Barn with stone Walls, and the framing principally Oak, one end stud and boarded, a good pair of Barn Doors, and the roof covered with Reed. 

The Mill house, etc, 29 ft by 16ft. A Timber and Thatch Cow house, 53 ft by 12 ft, a 6-bay open Shed, 51 ft by 17ft covered with Reed Thatch. 

The Auctioneers beg respectfully to call the attention of the public to the above sale of Materials, which they do with confidence recommend. 

The Oak is very good, the Reed particularly fine and the walls applicable for many purposes. 

And the rubbish and small stones will be found invaluable for road making, and lying so near the river can be removed to a great distance at a trifling expense. 

The whole may be viewed two days previous to sale upon application to Mr. Thomas Ellis; of whom catalogues may be held, also at the Lamb Inn, Ely, The Crown, Soham; Marquis of Granby, Littleport; Crown, Southery; Ship, Sutton; Three Kings, Haddenham; and of the Auctioneers, Cambridge. 


R.A.F. Hospital Royal Visit - July 16 1956 

The Princess Royal visited Ely R.A.F. Hospital, Ely, in 1956

The Princess Royal visited Ely R.A.F. Hospital, Ely, in 1956 - Credit: Archive

The Princess Royal visited Ely R.A.F. Hospital, Ely, in 1956

The Princess Royal visited Ely R.A.F. Hospital, Ely, in 1956 - Credit: Archive

The Princess Royal visited Ely R.A.F. Hospital, Ely, in 1956

The Princess Royal visited Ely R.A.F. Hospital, Ely, in 1956 - Credit: Archive

The Princess Royal visited Ely R.A.F. Hospital, Ely, in 1956

The Princess Royal visited Ely R.A.F. Hospital, Ely, in 1956 - Credit: Archives

The Princess Royal visited Ely R.A.F. Hospital.  

She toured the operating theatre, chapel, television room, library and wards, where she spoke to Mrs Eliza Bowles and Hilda Joyce of Ely.  

In the children’s ward three small patients played contentedly with their toys; the youngest was three-year old Geoffrey Beswick, son of a sergeant stationed at Upwood.  

When reporters entered, he called out ‘Hello, mans. Look’, holding up a rubber toy.


Shippea Hill unashamed weeping - July 16 1925 

Between 1,000 and 2,000 persons strove to get within hearing distance of Gypsy Smith at Shippea Hill.  

Between 1,000 and 2,000 persons strove to get within hearing distance of Gypsy Smith at Shippea Hill. - Credit: Archives

Charabancs, motor cars and other vehicles of transport conveyed hundreds of people from miles around to Shippea Hill on Sunday evening to listen to Gypsy Smith. 

He was paying his annual visit to Messrs Chivers’ factory. 

So dense was the throng that scores were left outside and he adjourned to the open air. 

Between 1,000 and 2,000 persons strove to get within hearing distance of him.  

Touching scenes were witnessed during the proceedings, causing many a man and woman to weep unashamed.  

It was an inspiring service which will live in the memories of those who attended it. 

No Hurry Ferry - July 15 1961 

For many years children from Waterbeach Fen used the Upwareferry to cross the river on their way to school.  

For many years children from Waterbeach Fen used the Upwareferry to cross the river on their way to school. - Credit: Archives

The approach to the ferry at Upware was a public right-of-way. 

Barges loaded and unloaded at the spot and people went there to get water. 

For many years children from Waterbeach Fen used the ferry to cross the river on their way to school.  

In 1903 they crossed four times a day for which the ferry owner was paid £6 a year by the County Council.  

But since the ‘No Hurry’ has been demolished the track had become overgrown and a new owner had erected a fence, obstructing access. Having seen an old postcard, he agreed to remove it, magistrates were told.  


No buffoonery at Waterbeach protest July 14 1904 

The Baptist Chapel at Chittering where Wyatt ministered

The Baptist Chapel at Chittering where Wyatt ministered - Credit: Archives

The Waterbeach Passive Resistance sale was entirely devoid of the buffoonery that characterised similar events in Cambridge. 

It was the outcome of the refusal of Mr Mark Wyatt and his sons, of Chittering, to pay the Education rate.  

The amount of the distraint was £4 for which two coombs of corn was seized.  

This was conveyed to the village green and sold by auction to the highest bidder. 

The proceedings attracted a good many villagers and the singing of the hymn ‘Oh God our help in ages past’ preceded the sale.  

Mr Wyatt was a quiet, peaceable, law abiding and god-fearing man. He had been taken into a police court, charged with violating the law. 

His goods had been seized by force and sold publicly in order that the outraged majesty of the law should be satisfied. 

[Nonconformists refused to pay the portion of their Education Rate that went towards religious education in schools] 


Ely Cattle Market July 12 1979 

The last livestock sale at Ely Cattle Market, 1981 

The last livestock sale at Ely Cattle Market, 1981 - Credit: Archives

At Ely Cattle Market the fat pigs are sold at 10 am, then live poultry followed by dressed poultry and produce, furniture and dead stock and more furniture. 

Sale by auction is a curious business, a jolly bantering and time-consuming affair.  

The crowd are mainly old hands, but that doesn’t guarantee rock-bottom prices.  

Quite often they went above prices in the nearby general market.  

On occasions this was loudly pointed out by a member of the audience who nevertheless appeared to be tolerated as an unavoidable part of the proceedings. 

They often started the bidding, albeit well below the auctioneer’s asking price. 

Bidding is usually done on the basis of the price per single cabbage or pound of strawberries. 

There is no obligation to take the lot. Most people take two or three items and bidding starts again for the rest.  




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