Friday, 13 December 2019

A Closer Look

As I wandered through Ely Cathedral (as described in the previous post) my attention kept wandering from the overall magnificence to the small details - some beautiful, some interesting, some poignant and some a little absurd.

When you gaze at such a big structure you can easily take in the general shape without noticing the elaborately decorated surfaces which make up the whole. Here you see part of the west tower, south-west transept and Galilee porch, all of which are a mass of intricate carving. Just how many man hours went into carving each of the stones that contribute to the little bit pictured here? And how much into the whole building?

The ceiling painting in the nave is more recent and was painted by two men we've come across on this blog before. Henry L'Estrange Styleman Le Strange was a gentleman land-owner in the nineteenth century and it was he who conceived and completed half of the painted ceiling. The other creation he's remembered for is the seaside town of Hunstanton which he had built on his land to create employment in the area. Unfortunately he died young before either was finished. The ceiling was completed by Thomas Gambier Parry who was also responsible for the frescoes in Hildersham church.

There's even more detailed carving inside the cathedral, with just a few coloured spots of light courtesy of the stained glass windows.

I love it when the sun streams through the coloured glass windows and lights up even the darkest nooks and crannies. These arches are in the south aisle of the nave.

In any other location the round arches of the south aisle would attract attention and admiration - they are nine hundred years old after all - but in this building they are largely ignored.

More sun on stained glass. Almost all of the windows are no earlier than Victorian but no less beautiful for that.

In the Lady Chapel you can still see quite a lot of the medieval painted decoration on some detailed carving, albeit much knocked about by Protestant iconoclasts. 

I'm very fond of fancy ironwork and especially the wonderful shadows it throws on the walls and floors.

These are the steps that ascend to the pulpit with the shadows of the iron bannister.

The cathedral contains a series of boards on which are recorded all the men of Cambridgeshire who lost their lives in the Great War. Those two Wilsons at the bottom were my grandmother's two brothers. 

This memorial is to a gentleman who was the treasurer for the Duke of Bedford's company engaged in the draining of the peat fens during the eighteenth century. I'm amused by his name: Gotobed East! You might think he must have been a particularly hyperactive child for his parents to have Christened him Go to bed (!) but it's probably just the old tradition around these parts of naming children with their grandmothers' maiden names. Gotobed is a well-known, if uncommon, name around here - they fit in just fine with the Hunneybuns and Puddifoots. If I were named after my two grannies my first names would be Skipp Wilson - not bad at all.

And we'll finish off with another peep at the Christmas tree in the Octagon.

Music On Friday

I suppose I should include some church music here but I feel like something a little more like the carving - lively and elaborate. This at least wouldn't sound out of place in church and its title recalls a cathedral. One of its names is "Paul's Steeple" - from the spire on St Paul's Cathedral in London. 

"Hang on a minute! St Paul's has a dome not a steeple!". Ah, but the old church that was destroyed in the Great Fire did have steeple and this is a very old piece of music.

To anyone who ever tootled on a recorder or bashed a tambourine as a six-year-old that must be quite a revelation.

(Thanks to Robin Andrea and Roger who first suggested having a little music on a Friday).

Take care.


  1. So much to take in...the arches are my favourite though.

  2. How, how, how did they build these amazing buildings?

  3. Beautiful details in stone, light and shadow! I enjoyed the music very much, especially the tamborine! The recorder was over the top!

  4. The details in the cathedral photos are quite beautiful. I love the light through the stained glass windows reflected on the walls. The music you chose is truly grand. The recorder was fantastic. Love it. Thank you!

  5. The intricate carvings look like they could have been someone’s life work. Good choice of music to match them.

  6. Brilliant - I was at one point in my life a player in an Early Music Group and we toured around the Midlands giving concerts - this was fantastic and I shall now send it on to my friend who is himself a very good descant player. Thanks for that John.

  7. Yes, imagine the many hours of work the people who built this, put into this cathedral. Excellent series of photos John.

  8. The detail is incredible! Is there an attached graveyard? Ha! Those names are hilarious! Gotobed!

    1. It was originally the Abbey Church for the monastery so the people of Ely would have been largely excluded - alive or dead! There is a church nearby where the townspeople would worship and bury their dead. There is a smallish graveyard at the cathedral now which is on the north side which is an unusual location as in the past only those who were not members of the church were buried on the north side of buildings. That rule is largely forgotten these days.

  9. It is a long time now since I visited Ely and how lovely it is to be reminded of that wonderful carved exterior stonework.
    I also really enjoy seeing the ceiling completed by Thomas Gambier Parry having visited his church in Highnam earlier this year.

  10. Totally incredible, the details are amazing.
    Thank you, John.

  11. These details are part of what I mean about how long...even HOW did they ever do all this years ago.

  12. Anyway, I so loved these...been a little distracted...

  13. what a lively and wonderful old tune!

    I share your awe at the details in these old last trip to France in particular I stopped at every cathedral along the route in Normandy. That so much time, craftsmanship and materials were devoted to these buildings is astounding. Not to mention money - of which there was not a lot of in the general population, so only the church could do this. Of course, the church got it's money from peasants as well as rich patrons. I love the reflections of the stained glass, and like you, I absolutely love the shadows cast my iron works. It was a common subject of my photos in France and Spain.

    Thank you for the beautiful photos, as always. And the history lesson -- I learn much from your posts.

  14. I loved the music, we have been to hear an early music group called Piva at Little Moreton Hall today. The name Gotobed always reminds me of Sorothy L Sayers. The first time I heard it was in her book The Nine Tailors set in the village of Upwell in the fens:)

  15. What wonderful photos of Ely cathedral in this and your previous post. It is many, many years since I was there - visiting my brother at the school.

  16. I would never ignore those amazing arches John, my favourite architectural feature ๐Ÿ’œ Ely Cathedral is beyond stunning in its detail which you have shown us so well here. We think we create amazing architecture these days with all the conveniences available and then you see something like this.. shaking my head ๐Ÿ˜Š

  17. WOW! Those arches, the stained glass, the light and shadow! Amazing to think of all the hours of work in there!


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