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Ely Dean and Chapter

Reference Code: GBR/0012/MS EDC

Scope and Contents

The archives consist of the administrative records of the cathedral, the College (or close), the extensive manors and estates of the Dean and Chapter, and include records of the medieval monastery, the `Prior and Convent' of Ely. There is also a small number of records about the Cathedral School. The monastery (later the Dean and Chapter) was a considerable landowner in the area and this collection is a superb source of information about social and economic history and agriculture in the Isle of Ely. There are many records concerning fen drainage. Manorial court records provide centuries of information 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.

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.

Ely Cathedral manuscripts 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.

PLEASE NOTE: The catalogue for EDC is contained in several Word documents. Currently, only EDC 1 and most of EDC 7 have been transferred to the online catalogue.


  • 974-c2015


Conditions Governing Access

Unless restrictions apply, the collection is open for consultation by researchers using the Manuscripts Reading Room at Cambridge University Library. For further details on conditions governing access please contact Information about opening hours and obtaining a Cambridge University Library reader's ticket is available from the Library's website (

Biographical / Historical

Ely Cathedral was originally 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.


1 collection

Language of Materials



Custodial History

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 (EDC 14). The Ely Diocesan Records (EDR) are also deposited in the Library.


Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Cambridge University Library Repository

Cambridge University Library
West Road
Cambridge CB3 9DR United Kingdom