Church History of St. Etheldreda Ely, Cambridgeshire.

The first Catholic Church to be built in Cambridgeshire since the Reformation was in Wisbech in 1840.

The first house Mass was held in Ely at Mr Fischer's house on Forehill in 1889 celebrated by a visiting Priest.

In 1890 Fr. John Freeland was given £10.00 (Ten Pounds) and the Bishop's Blessing and sent to establish a new parish in the City of Ely. At first he was refused accommodation and for two months he lived outside the city until he managed to rent a room on Market Street from a Mrs Ferneley. With characteristic skill for making something out of nothing, he divided off part of his room with a curtain to create a chapel, where he provided "all the ceremonies of the Catholic Church" for a congregation that numbered but sixteen.

Though times were difficult for him, Fr. Freeland received considerable support from Mr & Mrs Fischer and Miss Laura Lacon. To help support himself he turned to writing books. (One of his titles, "The Very Stones Shall Cry Out", is said to have been about Ely. In 1890, with the funds he had to hand, he seized upon an opportunity to purchase an orchard and he erected (on what is now the site of Nos. 19a and 21a Egremont Street) a simple chapel of corrugated iron. This was better able to accommodate a congregation which, by then, had grown to about forty, including, as he said, several from the Anglican Church.


In 1895 Fr. Freeland bought himself a house in Market Street, and a year later he gave it to the Diocese. He now had a home of his own but what of the Lord? Although the chapel he had built met the immediate need, Fr. Freeland knew that a permanent and more fitting building should be provided in which to celebrate the incomparable Sacraments.The first step towards the realisation of this, came in the same year when Mrs Pritchard-Rayner entered the parish "in an extraordinary manner" and forwarded a donation of £100.00 towards the cost of a new building. Of course, a much larger sun was needed before a start could be made, but it would have taken a long time for the congregation to muster this from their own resources. However, with this encouragement, appeals for donations began to be made far and wide, in the hope that the Work, now established in Ely, might be better housed.

At the turn of the century the population of Ely was 5,687. Its principal industries were brewing, jam making and basket making. It was a place of small shops, and there were over 50 beer retailers in the City.

By this time, a reasonable sum had accumulated from Fr. Freeland's writings and from donations that had been received from all over England. All were an expression of the faith, hope and goodwill whereby something more noble than "The Old Iron Church" could now be put to hand. Mr Simeon Croot of Brampton was engaged to be the architect for the new church, and in October 1902 the builders, Messrs Howard of Huntingdon, began clearing the site in preparation for its construction. Within a year the Church of St. Etheldreda was ready for its official opening, which took place on 17th October 1903, the Feast of St. Etheldreda's Translation.

The church was solemnly blessed by Bishop Riddell, who, with great dignity, celebrated a Pontifical High Mass in the presence of some forty priests, mainly of the diocesan clergy. Religious orders were also well represented, and, as in Noah's Ark, there were two of every kind - Benedictines, Franciscans, Dominicans, Jesuits and Redemptorists. Well almost every kind!

The church had cost £2,600.00 and all of this had been found. The Presbytery had been paid for, largely from monies left by Miss Lacon, and only a small balance of £900.00 it had cost, remained to be found.

In the year following the opening of the new building, the Old Iron Chapel was dismantled and re-erected at Thorney Toll.


Following the temporary return of the small relic of St Etheldreda for the 47th Anniversary, something no less noteworthy was needed to mark the 50th Anniversary. The hand, of which that relic was but a fragment, was then in possession of the Sisters of the Dominican Priory at Stone. How it arrived there, was itself providential: so too was its departure. Through the enterprise of Fr. Pritchard, the Community graciously agreed that their relic of St. Etheldreda could be placed on loan in the parish of Ely. And so, in June 1953, the hand twice before given in marriage, was given once more, this time into the care of the church built in St. Etheldreda's Dowry. It was brought to Ely in its reliquary by the Mother General,and was welcomed in the name of Pope Pius XII by the Apostolic Delegate, Archbishop Godfrey(later to become Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster). He presided at the solemn pontifical high mass sung by Bishop Parker and afterwards met the parishioners at a reception in the presbytery garden.

The relic was enshrined behind a glass screen in the north aisle, and its presence was announced to the world by a painted notice board, hung high on the wall of the house at the Lynn Road end of Egremont Street.


Canon Taylor took up his duties in September 1980.The organ was in much need of repairs, but it proved uneconomic to put these to hand.The use of a portable organ was obtained, until the discovery that the Baptist Chapel at Isleham wished to dispose of its own pipe organ in favour of an electronic model. Enquiry was made and to the mutual benefit of both "ecclesial communities", the Baptist organ was purchased by Canon Taylor and inducted without demur into the Catholic Faith..

All the above are extracts from Patrick Bright's "History of the Catholic Church of Saint + Etheldreda in the City of Ely" May 1987.

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Last modified 8th October 2016
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Another Thought


There is nothing that wastes the body like worry, and one who has any faith in God should be ashamed to worry about anything whatsoever.

- Mohandas Gandhi

No other gods.

"The first four commandments set forth the principles guiding Israel's relationship with the covenant community, and more broadly with the human family." From this we see clearly that the free, just and loving society God wants His people to enjoy depends entirely on their maintaining a right relationship with Him. In other words, the Ten Commandments reveal both the will and the character of God. We discover from them not only how to live but also what God is like. Israel is entrusted with the sacred task of representing that Godlikeness to the rest of the world. It has been said before but it bears repeating: our task, too, is to communicate to the world not only what God has said but also what He is like."

Selwyn Hughes

Men of Faith in business

Do you feel out of the loop with your business because of your faith? If so this Christian Mens network may inspire you and your business to run by The Book.

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"Visiting the elderly could save lives, say campaigners."

By Judith Burns Education and Family reporter, BBC News 12 March 2012

Visits to elderly neighbours could prevent accidents and save lives, research suggests.

A survey of 1,000 pensioners showed almost 50% had at some point left the gas or iron on by mistake and 94% did not know who to call over a gas leak.

Yet only one in 10 younger people saw it as their job to visit the elderly.

Pensioners are particularly at risk from accidents in their homes, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents said.

The campaign urges people to keep a friendly eye on their elderly neighbours, saying that support and reassurance can sometimes be the difference between life and death.

More than half of the older people questioned could not identify the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning and a quarter did not know the signs of a faulty boiler.

About a third admitted they did not always ask for identification before allowing strangers into their homes.

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