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Behind the scenes at Cambridgeshire's only palace
View of Bishop's Palace, Ely, from garden
View from under the plane trees, across the lawn to the palace

There is a rare chance to see behind the scenes of one of the most illustrious houses in Cambridgeshire.

The Bishop's Palace in Ely dates back to the 15th century and was occupied by successive bishops until 1941.

After many years as the base of a Sue Ryder home the lease is once more up for sale.

And what a mansion it is. There is a Long Gallery, a chapel, drawing-rooms, reception halls and a choice of 32 bedrooms each with a bathroom.

Yes, the new owner could sleep in a different room every night for a month. Provided he or she has around £1,500,000 to spare.

Rich bishops

Interior of Long Gallery, Bishop's Palace Ely
The Tudor Long Gallery stretches along the front of the building

In the middle ages the Bishop of Ely was a seriously wealthy man. He was one of richest landowners in the country and had numerous palaces - as well as his own gaol (now Ely's museum).

Ely's current palace was built by Bishop Alcock, a Yorkshire man who founded Jesus College in Cambridge and was twice Lord Chancellor.

He was also a great political survivor during some of the darkest days of the Wars of the Roses, swapping allegiance from the young King Edward V, to Richard III and finally to Henry VII.

Later bishops added to the palace in the Tudor and Stuart periods so the way it looks now owes more to them than to Bishop Alcock.

'Too many beds'

The new owner will have a walled garden to amble in on sunny days - and a Tudor Long Gallery to stroll down when the Fen Blow is at its height.

The garden has fine plane trees, including one planted in the 1680s and believed to be the oldest in England.

Chapel at Bishop's Palace, Ely
The Bishop of Ely still has the right to hold services in this chapel

The Cathedral is just across the road but should the new owner prefer private worship there is the classical chapel added by the rich Bishop Keene in the 18th century.

But by the 1920s all this grandeur was worrying the Church of England. Bishop White-Thomson is reported to have said: "We keep too many gardeners to feed too many servants to make too many beds."

So in 1941 the new bishop moved from the palace into the Deanery, which is now known as the Bishop's House.

For a brief period during World War II the palace was used by the Red Cross. It then became a home for children with disabilities until it was closed in the 1980s.

Recent history

Dining room at Bishop's Palace, Ely
One of the dining rooms available at the Bishop's Palace in Ely

For the last 20 years or so Sue Ryder Care ran one of its homes at the Bishop's Palace. The charity looks after people with life-limiting diseases.

It decided to give up the property because new care guidelines were due to come into force. The charity faced a bill of £8,000,000 to bring the Grade I listed building up to these modern standards, something it could not afford.

As a 99-year lease was originally taken out by Sue Ryder Care, it is responsible for finding an organisation to buy the lease from them. The building remains owned by the Church Commissioners, which manages the Anglican church's historic assets.

And whoever takes over the property, they should be aware they will occasionally get a visit from the Bishop of Ely. The lease includes the right for the Bishop to continue to take services in the chapel.




SEE ALSO
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Ely Cathedral's 900 year history
02 Oct 09 |  Religion & Ethics


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