|148581. Sun Feb 18, 2007 3:54 pm
|Possible question: "What part of London is actually NOT a part of London?
Possible answers: M25 motorway; Foreign embassies etc.
Yet, the correct one is Ely Place, the last privately owned London street.
Passing through the ornate iron gates, separating Ely Place, this quiet little cul-de-sac off Holborn Circus, from the hustle-and-bustle of the City, is like entering a mysterious “fourth dimension”, the name of which is "dislocation".
Very few people know that the straight tree-less lane, the former residence of the Bishops of Ely, is not geographically a part of London. It is a little corner of Cambridgeshire, still enjoying freedom from entry by London Police, except by the invitation of the Commissioners of Ely Place – its own elected governing body. The results of the latest elections, duly dated and certified by “J. Franks, Esq., Clerk to the Commissioners”, are duly displayed on the notice-board of the magnificent St Etheldreda Chapel - the oldest Roman Catholic church in Britain - halfway up the street.
One of London’s best-kept secrets, self-governing Ely Place is a living anachronism from medieval times when the influential Bishops were determined to remain in their Cambridgeshire diocese even while on ministerial missions in the capital. They bought the street and proclaimed it part of Cambridgeshire. In the local pub (through which, incidentally, the "border" runs), one can view a stack of recent letters addressed to “Ye Olde Mitre Tavern, Ely Place, Holborn Circus, Cambridgeshire”. Until 1960s, the licencing hours of the pub were controlled by Cambridgeshire authorities.
The Commissioners of Ely still employ several beadles, who make sure that the street gates are closed for cars and bycicles after 10 pm. The beadles are also responsible for keeping the place clean. Until fairly recently (20 - 30 years ago), the beadles used to announce time and weather on an hourly basis, but this practice was stopped after someone complained of the noise they were making. Strange that, for there's only one official resident left in Ely Place these days: Father Cunnigham, the ageing priest of the church of St Etheldreda, commonly known as "St Audrey". This is, by the way, where the word "taudry" originates from: there used to be cheap market stalls near the church (to raise money for its upkeep) where lots of trinkets were on sale. The stuff was mostly tacky and useless...
For over 500 years, a Strawberry Fair was held in Ely Place on every second Sunday of June. That was because the Bishops of Ely had their orchards and strawberry plantations (mentioned in one of Shakespeare's tragedies) in the vicinity of Ely Place. Sadly, the last of such fairs took place last year: I was told, there were no more funds to keep it going.
-"Curiosities of London" by John Timbs, 1885
-"The Companion Guide to London" by David Piper, 1968
-Streets of Old Holborn by Steven Denford and David Hellings, Camden History Society, 1999