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Buildings and Purpose

A History of Ely Gaol 1679 -1836

Ely Gaol

The Old Gaol is situated on the corner of Lynn Road and Market Street in the centre of Ely.
The earliest reference to a building on the site occurs in the Calendar of Patent Rolls, 1416-22 when ownership of the site was disputed between the bishop and the prior: this private building appears to have been incorporated into the Bishop's Gaol which is known to have occupied the site from circa 1679 -1836 (before this the gaol was in the vicinity of Barton Square and known as the "Ely Barton").

The gaol served the Liberty of Ely which included parts of Norfolk and Suffolk as well as the Isle of Ely.
By 1764 the gaol had a reputation for excessive use of restraining irons, due in part to the poor condition of the building. Conditions gradually improved: salaried gaolers were employed and repairs undertaken, but in 1836 an act was passed abolishing the Liberty of Ely, with authority passing to the secular powers.

Prisoners were then committed to the Cambridgeshire County Gaol.

No records of prisoners are known, but a detailed report including documentary sources relating to gaolers and building works by Kate Fearn of the Historic Buildings Survey Group (1994), on which these notes are based, can be seen at Cambridge Record Office.