Ely is a quiet, quaint little old city just north of Cambridge. Here you will find Oliver Cromwell’s (haunted) House, Ely Museum – housed in the Old riaol, and the cathedral with its painted ceiling and memorial inside to the architect who fell off the roof. Travel Darkly went to visit…
Cromwell inherited the Rectory house visitors see today, as well as the job of collecting the tithes that came with it, from his uncle. Tithes were taxes and took the form of both money and farm produce.
Cromwell’s family lived in the house whilst Cromwell was busy fighting in the English Civil Wars. For more information and grisly stories about this check out our post on Charles I and Oliver Cromwell execution sites in London. Cromwell’s house is now quite a charming museum with some excellent ghost stories – well worth a visit.
Oliver Cromwell’s House
Visitors to the house first enter the oak panelled parlour, where an introductory film plays setting the seventeenth-century scene.
Ghosts: A five year-old girl is reported to have been watching the film in the parlour in the summer of 2010 when the ghostly figure of a girl in a pink bonnet came to sit next to her. The ghost girl asked if the five year-old liked her pink bonnet and then said, ‘don’t worry, I’m dead, and when you go upstairs you will see my father who is also dead.’ The living girl didn’t tell her mother, but when the family reached the haunted bedroom upstairs, she became hysterical expecting to see another ghost and they all had to leave. The mother called the Tourist Information Centre the next day to explain what had happened and to apologise.
The next room is the kitchen, with a view out to the green lawn that surrounds St Mary’s church. The kitchen is light and spacious. Dishes that Mrs. Cromwell might have served are laid out on a large kitchen table, and recipe sheets for meals like eel pie are available on a bench.
Ghosts: There is a photograph from August 2011 in the TIC’s Haunted Happenings book at the end of the tour. In it there are two women at the table, and to the right of the window a bright ‘orb’ with a face in it can be seen. In terms of stories, Liz Jordan who worked at the house in 2002 is quoted, ‘as I opened the kitchen door I saw the bottom half of a person in a long blue skirt disappearing into a mist by the wall near the fireplace.’ There is also the tale of Chris, who worked at the house too. In 1998 the Ely Standard lead with the story, ‘Cromwell’s Ghost Untied my Shoes!’ after a guide working for East Cambs District Council complained that a ghost untied his shoelaces (three times), as he sat behind his desk in the office – the kitchen larder – at Oliver Cromwell’s House. The typo in the account is excellent: ‘Later, Christ told an Ely Standard reporter, ‘I did not believe in ghosts. I am level headed but this was really strange.’
Mrs. Cromwell’s Room
Visitors are invited to try their hand at writing in the style of Oliver Cromwell and there is a family scene with the first figures visitors will come across. For some, imitation humans are creepy enough on their own, without the need for ghost stories.
The Civil War Room
In this room are displays explaining the events that lead to the Civil War and its ultimate outcome.
Ghosts: Liz, the lady who had seen the bottom half of a ghost disappear in the kitchen four years earlier, was in an office upstairs when she heard the sound of heavy footsteps crossing the landing. She assumed it was her colleague who had heavy boots, but he entered the room twenty minutes later, taking his coat off as he came through the door.
In the study visitors will see more figures – Cromwell sits at his desk writing. Figures in these places are often at desks writing. We can imagine future displays of people wearing giant headphones looking out from behind large black-rimmed glasses, typing on Apple Macbooks. They’d be in museums depicting twenty-first-century hipsters somewhere in Shoreditch sometime in the twenty-sixth century.
Ghosts: The Cambridge Paranormal Research Society stuck a medium in the study when they visited. She sat quietly for a while before her voice became that of a man and boomed out a little address. As ‘Cromwell’ (s)he explained that the house was important, he wished he’d spent more time with his family and he was glad the house had become a museum. Indeed.
The Haunted Bedroom
We can verify that the room is cold and creepy. There is a portrait that is electronically haunted. But we, erm, missed this, because the figure of Cromwell on his deathbed was so unnerving we thought he might do something terrifying, like suddenly sit bolt upright even though he was supposed to be dying of malaria (at Whitehall, incidentally, he didn’t die in Ely).
Cromwell died in London, probably of a combination of malaria and some type of urinary infection, on 3rd September 1658 aged 59. His deathbed scene has been recreated in the bedroom at the house.
Ghosts: A member of staff spotted a grey figure in the bedroom while locking up one day. On return to the desk she was told there was nobody else in the building. There’s also a tale in the Haunted Happenings book, that in short is: ‘damsel-in-distress attacked by male ghost in bedroom, husband makes everything better the next day’. Yawn.
The Tithe Office dates from 1615 and is where Cromwell would have sat to oversee locals bringing in farm produce in order to pay their tithes. Here visitors are invited to watch another video about the draining of the fens. This is also where the TIC’s Haunted Happenings book is kept. Contributors are welcomed.
How to visit Oliver Cromwell’s House
From London, you can book tickets with Virgin trains without a booking fee. Book off peak and in advance to save. Also worth a look at is buying a ticket to Cambridge, then a separate ticket Cambridge – Ely to compare.
1st April – 31st October
10am – 5pm every day
1st November – 31st March
11.00am – 4.00pm Monday – Friday + Sundays
10.00am – 5.00pm Saturdays
Concessions: £4.10 (over 60s & students with valid student card)
Child: £3.10 (under 6 free)
Family: £13.00 (2 adults & 3 children under 16)