King's Ely

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Coordinates: 52°24′N 0°16′E / 52.4°N 0.26°E / 52.4; 0.26

King's Ely
Kings Ely logo.svg
The Old Palace

, ,

TypeIndependent day and boarding
Religious affiliation(s)Church of England
Established970 A.D.
FounderKing Henry VIII (refounded in 1541)
Local authorityCambridgeshire
Department for Education URN110916 Tables
Chairman of the GovernorsMr Jeff Hayes
PrincipalMr John Attwater
HeadsMrs Faye Fenton-Stone (Acremont)
Mr Richard Whymark (Junior)
Mr Jonathan Shaw (Senior)
Age1 to 18
Houses9 (Senior)
6 (Junior)
4 (Acremont)
Colour(s)Navy and Duck Egg          
PublicationThe Porta
The Elean
School Hymn"How shall I sing that majesty?"
VisitorThe Bishop of Ely
Former pupilsOld Eleans

King's Ely, which was renamed from The King's School in March 2012,[2][3] is a coeducational independent day and boarding school in the cathedral city of Ely, Cambridgeshire, England. It was founded in 970 AD, making it one of the oldest schools in the world, though it was given its Royal Charter by King Henry VIII in 1541.[4] The school consists of a nursery, a pre-preparatory school, a junior school, a senior school, a sixth form and an international school. King's Ely is a member of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference.

The school has produced a number of notable alumni, including Edward the Confessor, King of England,[5] Lord Browne of Madingley, erstwhile chairman of British Petroleum[6] and James Bowman, countertenor.[7]

The senior school was ranked the 162nd independent school for GCSE results and 210th for A Level results in 2014 (see §Curriculum).

King's Ely has featured in the local news for its sports results, and has produced a bronze medal winning Olympic athlete, Goldie Sayers, who represented Great Britain in the 2008 Summer Olympics.[8][9] Much of the senior school uses the historic monastic buildings of the cathedral, and major school events and weekly services are held there.[10] One of the boys' boarding houses, School House, is claimed to be the oldest residential building in Europe.[11] In its entirety, the school has over 1,000 pupils.[1] The school has a small campus, with parts of the school in a number of buildings distributed around the centre of the city. However, all its sections make use of certain resources, such as sports facilities and the Monastic Barn.[12]


Barton Square, Ely, with school buildings surrounding it at the front and to the right. Ely Cathedral is in the distance.

King's Ely is one of seven schools established, or in some cases, including this one, re-endowed and renamed, by King Henry VIII in 1541 during the Dissolution of the Monasteries.[13]

The school has its origins in the religious house founded in Ely by St Etheldreda in 673 AD. Before 1720 it was called the Ely Cathedral Grammar School.[14] The school became co-educational in 1970, and in 1973, Queen Elizabeth II came to the school to celebrate the anniversary of the monastery.[14]

The school keeps a strong link with the cathedral by which it is overshadowed. A teaching institution has been on the site since 970, making it the seventh oldest school in the United Kingdom.[4]

An article in The Illustrated London News from 1882 provided the following which showed the state of the school at that time:

"The head master, after some allusion to the former history of the school (in which Edward the Confessor had been educated, and which, in the seventy years after its new foundation by Henry VIII, had developed, into a school of upwards of 300 boys, among whom were many of distinction), recounted the honours achieved in the past year. Among these were successes in the Civil Service and Indian Civil Service examination, an exhibition at Worcester College, Oxford, a first in the May examination at Queens' College, Cambridge, and a second at Peterhouse."[15]

During World War I, 24 Old Eleans lost their lives and a Roll of Honour is located in School House.[16] Staff and pupils gather annually on 11 November for a memorial service to remember those killed.

In his memoirs from 1955, the Reverend Christopher Campling described the school's state when he became chaplain. "Academic standards were not high, but a few boys gained admission to Oxbridge each year. The music in the school was especially good, because the choristers of the cathedral choir stayed on after their voices had broken."[17]

The first girls were admitted in 1970 and the school has since become fully coeducational. In 2004, the school appointed its first female Head, Susan Freestone. She took over from Richard Youdale, who had been headmaster for 12 years.[18]

Monastic buildings[edit]

The Porta, housing the King's Ely library

Many of Ely's monastic buildings are leased to the school by the cathedral. The imposing Porta is the gateway into the monastic buildings of the cathedral, and now houses the school's library, classrooms and a conference room, as well as its archive.[19][20] The monastic barn is situated directly adjacent to the Porta. At one time, this long barn housed the abbey's crops, but it is now the school's dining hall.

Prior Crauden's Chapel was built in 1324, and, unlike many churches, still retains much of its original wall decorations. It is used by the school for smaller congregations and private prayer. The small organ is also used by pupils and staff.[19][20] The Queen's Hall is situated next to Prior Crauden's Chapel, and was finished at roughly the same time in the 1330s. This serves as the residence of the Head of School.[19][20] The Infirmary is one of the oldest surviving of the monastery's buildings, constructed in the 12th century.[21] Located on Firmary Lane near the south transept of the cathedral, the building once housed sick monks, but is now the boarding house for the Ely Cathedral boy choristers.[22] School House is part of the monastery, and the religious studies department is housed in the Hermitage buildings. The school uses the cathedral as a place of worship three times a week, and for major school services.[23]


In 2001, the Gibson Music School opened, moving the entire music department from the Hereward Hall building to the purpose-built centre adjacent to the Hayward Theatre. The new building contains a recital hall, several practice rooms, a classroom and two music technology rooms.[24] There a number of music groups, chiefly the Chapel Choir; an Orchestra, Jazz Band and Concert Band. There is also a barber shop chorus, formed almost exclusively by boys who were choristers in the Ely Cathedral Choir. In 2006, the Ely Cathedral Girls' Choir was formed, comprising 18 girl choristers from the Senior School.[25]

The school holds an annual music festival, where pupils represent their houses in a competition, culminating in a Finalists' Concert. There is also a major school musical each year, in which the music and drama departments collaborate. A less serious music competition is held in the Michaelmas term, when all senior school houses represent themselves in a unison and ensemble class. The school offers music scholarships to pupils who show an aptitude in at least one musical discipline, and who can contribute to the school's music groups. The music department has a Concert Society, which showcases visiting professional musicians and holds concerts several times a term.[26]


King's Ely also has many sports facilities, including an artificial turf pitch, swimming pool, tennis courts, sports hall and several outdoor pitches. In June 2002, the Principal Richard Youdale aroused media interest and criticism with an announcement that the school would be phasing out rugby.[27] The school reinstated the sport in 2005. The Principal, Richard Youdale cited, among other reasons, the increasing popularity of football.

Other sports played include football, sculling, hockey, netball, basketball, squash, golf and rounders.[28]

Teams and individuals from the school frequently represent the school and county in their discipline. Recent successes have been seen in show jumping,[29] football,[30] and cross country running,[31] among others. British olympic javelinist Goldie Sayers began the sport whilst at King's.[8]

The school also has its own boat house, next to Cambridge University's on the River Great Ouse. The river is famed for being especially wide, straight and uninterrupted.[32] Sculling is open to Senior School pupils, and has produced teams and single sculls that have competed at regional and national level,[33] including James Scott, who is the fastest junior sculler in the country.[34] The club's blade design is duck egg blue with dark blue cheque.[35]

The Ely Scheme[edit]

The Ely Scheme has been running as an alternative to the Combined Cadet Force for over 30 years. Since its inception, it has developed into a unique outdoor adventure programme with its own timetabled activities for Years 9 and 10. Its aim is to develop self-confidence, team-working, problem-solving and personal skills in a variety of activities.[36] Pupils have the opportunity to become Ely Scheme leaders as they move up the school. Many choose to embark on The Duke of Edinburgh's Award.[37]

King's Ely has a dedicated climbing wall and all-terrain course, as well as access to an even larger obstacle course at nearby Braham Farm. In recent years, the school's climbing club has travelled to Corsica, the Alps and the Himalayas.[36]


In November 1999, a 14-year-old pupil was kidnapped as he left the school premises, and held by three men. Police were able to stop the kidnappers' vehicle as the victim was being driven away from a hotel in Essex three days later; it is thought the boy was about to be drowned in the River Thames, as a 20 ft length of cable, ropes ties, handcuffs and a 56 lb weight were found in the gang's vehicle.[38] The parents of the boy received mobile phone calls demanding £250,000, which the police were able to trace. The men were found guilty of false imprisonment and blackmail and sentenced to custodial terms of 11–12 years.[39]

Saturday school[edit]

In line with other public schools, children in year groups up to Year 5 (age 9) do not have Saturday school. Year 5 and 6 children have optional activities. Pupils in Years 7 to 11 have compulsory Saturday school while there are activities for the boarding community. However, this policy is due to be changed in the academic year starting September 2015, with lessons previously held on a Saturday being moved to the regular working week, while Saturday morning will be left free for non-academic activities.[40]


The school follows the standard curriculum of GCSE (or IGCSE) and A Levels in the senior school, in years 11 and 12–13, respectively.[41][42] As well as the core subjects, the school's A Level range includes three modern languages, Latin, politics, film studies, classics, economics, psychology and philosophy of religion.[43]

The senior school was placed 12th in Cambridgeshire for its GCSE results in 2014 (based on the percentage of pupils achieving 5+ A*-C or equivalents including A*-C in both English and mathematics GCSEs);[44] it was placed 162nd in the independent schools' table (based on the percentage of students obtaining A*/A).[45] The school was ranked the 210th independent school for A Level results in 2014 (based on the percentage of students obtaining A*/A or equivalent qualifications);[46] it was placed 13th of all institutions in Cambridgeshire for A Levels (based on the percentage of students achieving at least AAB with two facilitating subjects).[47] The meaningfulness of these league tables has been very strongly questioned as some qualifications are not taken into account when they are compiled, notably International GCSEs (IGCSE) which are frequently offered by independent schools including King's Ely as they are considered good preparation for A Levels.[48][49]

School traditions[edit]


Up to 12 of the top scholars in Year 12 are nominated as King's Scholars (boys) or Queen's Scholars (girls). They become members of the Cathedral Foundation and also qualify for other privileges. King's Scholars were inaugurated by Henry VIII in 1541 and Queen's Scholars at the request of Queen Elizabeth II in 1973. There is no application process for these honorary scholarships, the positions instead being awarded based on pupils' GCSE results.[50]

The Hoop Trundle[edit]

The Hoop Trundle is performed to mark the re-founding of the school by King Henry VIII, in 1541. After he dissolved the monastery, he bestowed a royal charter on the new school and introduced the first scholars. The bowling of wooden hoops within the precincts of the cathedral, along with other games, was one of the privileges that they were afforded. Female competition was added when Queen Elizabeth II introduced Queen's scholars to the school, who have taken part since. There are both male and female heats leading to a final for which a separate tankard is awarded to both sexes.[51] The course is a 75-yard dash to a post and back along the east lawn of Ely Cathedral, all whilst bowling the hoop with a wooden stick.[52][53][54]


Senior School
House House Colours Eponym Type
School House building Boys, Boarding
Hereward Hall
Hereward the Wake,
Leader of English resistance to Norman invasion
Boys, Boarding
Leonard Osmond,
Master of Science 1930–1972
Boys, Day
F.W. Wilkinson,
English and Sports Master 1922–1956
Boys, Day
Light Blue & Maroon
School House building Girls, Boarding
Pink & White
Abbess of Ely, 636–679
Girls, Boarding
(Ely Cathedral Girls Choir)
Black & Violet
East Anglian Abbess and Princess, died 743
Girls, Day
Crimson & Grey
Legendary wife of Hereward
Girls, Day
Junior School
House House Colours Eponym Type
The Right Reverend Harvey Goodwin,
Dean of Ely Cathedral from 1858–1869
Rodney Saunders,
first Headmaster of Junior School
Queen Emma
Emma of Normandy,
Queen consort of England c.985 –1052
Queen Philippa
Philippa of Hainault,
Queen consort of England 1314–1369
Light Blue
Housed in the "Priory" Boarding
Navy & White
School House building Boarding
(Ely Cathedral Choir)

Boarding houses[edit]

There are four boarding houses in the senior school, 2 for boys and 2 for girls, one of which is for the girls choir. Hereward Hall is a boys' boarding house, previously sited opposite the Porta, it is now situated on Barton Square in Ely, on the site of an old Cambridge theological college. It contains about 55 boys.[55] School House is the other boys' boarding house, based along The Gallery – the road up to the west end of Ely Cathedral. It houses approximately 60 boys. According to the school's official website, it is the "oldest inhabited residential building in Europe"[11] although the veracity of this is uncertain. Etheldreda, previously called Canonry is a girls' boarding house, established in September 2006, for the Girls Choir of Ely Cathedral, all of whom are pupils in senior school. The house is located very close to the cathedral itself for ease of access for practice and performance (in evensong each Wednesday and every other Monday).[56] Hill House, situated on the corner of Barton Square and Back Hill, was until recently a boy's boarding house, being converting to housing girls as their numbers swelled. Two houses were formed on the introduction of girls into the school; Etheldreda and Withburga; the latter to house day pupils. Until September 2006 when the girls choir house was formed, Etheldreda (later to be called 'Hill House') was the only girls' boarding house. It is now the largest of all the boarding houses. Originally situated on Cambridge Road, it relocated to Hill House (which was renamed), reverting to 1970's name of 'Hill House' in recent years.[57][58]

In the most recent Ofsted report of boarding at the school, inspectors reported that "the school provides very good care and support to boarders and there was an obvious caring culture within the boarding houses" although they said that "the school would benefit from harmonising boarding practices across the entire boarding provision."[59]

The Gallery, with Withburga house on the left, and School House garden to the right, with the Cathedral in the background

Day houses[edit]

There are four-day houses in the senior school. Students are assigned into studies, usually with 3 or 4 others, although the number usually decreases as the pupil moves into higher years. In these studies there is a work space and storage area. There are various activities annually between houses, including sports and Ely Scheme competitions. There is also a debating competition, quiz and popular house music competition. Pupils in each house meet weekly for a meeting, and also have a personal tutor who guides them throughout their time at the school.[60]

King's Ely Junior[edit]

The school has its own junior school, which is separate from the senior school, although shares many of its facilities. It has around 357 pupils[1] from Year 3 (approximately 7) to Year 8 (aged 13). The junior school has its own faculty of staff, own administration and management and a self-contained block of classrooms. This was complemented in 2003 by a new building which contained classrooms and other facilities, primarily for Year 7 and 8 pupils. The majority of Year 8 pupils can expect to transfer into King's Senior School. The Head of the junior school is R Whymark.[61]

Like many independent schools, the junior school has a house system, with each pupil belonging to one. It forms an integral part of life at the school and there are frequent inter-house events in sports as well as the arts. All boarding pupils in Priory and Choir House are also affiliated to a day house for everyday school activities, such as house meetings and competitions.

King's Ely Acremont[edit]

King's Acremont Nursery and Pre-Prep occupies a Georgian-style house on Egremont Street,[62] a ten-minute walk from the main campus.[63] Children are admitted to the nursery from age one and almost all pupils transfer into Year 3 of King's Junior School at age seven.[64] Acremont pupils join the rest of the school for major events in the cathedral where they stage their annual Christmas production. Acremont received an 'excellent' rating in its 2003 Ofsted inspection, with inspectors saying "Young children are given an excellent start to their education ... the warm, welcoming environment promotes learning and there is an excellent relationship between children, parents and teachers."[62][62]

King's Ely International[edit]

King's Ely International was started primarily as a link school, so that students who had little English–speaking ability could accustom themselves to the language before going on to the senior school or another English-speaking public school, normally in the sixth form. The centre offers both two and one-year GCSE programmes.[65] The centre recommends that students attend the summer school preceding their arrival, which includes basic English as well as social activities to helps adapt to English culture.[66] In the last 3 years, King's Ely has integrated the study centre into the main school, with more shared activities in sports and academia. The study centre uses many of the main schools facilities like the dining hall and sports facilities,[67] despite being, physically at least, relatively isolated from the rest of the school—opposite the Oliver Cromwell Museum near the Cathedral.[68][69] The termly fees for the study centre are £8400, or £25,200 per year, plus a refundable deposit of £3000.[70] There were 51 pupils in attendance in the academic year 2012–2013.[1]

Fees and charitable status[edit]

Annual fees are up to about £27,000 per year for boarders or about £34,000 for international boarders (2014–15).[71] Like most public schools, King's is a non-profit educational body and a registered charity,[72] and as such benefits from substantial tax breaks. It was calculated by David Jewell, master of Haileybury, that in 1992 such tax breaks save the school about £1,945 per pupil per year. The school offers bursaries and allowances, £1,575,525 was provided in 2013, and scholarships which totalled £304,197.[1] These include music scholarships—amounting to around two-thirds for choristers whilst serving in the Cathedral Choir, and a third scholarship upon their continuation as a pupil in the Senior School. There are further major and minor scholarships for music, sports and academic performance. The Senior School occasionally offers a large major scholarship for a promising organist or musician who is of a particularly high quality. Like many public schools, King's offers fee reductions when more than one child attends, and to the children of staff members. There also bursaries for children of the Clergy, Armed Forces and to those who would otherwise not be able to afford it, on a means tested basis.[73] Over a third of all pupils receive some sort of financial award, be it a bursary or a scholarship, with 355 individuals benefiting in 2013.[1]

School finances[edit]

Information about income and expenditure for the last five years is available to the public on the Charity Commission website.[74] Expenditure has steadily increased over recent years.

Financial year start Financial year end Gross Income (£) Total expenditure (£)
1 September 2008 31 August 2009 12,784,969 12,522,324
1 September 2009 31 August 2010 13,079,549 12,640,014
1 September 2010 31 August 2011 15,439,424 13,608,554
1 September 2011 31 August 2012 14,735,372 14,669,901
1 September 2012 31 August 2013 14,737,094 15,042,032

Ely Cathedral Choir[edit]

The choristers of Ely Cathedral Choir, performing in RAF Mildenhall Chapel

The boy and girl choristers of Ely Cathedral are all educated at and boarders of the school.[75] The boy choristers number between 18 and 22 boys, varying per year.[76] The boy choristers sing Evensong four nights during the week, evensong on Saturday and Sunday, as well as a Morning Service on Sundays. They practise in the mornings before school. The choristers are joined to day houses as well as their boarding house, Choir House. The choir is currently under the directorship of Edmund Aldhouse.[76]

The boy choristers are aged between 7 years old and 13 years. Two members of the group, Patrick Aspbury and CJ Porter-Thaw who formed part of The Choirboys, were Ely Cathedral choristers. The choir has toured many countries in the past, including the United States, Canada, Malta as well as extensively in mainland Europe.[77] The choir is also regularly engaged in concerts, both in the Cathedral as well as other prestigious venues (such as the Royal Albert Hall) and has produced a number of Compact Discs.

Ely Cathedral Girls' Choir was also launched in 2006, comprising twenty girl choristers drawn from both the Junior School and the Senior School, in Years 7-11 (ages 11–16). The girl choristers sing two Evensong per week, and do full weekend duties once or twice a month. Since September 2010, the girls' choir has been directed by Sarah MacDonald.[78]

There are six permanent Layclerks who sing Alto, Tenor, and Bass for both top lines. They are supplemented by additional singers on Sundays and for major feasts, and there are also a number of Sixth Form Choral Scholars who are also pupils at King's Ely. The cathedral appointed its first female layclerk in January 2019.

In his memoirs, Christopher Campling described the voice of the boys in 1955 as "something different" from other Cathedral Choirs:

"Michael Howard [the director of music] purposely produced a tone for the boys which was halfway between the continental guttural sound produced from the chest voice, and the pure hard tone of the traditional English cathedral treble, as found at King's College, Cambridge. The "Ely Sound" was harsher than King's, more flexible, more vigorous, always excellent in enunciation."[17]

Notable former pupils[edit]

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

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