Page 4 - MarketTimesJune2014
P. 4

                           The eels that gave the city its name may be dwindling in numbers but, as NICOLA GOULD discovers, Ely Market in East Cambridgeshire just keeps on growing.
The market town of Ely in the heart of the Fens is a little out on a limb. But its cathedral and rich history, including a link with Oliver Cromwell, have put it firmly on the tourist map.
And its bustling market is cementing Ely’s place as a destination town, attracting tourists, locals and shoppers from far afield to its charter market every Thursday, as well as its markets on Saturdays, some Sundays and bank holidays.
The market dates back to 1224 when Henry
III granted a charter to the Bishop of Ely. Agriculture has always been a mainstay of the local economy, and produce grown on the fertile soil of the Fens has been sold on Ely market for hundreds of years.
That tradition is upheld today, both on the regular market and the farmers’ market held on the second and fourth Saturday of every month.
The fine selection of local produce no longer includes eels, though.
Once plentiful in the many waterways that criss-cross the Fens, they were such a staple
that the Bishop of Ely received tithes in barrels of eels.
Eels notwithstanding, Ely’s market has a good selection of pretty much everything else, with the emphasis on quality and choice.
And the one commodity it has in abundance is friendliness. Bill Wayman, the market supervisor, and Julia Davis, a projects officer with East Cambridgeshire District Council, both describe the market as a close-knit family.
The traders who man a total of 60 pitches over the different market days are by and large a cheerful bunch, and they have much to be cheerful about.
Footfall is strong, especially in the warmer months, which bring tourists to the town.
Julia Davis said: “A few years ago we looked at the market and saw we had some gaps here and there.”
The council decided to theme the market, so that Thursday became the general market, with a higgledy-piggledy feel about it.
Saturday is a craft and collectables market, with some general traders, a central ‘street food’ aisle and a more uniform layout, featuring smart stalls with blue and white striped canopies.
The markets cater for a slightly different customer base.
Ely has its fair share of commuters who work in London but visit the market on a Saturday, whereas the Thursday market attracts people who are a little older and are more traditional market shoppers.
The council has introduced a Sunday market on the last Sunday of each month, and bank holiday markets have also proved a popular innovation.
Then there are the speciality markets and events. These include an annual eel festival in May that features the world eel throwing competition (stuffed toy eels, not the real
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