Gallery 5: The Fens
It is in this room that you will get the clearest picture of the island of Ely. The three–dimensional map shows the contours of the land and you can see much of it was, and is, below sea level. The room shows many diverse objects all of which were an important part of the working or social life of the area. The two medieval muniment chests on display were used by the monks for keeping detailed records of what was theirs and what was not. The wide range of farming tools are all connected with the land. The range of wooden spades shows what a specialised job it was digging and using the clay and peat of the fen. Lighter wooden spades were used to lift many tons of wet clay so as not to add to the already heavy load.
It is here that we see the rather barbaric looking eel gleeves, the multi-pronged spears used for catching eels. Imagine how dense the eel population must have been to be able to plunge a spear into the water and know that you will come up with a catch.
The Eel gleeve, with serated blades which would have prevented the slippery eel from wriggling free. This gleeve would have had a long wooden handle to reach deep down into marshy wetlands.
Stilt walking was not a children�s pastime or a circus act. It was a way of walking the fens without getting your feet wet. Skating was a method of crossing the fen in the long winter freezes of the past but it also became a winter sport and championships were held in competitions, which continue to this day — when the weather permits!
Do take time, if you can, to sit for a while and watch the archive film (courtesy of East Anglian Film Archive) of life in the early part of the 20th Century. Change was slow to come to the fens and some of the Isle villages did not have mains gas until the very end of the 20th Century (and some still don�t). Many areas are still not on mains drainage, relying on septic tanks.