The Palace of the Bishops of Ely

Posted September 1, 2012

wild strawberries

Sir John de Kirkby, Treasurer of the Realm to King Edward I, built the Palace of the Bishops of Ely in 1272 in the rural parish of Holborn, just outside the walls of the City of London. The gardens were famous for their produce and sales of onions, garlic, leek, turnips, beans, parsley, strawberries and saffron were recorded by the Bishop’s gardener.  In those days, saffron was considered essential for cooking – it was used to disguise the taste of rancid meat. The gardens were also renown for their roses, vines and fine wines which was why Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon attended a five day feast in the Palace consuming 100 sheep, 51 cows, 91 pigs, 24 oxen, 720 chickens, 444 pigeons, 168 swans and over 4,000 larks.

A conversation in Shakespeare’s Richard III between John Morton, the Bishop of Ely, and the Duke of Gloucester refers to the famous gardens:

“My Lord of Ely, when I was last in Holborn

I saw good strawberries in your garden there.

I do beseech you, send for some of them.”