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The Burystead
Sold Subject To Contract
Ely, Cambridgeshire£1,900,000 Freehold

The Burystead

Built before the Fens were drained, the house was once a retirement home for elderly monks

Majestic and Grade I-listed, The Burystead sits on the fens surrounding the beautiful cathedral city of Ely. It is formed of a handsome Georgian house built c.1742 and a perpendicular former chapel dating to the late 13th century, both highlighted by esteemed architectural historian Nicholas Pevsner. The chapel, which was always laid out over two storeys, still has its arched windows with stone tracery. The house is surrounded by beautifully planted gardens and paddocks which unfold over almost 18 acres and include formal gardens, two ponds and an orchard. Numerous outbuildings, including a mid-18th-century tithe barn, hold plenty of potential. Ely, with its cathedral, thriving cultural scene and train station, is a short drive away.

Setting the Scene

Once a residence for the bishops of Ely, the house has been combined with the adjacent former chapel. Following the dissolution, the monastery and its adjoining medieval house were transferred to the Dean and Chapter of Ely Cathedral, when it likely became a farmhouse. The medieval residential wing was replaced by the Ward family in 1742, who leased the house at around this time. This wing was subsequently built in the Georgian fashion, wonderfully symmetrical with handsome red-brick façades punctuated by 12-pane hung sashes and a fanlight above the door.

An indication of its pastoral past life, ancillary buildings, open pasture and views of rolling farmland still surround the house today. One, a Grade II-listed tithe barn, bears remnants of a brick gable that appears to be Tudor. A thatched roof tops the building and incredible queen struts with post heads bear carpenter marks, all perhaps clues that the barn instead dates to the same time as the house’s Georgian south wing. For more information, see the History section.

The Grand Tour 

Entry is into the oldest part of the house, through an arched opening into a hall lined with slate floor tiles and space to hang coats on the panelled walls. A door opens into the kitchen, located at the heart of the home. Here, it is possible to see how thick the walls of the chapel are, where window seats have been created, topped with seats fashioned from flagstones. An electric Rayburn warms the room. A tall, elegant window sits in front of the sink, framing views over the garden. There is an adjacent pantry lined with open shelves.

Steps ascend from the hall into the sitting room, where generous proportions and an excellent quality of light from tall, shuttered sash windows are telltale signs that this is the house’s Georgian side. Painted Light Blue by Farrow and Ball, the room is warmed by a wood-burning stove and is still adorned with all of the features typical of the era, including cornicing, wooden floors and two archways, one an alcove, the other a doorway through to the dining room. There is also a useful utility room on this floor, with terracotta tiles on the floor and a tall Georgian fireplace surround fitted now with another Rayburn. This room has another hallway which in turn leads outside. There is another pantry as well as two guest WCs on this floor, while a cellar spans across the floor below.

From the centre of the Georgian wing, a wooden staircase ascends to the first floor, where there are four bedrooms. The two to the front of the house more or less follow the footprint of the living spaces below and have the same tall windows and wooden floorboards. The bedrooms have been decorated in unique yet harmonious schemes: two are finished with in ornate Morris and Co. wallpaper, one with panelling picked out in a complementary Green Smoke by Farrow and Ball.  The medieval wing of the house is home to a fifth bedroom and study. There are two family bathrooms, each fitted with a freestanding bath, and one of which is complete with an elegant arched window still with its stone tracery. Delft tiles provide a splashback for its sink.

Two lofts currently provide additional storage space. The house has been updated with solar panels and batteries which provide the hot water for the house.

The Great Outdoors 

The immediate surroundings are informal gardens, generally comprising lawns north-east and north-west with some mature trees, including some elegant topiary. To the south-west of the house – and therefore benefitting from the sun throughout the day – there are more cultivated gardens. Laid out in a grid system with gravelled paths between beds, the garden is full of colour from foxgloves and glowing euphorbia, while sweet scent spreads from seemingly endless roses. Directly behind the house is a lovely paved area, perfect for keeping a dining table and chairs, and surrounded by frothy flowering plants.

Outbuildings are extensive, and include a garage with an adjoining barn, a small stable block, another barn separated into three compartments, an open barn brilliant for storing garden tools, a greenhouse and the tithe barn.

Out and About 

Bury Lane is set right in the heart of the glorious expanse of the Cambridgeshire Fens. Here, you can find a rich variety of flora and fauna on rambles and strolls on winding country lanes, just moments away from the River Great Ouse, which is popular for wild swimming, fishing, and kayaking. The area is known for its flat landscape, perfect for cycling, and its idyllic network of rivers and drains.

The home sits just outside of the historic village of Sutton; the village is one of the old islands in the fen, and has an attractive historic core with a number of listed buildings, and has been designated a conservation area. From the highest parts of the village, there are far-reaching views across the surrounding fenland. The village is equipped with a range of local shops, including a pharmacy, café and pub.

Just a 20-minute drive, or else an hour-long cycle on a summer’s day, is the cathedral city of Ely. Quaint and compact, the bustling city can be explored on foot. Steeped in history, Ely Cathedral is widely acknowledged as one of the ‘wonders of the medieval world’. A cultural hub, the city holds its annual Ely Arts Festival, while  Cloister’s Antiques or Babylon Gallery are year-round delights. The gallery resides in a riverside, converted 18th-century brewery warehouse. Around town, there is a thriving local restaurant scene, while pubs like The Red LionThe Cutter Inn, and Draymon’s Son upholds East Anglia’s reputation for a refined, rural lifestyle.

Isle of Ely Primary SchoolEly St Mary’s CofE Junior School, and Ely College are all highly-regarded local schools.

Nearby Cambridge offers some of the country’s best shops, dining opportunities and cultural events. Its striking historic architecture and world-class university have established its international reputation, and newer additions have all helped to prove it to be a city perfect for visits. Local food favourites include FitzbilliesThe Garden Kitchen and Fancett’s, while the exceptional house-gallery Kettle’s Yard is always worth a visit. 

Ely Station is under 20 minutes from the house, where direct trains via nearby Cambridge take just over an hour and 15 minutes. Central London can be reached via the M11 in under two hours.

Council Tax Band: G

Please note that all areas, measurements and distances given in these particulars are approximate and rounded. The text, photographs and floor plans are for general guidance only. Inigo has not tested any services, appliances or specific fittings — prospective purchasers are advised to inspect the property themselves. All fixtures, fittings and furniture not specifically itemised within these particulars are deemed removable by the vendor.


A tapestry of historic construction, the house incorporates a late 13th-century chapel with an 18th-century ‘extension’. The house was originally a retirement home for old monks, built before the Fens were drained, necessitating what was thought to be a moat, but was, as it later transpired, a fish farm to provide the retirees with the (relatively) rich diet they had become accustomed to after life in the monastery.

The monastery has buttresses, windows and parapets constructed with Barnack stone, a limestone relatively local to the house, from the Lincolnshire quarry, which exported stone from the Roman times until it shut in about 1460. Inside the wing has been altered, but many of the incredible original features remain, including a double piscina and a partial altar.

When the monasteries were for the chopping block under Henry VIII, the pious pensioners were turfed out and The Burystead was handed over to Nicholas West, Bishop of Ely and eminent diplomat of the day. When he became Bishop of Ely, it is recorded that he ‘lived in greater splendour than any other prelate of his time, having more than a hundred servants’. So much so that the Bishop had no use for the Burystead, preferring to while away his sacred hours in two of his other, larger palaces. So the Bishop benevolently gave The Burystead over for use as a “tythe barn”, where the people of Ely would pay their tax. This explains the barn structure still standing today.

The intersection of architectural styles tells its own story. The tracery of the main church window is now backed with a chimney breast, cast in Tudor bricks, a relic of the fevered haste of The Dissolution.

Building didn’t stop there, with two further building phases which occurred in the early and late 19th century, both in the form of additions to the rear elevation of the Georgian wing.

The Burystead — Ely, Cambridgeshire
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