I hopped on a train to Ely just over a week ago. I'd never been to Ely before and knew very little about it. What I did know - it has an excellent Cathedral, the location for Queen Elizabeth's wedding in The Crown. I also knew Ely had a connection to Oliver Cromwell. I would later find out it was the location of his family home. So maybe I knew a little more about Ely than the average jo. But my quest was not to see the majestic points in history. Instead, it was to see The Old Fire Engine House, which I strongly suspected I would love.
The Old Fire Engine House is a stone's throw from Oliver Cromwell's home. If you didn't know about it, you could easily walk by thinking it was a private home; as Chloe Parratt, Gallery Manager of The Old Fire Engine House, told me, the council won't let them even put a sandwich board outside due to its listed status. So really, it is by word of mouth that you will find yourself opening the front door. For me, there would be a certain smugness in introducing friends and family to The Old Fire Engine House; within its walls lies a gallery, pub and restaurant, with one of the more charming gardens. Unlike so many Georgian houses, you are not wholly disappointed walking through the door. It has kept the same form; the rooms wobble and creek and sit perfectly with the furniture that Anne Jarman, the owner, has selected.
(The Old Fire Engine House, Gallery)
Ann Jarman opened The Old Fire Engine House in the summer of 1968 with two friends. She still runs it to this day with the help of Chloe and many others. Some of whom have been working there for years, *Four generations of a local family --the Fyson's -- worked there in various roles. Olive Fyson started with the restaurant in 1968 and worked in the kitchen for 30 years. "Her daughters Terri, Christine and Jayne all still work with us, as does her granddaughter Claire and both Jarman daughters also worked with us until recently,". In fact, Chloe's son is due to help out in his summer holidays, clearing up after guests.
As mentioned, this is a restaurant, gallery and pub but if you can believe it's more than that. It's filled with devotion; there is a certain pride in having a place like this in your town. The commercial aspect of the place is clearly essential, but it's not the sole focus like all the best places. That being said, they manage to put on six exhibitions and previews and exhibitions a year, and since Covid, they have been fully booked. It is not hard to see why; as I left the place, I started furiously looking for houses in and around Ely; anywhere that is home to a place like The Old Fire Engine House would make a perfect home for me.