Annual fairs have been held in Ely since the twelfth century.
Saint Audrey’s (Etheldreda’s) seven-day fair, held either side of 23 June, was first granted officially by Henry I to the abbot and convent on 10 October 1189. At this fair, cheap necklaces, made from brightly coloured silk, were sold—these were called “tawdry lace”. “Tawdry”, a corruption of “Saint Audrey”, now means “pertaining to the nature of cheap and gaudy finery”.
Two other fairs, the 15 day festival of St Lambert, first granted in 1312 and the 22 day fair beginning on the Vigil of the Ascension, first granted in 1318. The festival of St Lambert had stopped by the eighteenth century. St Etheldreda’s and the Vigil of the Ascension markets still continue, although the number of days have been considerably reduced and the dates have changed.
Present-day annual events in Ely include Aquafest, which has been staged at the riverside by the Rotary Club on the first Sunday of July since 1978.
Other events include the Eel Day carnival procession and the annual fireworks display in Ely Park, first staged in 1974.
The Ely Folk Festival has been held in the city since 1985.
The Ely Horticultural Society have been staging their Great Autumn Show since 1927.