Ely Cathedral - a 1:240 scale card model

Why a model of Ely Cathedral?

Since 2016, I have sung in one of the choirs at Ely Cathedral, and so became interested in the building itself. During web-searches, I discovered that Rupert Cordeux was in the process of designing a 1:240 scale card model kit of the Cathedral. He completed the model design in 2017, and, on and off, I kept wondering whether to buy the kit and make the model. I hadn't got round to it, but in 2019 I noticed that the kits were on sale in the Cathedral's own shop (which obviously makes sense!) and in September 2019, I finally bought one.

I quickly obtained the other things needed for assembly - a sheet of artist's 'mount board' for the base; scalpels; glue; etc. but didn't actually make a start until 8th February 2020. I finished the model on 26th April 2020, and am very pleased with it. I make no claims to be an 'artist', but I can follow instructions, and can easily check the actual Ely Cathedral to see how the building 'works'. I find it difficult to imagine the process of designing a model such as this, and showing such an immense amount of detail - surely as much as is possible at this scale.

The first photo of the model after it was completed. The Ely Cathedral model from the north-east, showing the East End (left), the Lady Chapel (right), the Octagon Tower (centre), and the West Tower (out of focus at the back). More photos at the bottom of this page.

The model kit

Some of the size A3 sheets in the kit: the cover illustration; sheet 'N' (masonry colour) also with general instructions; sheet 'O' (lead roof colour); and one of the 4 sheets of assembly diagrams.

Also my two retractable Swann-Morton scalpel handles, fitted with 10A blades.

The part-numbers reach up to 348, but the same number is used for many interchangeable parts (not surprisingly often in multiples of 4 or 8), so I haven't worked out how many actual parts there are!


This is after completing 2 of the 4 sheets of assembly diagrams, with all the major 'building blocks' assembled, next to be glued to each other, and then to the base. After that, although it's 'only' another two sheets of instructions, there are lots of fiddly buttresses, pinnacles, etc. yet to do...
When gluing the model to the base, Rupert suggests weighting it down with 'small books'. I found that quite a bit of pressure was needed to ensure good contact everywhere, so here's my improvised arrangement, with rulers, pieces of wood, and various mugs supplying the weight...
The parts of one of the many buttresses to be completed, many of them slightly different. I've already glued the pinnacle to the topmost part.
The same buttress as above after gluing in place on the north side of the Lady Chapel. You can see the spaces where the next two will go (to the right). In the background, the Octagon and the North Transept before completing their various details.
Some of the smallest detail. These 8 similar pinnacles are only about 2.5mm across. I've completed 4, one in progress, and 3 more to do. I did as I was told i.e. "Use a new scalpel blade!" and they turned out fine. They go at the corners of the Octagon. I used 10 scalpel blades in total - since it was my first experience of this, I wasn't sure when it was time for a new one, or whether to get more life out of the old one. I tended to have two blades in use at any one time - the newer one for fine details, and the older one for cuts that weren't going to be visible anyway, such as the gluing tabs.


The 'choir' windows.

This is the south side of the 'choir' (actual building, and model). In the very first part of the model (Part number 1), don't forget (like I did!) to cut out the 4 'windows' (second row of windows up from the ground, 'triforium level'). There is no glass in these - they are just holes and the space behind them is exposed to the outside of the cathedral. I had to cut them out after I'd partly assembled the model, which was difficult.

The equivalent windows on the north side of the choir also have no glass, but they do have all the stone tracery, and are not intended to be cut out in the model. One tends to thnk of the Cathedral as 'all constructed at once', but of course it wasn't. These windows on the south and north, designed to let more light into the Presbytery, were part of modifications in the fourteenth century.[*]

The generic instructions on Sheet N say that battlements and parapets are folded and glued so that they are of double-thickness card, and are only cut out after the glue has set. These aren't marked specifically on each piece, apart from the 'score line', so bear in mind that these very first parts of the model have top top-edges to be folded over, glued, and cut into 'battlements'.

The missing door.

I'm not the first person to notice (see another easily-found site by someone else constructing this same model), but the model is missing a door. This door (bottom left of the photos), just west of the end of the South Transept, is used as the main south entrance into the Cathedral. It enters what would have been part of the eastern range of the cloisters (not much of which remain), and from there into the nave of the Cathedral. Not wanting to risk spoiling the original artwork of the model with my virtually non-existent artistic talents, I drew the door on some scrap card, and very lightly glued it on. I'm pleased with the result - it seems about the right size, despite the perspective of the two photos not being very similar. Note the blue sundial - perhaps I should colour it in on the model!

The missing pinnacle.

Maybe I am the first to notice this time: the model is missing a small pinnacle, on the north-west corner of the North Transept - top-centre of the photos, with the two rather heavy butresses lower down. I constructed the missing pinnacle out of scrap card, drawing some detail with pencil similar to others in the model - it's only about 15mm tall. I see that my photo of the model hides a pinnacle at the corner of the Octagon behind my 'new' pinnacle, in case you wonder why you can't see that one.

This corner of the North Transept fell on 28th March 1699, but was rebuilt under the direction of Sir Christopher Wren, including the door just to the left of this corner, which has been said to be out of keeping with the rest of the Cathedral.[*] One website writes (incorrectly) that this date was when the North-West transept fell (or was taken down) - the date of this appears to be unknown, other than being earlier (fifteenth century). The confusion can arise because the Cathedral has 4 transepts, the larger ones (at the 'crossing') being usually called North and South, while the smaller ones at the west end are called North-West (still largely ruined) and South-West.

More photos

My attempt at the same view as in this tweet by the artist of the model, Rupert Cordeux, which compares the model with an aerial view of the Cathedral on a postcard.
My attempt to reproduce the photo from this tweet by the Cathedral. It's so difficult to get the same perspective, as the camera hasn't been scaled down like the model! You have to be very close to the 'ground', and close to the model, but still get enough depth of field for everything to be in focus.

I've been able to show the restored part of the cloister, at ground level south of the Cathedral, which you can't see from this viewpoint in real life, as there's a wall blocking the view. And St.Catherine's Chapel (the round-walled building attached to the South-West transept), isn't largely obscured by trees in the Bishop's Garden!


[*] Any comments from me above about the architecture of Ely Cathedral, or dates of significant events, came from this book. In case the link stops working, the book is: THE CATHEDRAL CHURCH OF ELY, A HISTORY AND DESCRIPTION OF THE BUILDING WITH A SHORT ACCOUNT OF THE FORMER MONASTERY AND OF THE SEE, by THE REV. W. D. SWEETING, M.A., First Published June 1901. This book draws together information from many sources into one place.