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Introducing Ellie the Eel

Ellie is our mascot for Eel Festival Weekend. She was named by the students who made our very first eel which headed our parade back in 2004. New eels have joined us since - here is their story.

The first Eel Day took place on Saturday 3rd April 2004 (can you believe we have been going that long!).  Visit Ely and ADeC (now known as Babylon Arts) worked together to launch the city's new Eel Trail and decided that we should have an Eel Parade.

On that day the first ADeC eel was released into the wild.  She was called Ellie and was built in St. Mary’s Junior School, Ely in March.  Ellie was funded by the Local Network Fund and the work was led by The Luton Carnival Development Trust and Art All Over.  Ellie led the way in 2005 and again in 2006.

Going in and out of storage took its toll on Ellie, and by 2007 it was decided that a new eel was needed. The general consensus was that something bright and colourful was needed to stand out amongst the growing crowds that the eel day parade was now drawing. It was also requested that the eel be lighter as many of the younger carriers had been struggling under the weight.

Local artist John Lyons was commissioned, and working with the Barns community in Ely, he created Eddie who made his debut in 2007 and again in 2008.

In 2009 ADeC embarked on the creation of eel number three. This time the work was led by artists Digby & Claire Chacksfield and Rachel Parker.   They started by holding a consultation evening at the Lighthouse Centre in Ely, where people were invited to meet the artists help with the design.  Everyone was encouraged to share ideas and there was lots of discussion about how the Eel should look and how we could improve on past designs. Everyone then returned to the centre for the construction. Alongside the building of the eel, participants were able to print eel T-shirts with Cary Outis and create mini eel puppets on sticks.

All those who took part in the construction of the eel were able to put forward name suggestions and vote for their favourite. The winning name was ... Neel. 

Special features on Neel included a bubble blowing machine in his mouth and if you looked carefully at his skin you could see that it was made out of lots of printed maps of Ely depicting where the various eel builders lived.

In 2009, an Eel King and Queen were introduced to lead the eel along the parade. The King and Queen carry an eel trap and gleave made especially by local eel catcher Peter Carter (now retired). Their outfits are provided by Oliver Cromwell’s House. 

In 2010, the ADeC Arts Crew (young people who want to get involved in the local arts scene) helped carry the eels with several ending up in Ellie’s tail!   A shortened version of Ellie made her last appearance this year –the following year the last parts did not survive hibernation – mice have been blamed!

In 2012, ADeC were running a steward training and event management course. Eel day provided a perfect opportunity for the adult students to experience a public community event – and they got to help transport the eels at the same time!

In 2014, Cary Outis graduated from Eel T-shirt printer to eel builder extraordinaire as he oversaw the creating of Eel four.  For this eel Cary worked closely with the ADeC Arts Crew to construct the first eel that participants would be able to get inside.  Once again participants put forward name suggestions and voted on their favourite. The result being Denzeel.

Despite Ellie's sad departure, her name lives on as this is the name many people like to use to describe whichever eel leads the parade!

A big thank you to all the funders, venues, artists, young people, designers, builders, carrier, kings and queens that have made Eel Day and the ADeC eels such a success.   And here's to the next ten years!

Compiled by Nathan Jones (ADeC) 2016, www.babylonarts.org.uk