Wisbech, Cambridgeshire


Extract from Kelly's Directory of Cambridgeshire 1929

WISBECH is a seaport, municipal borough, market town. the head of a union and county court district, with stations on the Midland and Great Northern Joint railway and London and North Eastern railway, 87 miles foam London, 40 north from Cambridge, 116 from Birmingham, via Peterborough and Blisworth, 22 east from Spalding, 63 from Northampton, 34 from Stamford, 23 from Ely, 73/4 from March, 21 from Peterborough, 151/2 west-south-west from Lynn and 64 from Norwich, via Lynn, in the hundred, petty sessional division, liberty of the Isle of Ely, rural deanery and archdeaconry of Wisbech and diocese of Ely; it is also the seat of the January and July quarter sessions for the liberty of the Isle of Ely, and of the petty sessions for the hundred, and is on the borders of Norfolk, within a few miles of the sea, to which it has access by the navigable river Nene, which intersects the town, the larger portion being on the south side of the river; the banks were strengthened with piling, during the year 1890-91, at a cost of £20,000. The thoroughfares facing the river are known chiefly as the "North and South Brinks." By the Wisbech canal, the town has also water communication by the Ouse with Cambridge, Hartford and London.

The branch line of the London and North Eastern railway from the main line to Wisbech harbour has materially assisted the development of the timber and coal trade of the town, and there is also a steam tramway from Wisbech station to Upwell for the conveyance of goods and passengers. The Midland and Great Northern joint line from Peterborough, which joins the London and North Eastern line at Sutton Bridge, affords an additional means of inter-communication, and by means of these railways the town is rendered one of the most desirable ports for carrying on shipping transactions between the Midland Counties and the Baltic Sea. The London, Midland and Scottish line has also a tramway into the Old Market. The railway stations are about half a mile from the centre of the town, the Midland and Great Northern joint station on the north, and the London and North Eastern on the south, but street railways communicate with the warehouses on the north side of the town, so that the railway trucks can be loaded or unloaded direct out of the warehouses and ships without cartage expenses.

Vessels of 3,000 tons can enter the port.

Fishing boats and their implements are distinguished by the letters W.I. Since 1852 the quays have been much improved by the erection of new wharfage, at an expense to the town of about £60,000, and an iron bridge erected, which spans the river in the centre of the town.

The chief trade is in importing timber and general merchandise. The chief exports are coal, corn and general merchandise. In the surrounding district both flowers and fruit are largely grown, the latter consisting chiefly of strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries. apples, pears and plums; potatoes, asparagus and mustard seed are also grown. There are planing and sawing mills, breweries and printing offices.

The town received its earliest charter from Richard I. and this was confirmed by later sovereigns, including Edw. VI. and restored, after forfeiture, by James I. For municipal purposes the borough is divided into north and south wards, and, under the provisions of the "Municipal corporations Act, 1835 " (5 and 6 Wm. IV. c. 76), is governed by a Corporation, consisting of a mayor, six aldermen and 18 town councillors; other officers include a treasurer, town clerk, town chamberlain, charitable trusteec, harbour master and a superintendent of police. Wisbech has a separate commission of the peace. The town is lighted with gas and electricity, and supplied with water from chalk springs at Marham, in Norfolk, 21 miles distant.

The church of SS. Peter and Paul is an edifice of stone in the Early Norman and Perpendicular style, consisting of chancel, double nave, lady chapel, north and south aisles, south porch and a large embattled tower at the north-west angle containing a clock and 10 fine-toned bells; the clock was erected in 1866 by Mr. James Dann, of this town, at a cost of about £400: in the wholly chancel floor is a very large brass to Sir Thomas de Branstone, constable of Wisbech Castle, ob. 1401, with effigy in armour and mutilated inscription in Norman French: John Feckenham, last abbot of Westminster, is John Shepherd, and unveiled 26th June, 1885, is buried in the church: the reredos, presented by Mr. John Shepherd, and unveiled 26th June, 1885, is a fine work in stone, alabaster and Florentine mosaic, executed in Venice by Salviati; the principal feature is a reproduction III niosaic of The Last Supper," with canopied figures of St. Prier and St. Paul on either side, designed by Mr. Bassett Smith. A memorial window was erected to the Rev. H. E. H. Watts, a former vicar, and Mr. H. Farrow, churchwarden in 1911: there are several other fine modern memorial windows, including, one to the Rev. John Scott M.A. hon. canon of Ely and vicar here from 1867-86: the church was restored in 1858, at a cost of £4,200, and the organ reconstructed and enlarged in 1873, at cost of £600: the church affords 1,500 sittings, all free. The register dates from the year 1558. The living is a vicarage, net yearly value £868, with residence, in the gift of the Bishop of Ely, and held since 1905 by Rev William Thomas Rupert Crookham C.B.E., T.D., A.K.C. hon canon of Ely cathedral, surrogate and hon. C.F.

St. Augustine's is an ecclesiastical parish, formed in 186 from the civil parishes of St. Peter Wisbech and Leverington. The church, erected in 1868-9, and opened in May, 1869, at a cost of about £4,000, is a structure of brick, with stone dressings, in the Early English style consisting of clerestoried nave, aisles and bellicot containing one bell: the reredos, erected in 1878 is of stone the panels being filled in with glass mosaic displaying a central cross with the figures of three angels on either side, bearing on shields the instruments of the Passion: the stained east window, placed 7 Dec. 1883, is a memorial: the west window was filled with stained glass in 1922, in memory of the men of this parish who fell in the Great War, 1914-18: there are several other stained windows: the church affords 500 sittings. The register dates from the year 1870. The living is a vicarage, net yearly value £400, with residence, in the gift of the Bishop of Ely, and held since 1926 by the Rev. Arthur John William Crosse C.B.E., B.A. of the London University.

The Chapel of Ease or Octagon church, in the Old Market, is an octagonal embattled structure of brick, with stone facings, consisting of chancel, nave, south porch and a belfry containing one bell, and has sittings for 800 persons, most of which are free. The living is a perpetual curacy, net yearly value £602, from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, in the gift of trustees, and held since 1895 by the Rev. Richard Boyer M.A. of Caius College, Cambridge.


St. Mary's, Wisbech, will be found under a separate heading.

The Roman Catholic church, in Queen's road, built in 1854, and dedicated to Our Lady and St. Charles Borronteo, is an edifice in the Decorated style, consisting of chancel, nave, aisles and a turret containing one bell: there are 250 sittings. Attached to the church is a fine parochial hall, built in 1914, which serves as the head quarters of St. Joseph's Club (which is run on non-sectarian and non-political lines). The Friends' Meeting House, North Brink, was built in 1854. The Baptist church, Upper Hill street, was founded in 1674; the present edifice, erected in 1859 at a cost of about £4,000, is a stone building in the Early English style, seating about 600 persons. The General Baptist chapel, Ely place, was founded in 1655, and the present edifice built in 1873; it will seat 850. The Zion Baptist chapel, Victoria road, is of brick, and was erected in i856; it has 220 sittings. The Congregational chapel, Castle square, was built in 1818, and will seat 500, and the Primitive Methodist chapel, Church terrace, was built in 1868. The Wesleyan Methodist chapel, in The Crescent, will seat 500. The United Methodist church, Little Church street, built in 1869-70, is of red brick with stone facings; there are 800 sittings. The Salvation Army Barracks are in East street.

There is a cemetery of about 4 acres, belonging to and situated near the church, and another of 6 acres on the Leverington road, known as the Wisbech General Cemetery which is the property of a private company, each has a mortuary chapel, and grounds planted with shrubs and evergreens: a third, formed by Town Council acting as a Burial Board, was opened the October 31, 1881, at Mount Pleasant, and contains an area of 11 acres and a mortuary chapel.

The parish church and churchyard, part of the church cemetery and the Unitarian burial grounds were closed against interments by Order in Council, May 25, 1855.

The Corn Exchange, Cornhill, is now also the Town Hall. The Cattle Market on the Chapel road, formed at a cost of £2,300: the Corn Market day is Saturday: cattle markets are held on Thursdays and Saturdays weekly, and fairs on the Saturday after the end of Lynn, February 14th fair, which lasts seven days ; the second Thursday in May and July 25th for horses and the first Thursday in August for beasts the third Wednesday in September for hiring. There is an annual fat-stock show, held in December.

The Custom House for the port, with a customs officer, is in York row.

The "United Good Fellowship" (No. 809) Lodge of Freemasons, to which there is a Chapter attached, hosts its meetings at the Rose and Crown hotel, on the 4th Wednesday in the months of Oct. Nov. Jan. Feb. March and 1st Wednesday in May (Installation).

The Fire Brigade possesses two motor pumps, one fire engine, one motor lorry and a fire escape ; the engine house is in Lower Hill street, keys being kept in a box over the door at the Fire station, 7 Lower Hill street a maroon is fired on the outbreak of a fire.

The Museum and Literary Institution, in Museum square, is open from 10 to 5 in summer and 10 to 4 in winter. The Literary Institution was established in 1780, and the Museum in 1835, and they were amalgamated in 1877: the collections include Egyptian antiquities, flint and bronze implements, Romano-British British querns and urns and Anglo-Saxon fibulę, besides a valuable collection of ceramics bijouterie, articles of vertu and coins bequeathed to the museum in 1869 by the Rev C H Townsend: in British ornithology the collection comprising many rare Fen birds, is nearly complete; the specimens of marine and fresh water fish taken in the river and in the Wash are extensive and curious, there are also some fine mineralogical and geological specimens and collections of natural history and autographs, and a beautiful collection of Staffordshire figures.

The North Cambridgeshire Hospital, adjoining and overlooking the park is a structure of brick with lodge and detached nurses home built and furnished by the munificence of Miss M B Trafford Southwell, of Honington Hall, Grantham, at a cost of about £8,000, and opened October 2nd, 1873: a new wing and balconies were added in 1914 at the expense of Frank Mills esq. and a children's ward and balcony were presented by Mr. R. W. Green in 1926. The foundress endowed the hospital with a sum of £6,ooo, which was augmented by donations to the amount of £10,000: there are beds for 50 patients and an outpatients' department, opened in 1904.

The Working Men's Club and Institute, Lower Hill street, originally a private dwelling house, was opened January 5th, 1864, and subsequently enlarged; a new smoking room was added in 1891; attached is a tower of brick and stone, 100 feet high, containing an illuminated clock and chimes, with 24 bells playing 26 tunes, erected by Mr. James Dann, of this town: the building comprises a lecture hall, reading, smoking, conversation and class rooms, library of about 5,000 volumes, gymnasium and a residence for the hall keeper; in connection with the institute are horticultural, fur and feather, coal, holiday and Christmas clubs, as well as clubs for cricket, football, gymnastic exercise, draughts and chess; various educational classes are also held here there were in 1929, 1,583 members.

The memorial to Thomas Clarkson M.A. the indefatigable advocate for the abolition of the slave trade, was erected at a cost of £2,035, raised by subscription from the designs of the late Sir George Gilbert Scott R.A.: the first stone was laid 28 Oct. 1880, and the memorial unveiled 1 Nov. 1881: it consists of a statue, mounted on a platform above which rises a canopy, terminating in a spire, the whole being 68 feet high: on three sides of the base are carved bas-reliefs, representing respectively Wilberforce, Granville Sharp and a manacled slave in a beseeching attitude: the fourth side tears an inscription to this distinguished philanthropist, who was born at Wisbech 26 March, 1760, and died at Playford Hall, near Ipswich, 26 Sept. 1846.

In the Crescent is a Celtic cross of Aberdeen granite erected in 1921 at a cost of £1,036, in memory of the men of Wisbech who fell in the Great War, 1914-18. A fund was also instituted for the benefit of the children of the fallen, this being vested in trustees.

A park, with pleasure grounds, comprising an area of it acres, planted with shrubs, flowers and evergreens, was opened in 1870, at a cost of £3,769 18s. 10d. of which sum the land cost £2,400, the remainder being expended in enclosing and ornamenting: the memorial column erected in the park in 1871 to Richard Young esq. M.P. blown down and shattered by a storm in December 1883, was repaired at a cost of £117, raised by subscription.

The Wisbech charities comprise the following:-

Thomas Parke, by will, in 1628, gave his house, in Ship lane, Wisbech, for the poor of the parish. The endowment now consists of £1,362 17s. 11d. Consols, and2 acres of land in Wisbech, producing a yearly income of about £49: the net income is appropriated to the purchase of clothing for the poor.

In the year 1638, William Holmes gave £400 to the burgesses of Wisbech, to be invested in land, and the rest applied for the iuaintenance of two scholars at St Mary Magdalene College in the University of Cambridge and for binding out poor children apprentices; and by his will, in 1656, directed that the whole yearly income of the said land, after payment of 20s annually to the said college, should be paid yearly towards the maintenance of the said scholars. The estate now consists of £7,252 Stock and farmhouse and buildings, with 46 acres of land in Holbeach, Lincolnshire, called the Clays Farm. The income, amounting to about £300 forms part of the endowment of the Wisbech Grammar School, under a scheme of the Charity Commissioners, November, 1878.

In the year 1656, William Holmes gave by will £300 to the capital burgesses of Wisbech, to be lent out in income sums of £10 each to poor tradesmen, free of interest, upon their giving good security for repayment. This has been invested, the income amounting to about £23.

John Crane, by will, in 1651, gave to the town of Wisbech his house called "the Black Bull," one half of the revenue to amend the schoolmaster's wages, and the other moiety to be laid out in the purchase of corn and to be given to the poor about Christmas or New Year's Day. In the year 1802 the Corporation sold the estate and invested the proceeds. The charity estate now consists of £1,659 Stock and 8 acres of land in Wisbech High Fen. The gross income is about £65, one moiety of which forms part of the endowment of the Grammar School, and the other moiety is distributed in flour and coals to the poor on or about St. Thomas' Day, annually; he also directed his executors to buy lands, which he gave to the five corporations therein mentioned (Wisbech being one), the revenue every fifth year to he bestowed on honest poor men in prison for debt, or old women, or the relief of poor men in want, or to relieve them out of prison for debt: the charity estate consists of an estate in Fleet, Lincolnshire, consisting of 176 acres of land, Wisbech receiving about £55 net annually for its one-fifth share of the rents: he also directed his executors to buy lands, the revenues whereof, every fifth year (until it amounted to £300 Stock), he gave to the town of Wisbech, to be lent freely to young men to help to set them up, in sums of £20 free of interest.

John Baxter, by his will, in 1793, gave to the capital burgesses of Wisbech all the interest arising from his property in the English funds to allow annually £10 each to a poor old man or woman totally incapacitated for labour, with an injunction that they attend divine worship every Sunday. The estate consists of £1,428 Stock, and produces an income of £35 14s. 4d. and there are four annuitants, each in receipt of £10 yearly from this and other sources.

The Shambles Estate, in the Market place, Wisbech, was granted by Queen Elizabeth, lady of the manor, for the use of the inhabitants of the town of Wisbech. The capital burgesses, in the year 1810, for the purpose of improving the town, purchased the estate; the purchase money was invested in £500 Stock, the income thereof being distributed annually in clothing to the poor.

The King's Dole.-By the governing charter of the town of Wisbech, granted 21st Car. II. it was ordained that the capital burgesses should distribute annually amongst the poor inhabitants of the town £3 15s. out of the rents of their estates.

Bartholomew Edwards, by his will, 1583, gave £10, and John Williamson, by will, dated 1599, gave £40, to the Body Corporate of Wisbech for the use of the poor.

Margaret Bende, by will, 1605, gave £50 to the Body Corporate of Wisbech for the use of the poor: of the income, amounting to £1 5s. 4d., is paid to the poor of Leverington, Parson Drove, and the remainder to the poor of Wisbech St. Mary.

John Thurlue, in the year 656, gave £150 to the Corporation of Wisbech, the interest thereof to be applied in putting out three apprentices annually.

Lord Saye and Sele, in the year 1656, gave £100 to the Corporation of Wisbech, the interest thereof to be applied in clothing poor people yearly.

Richard Boyce, by will in 1669, gave 15 acres of land in Wisbech High Pen to the capital burgesses for clothing poor widows; the rent is now £28 yearly.

Richard Loake, by will in 1701, gave £200 to the capital burgesses of Wisbech, the interest of £100 to be annually expended in clothing five poor widows or housekeepers, and of the other £100 to be distributed by the churchwardens amongst the poor. The income amounts to £5 yearly.

William Scottred, by will dated 1603, gave 10 acres of land in Wisbech St. Mary, the rent, amounting to £26 a year, to be paid to the churchwardens for the use of the poor.

The Rev. Abraham Jobson D.D. in the year 1827, gave to the Body Corporate of Wisbech £1,000, the interest to be applied to the purposes and objects of the Wisbech Dorcas Society; the income, about £25 5s. 8d. yearly, is paid over to the treasurer of the society.

Elizabeth Stevens, by will dated 1835, gave to the Corporation of Wisbech £500 to be invested, and the interest to be paid to 15 poor widows : the endowment consists of £498 14s. 11d. Stock : the income, now £12 9s. 4d. yearly, is distributed accordingly.

John Johnson, by a codicil dated 3rd July, 1841, gave the sum of £200 to be invested, and the distributed annually upon St. Thomas's day, in sums of 5s. each, to poor widows belonging to or residing in the borough of Wisbech, who are judged to be most deserving of such relief. The money was invested in Consols, and the income amounts to £4 13s.

There are 12 almshouses in Wisbech, erected by the Corporation, containing upper and lower rooms, for 24 aged persons.

Elizabeth Wright, spinster, by will in 1732, gave to trustees certain estates in Wisbech and the adjoining parishes of Leverington, Parson Drove, Sutton, Gedney, Wisbech St. Mary and Tydd St. Mary, the rents and profits thereof to be applied, partly in support of the charity schools, and partly for distribution amongst poor women living in good credit and reputation and attending at church. The income, amounting to about £312 yearly, is applied according to the directions of the will.

Judith Mayer, spinster, by will in the year 1811, gave to trustees £500 to erect a building to be used as an asylum, to be called after her name, for the reception of such poor persons of Wisbech afflicted with palsy, rheumatism, gout, blindness or other complaints, as a lasting token of her good wishes and regard for the town and its inhabitants; she also gave to the capital burgesses and to the vicar and churchwardens the sum of £1,200, to be invested and the dividends applied towards the support and repair of such building, as well as for the use and benefit of the occupants and for the purchase of coals annually. The trustees, in 1815, built an asylum, consisting of 5 tenements; each occupant receives £10 a year and an allowance of coals.

The Ecclesiastical Commissioners are lords of the manor of Wisbech Barton, which extends into the following parishes, Wisbech St. Peter, Wisbech St. Mary and Leverington (including Parson Drove and Guyhirn), Tyfid St. Giles, Elm, Upwell, Outwell and Welney; and are also lords of the manor of Wisbech Rectory, which extends into Wisbech St. Peter and St. Mary.

The soil is loam; subsoil, clay. Fruit and market garden produce are extensively cultivated, and there is some land in pasturage. The area of the municipal borough and civil parish is 6,435 acres of land, 42 of water, 46 of tidal water and 20 of foreshore ; the population in 1921 was 11,321.

The population of the wards in 1921 was:- North, 6,022, and South, 5,299.

The population of the ecclesiastical parishes in 1921 was:- SS Peter and Paul, 7,229; St. Augustine, 3,864.

WALDERSEA is a district consisting of about 5.040 acres, the whole of which is drained into the river Nene by an engine of 120 horse power; the engine house is on the South Brink, about 3 miles from Wisbech.

NEW WALSOKEN, in the county of Norfolk, is an eastern portion of Wisbech, and is separated from it by the Wisbech canal, over which are bridges connecting the two places. The names of residents in the New Walsoken are given in Kelly's directory of Norfolk.

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