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North brink wisbech.jpg
North Brink
Wisbech is located in Norfolk
Wisbech shown within Norfolk
Population33,933 (2016)
OS grid referenceTF4609
Civil parish
  • Wisbech
Shire county
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Post townWISBECH
Postcode districtPE13, PE14
Dialling code01945
AmbulanceEast of England
EU ParliamentEast of England
UK Parliament
List of places
52°39′50″N 0°09′36″E / 52.664°N 0.160°E / 52.664; 0.160Coordinates: 52°39′50″N 0°09′36″E / 52.664°N 0.160°E / 52.664; 0.160

Wisbech (/ˈwɪzb/ WIZ-beech) is a Fenland market town, inland port and civil parish in the Fens of Norfolk, England. It had a population of 31,573 in 2011. The town lies in the far north-east of the county, bordering Norfolk and only 5 miles (8 km) south of Lincolnshire. The tidal River Nene running through the town centre is spanned by two bridges. In 2011, Wisbech was the second largest town in Cambridgeshire,[citation needed] after Cambridge. Before the Local Government Act 1972 came into force in 1974 Wisbech was a municipal borough.


Wisbece was recorded in the 1086 Domesday. The name Wisbech is believed to mean "on the back of the (River) Ouse", Ouse being a common Celtic word relating to water, and the name of a river that once flowed through the town. Alternatively, the first element may derive from the River Whissey which used to run to Wisbech or possibly ‘marshy-meadow valley or ridge’. OE Wisc or wisc + bece or baec. [1]

During the Iron Age, the area where Wisbech would develop lay in the west of the Brythonic Iceni tribe's territory. Icenian coins are known from both March and Wisbech.[2] Like the rest of Cambridgeshire, Wisbech was part of the Kingdom of East Anglia after the Anglo-Saxon invasion.

The first authentic reference to Wisbech occurs about 1000, when Oswy and Leoflede, on the admission of their son Aelfwin as a monk, gave the vill to the monastery of Ely.[3] In 1086, when Wisbech was held by the abbot, there may have been some 65 to 70 families, or about 300 to 350 persons, in Wisbech manor. However, Wisbech, which is the only one of the Marshland vills of the isle to be mentioned in the Domesday Book, probably comprised the whole area from Tydd Gote down to the far end of Upwell at Welney.[4]

Wisbech Castle was built by William I to fortify the town.

In 1216, King John of England visited the castle as he came from Bishop’s Lynn. Tradition has it that his baggage train was lost to the incoming tide of The Wash. Treasure hunters still seek the lost royal treasure.[5]

Both Edward I and Edward IV visited Wisbech in 1469.[6]

During the reigns of Elizabeth I, James I, and Charles I, it became a state ecclesiastical prison for incarcerating Catholics, many of whom died there owing to the insanitary conditions.[7] Among those held there were John Feckenham, the last Abbot of Westminster, and later two of the key participants in the Gunpowder Plot, Robert Catesby and Francis Tresham. The castle was rebuilt in the mid-17th century, and again in 1816 by Joseph Medworth, who also developed The Crescent, familiar as the setting in numerous costume dramas.

Peckover House on North Brink by the Nene in Wisbech

Peckover House, with its fine walled garden, was built in 1722 and purchased by the Quaker banking family in the 1790s, and is now owned by the National Trust. Formerly known as Bank House, the house was renamed in honour of the family by the NT. The Peckover Bank later became part of Barclays Bank.

In the 17th century, the inhabitants became known as the "Fen Tigers" for their resistance to the draining of the Fens, but the project turned Wisbech into a wealthy port handling agricultural produce. At the time, Wisbech was on the estuary of the River Great Ouse, but silting caused the coastline to move north, and the River Nene was diverted to serve the town.

In 1797, a corps of volunteer infantry was formed. A light infantry company was added in 1807.[8]

In 1835 a copy of Col Watson’s History of Wisbech was presented to Princess Victoria during her brief halt in Wisbech.

In 1863 a copy of Walker and Craddocks ‘History of Wisbech’ was presented to the Prince & Princess of Wales on their arrival by train.[9]

The Wisbech Canal joining the River Nene at Wisbech was subsequently filled in and became the dual carriageway leading into the town from the east (now crossing the bypass).[10]

The port of Wisbech now houses a large number of berths for yachts adjacent to the Boathouse development.

On 27 June 1970, the heaviest point rainfall was recorded in Wisbech, when 2 inches (50.8 mm) fell in just 12 minutes during the Rose Fair.[1]

On 21 September 1979, two Harrier jump jets on a training exercise collided over Wisbech; one landed in a field and the other in a residential area. Two houses and a bungalow were demolished on Ramnoth Road, causing the death of Bob Bowers, his two-year-old son Jonathan Bowers, and former town mayor Bill Trumpess.[11]

The 5-mile (8-km), £6 million A47 Wisbech/West Walton bypass opened in spring 1982.

In 2011, the Wisbech magistrates court closed.[12]

On 19 January 2012, BBC Look East reported growing tensions in the town, where one-third of the population was said to be East European immigrants.[13]

In 2015 in his first week with the East Anglian Air Ambulance, Prince William came to Wisbech.[14] The town's traditional market days are Thursday and Saturday, but the town council now runs markets seven days a week. The Sunday market runs alongside a car-boot sale.


The Wisbech town council elect a town mayor. The town council of 18 councillors is elected every four years. The town has seven wards:- Clarkson, Kirton, Medworth, Octavia Hill, Peckover, Staithe & Waterlees village. The town council are responsible for allotments and the market place. In 2018 they took a lease on Wisbech Castle.[15] The town also elects councillors to Fenland District Council and Cambridgeshire County Council. Wisbech is within the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough combined authority.[16] It is part of the Northeast Cambridgeshire parliamentary seat. In 1659 John Thurloe was elected to represent Wisbech. He was also elected for Cambridge Borough for whom he preferred to sit. Wisbech was not a polling station until after 1832.[17]



Wisbech sits on either side of the River Nene although in the past, prior to drainage schemes, it sat on the river Great Ouse.

The port is Cambridgeshire's only gateway to the sea. [18]

In 1631 Sir Cornelius Vermuyden built the Horseshoe Sluice at Wisbech at a cost of £8,000.[19]

In 1680 the trade of Wisbech had increased sufficiently for the port to be reckoned independent and no longer a member[clarification needed] of King's Lynn.

In 1720 the corporation was licensed to buoy the channel for the first time.

By 1751 it was possible in a dry year to walk across the river bed under Wisbech Bridge.

Ship building was carried out in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

A custom house was built in 1801. The greatest shipowner was Richard Young (1809-1871), who had at various times 43 boats operating from the port.[20] The port of Wisbech could accommodate sailing ships of 400 tons, but its prosperity declined after 1852 when extensive river works impeded navigation.[21]

The Wisbech Canal was cut to allow narrow boats to connect with the river, but no longer does so as parts have been filled in.[10] Narrow boats continue to access inland waterways via the river Nene.[22]

In 1931 A concrete bridge was built to replace the previous town bridge.[23]

In 1971 an additional bridge was erected over the river. Plans to build additional homes and a new school on the west of the town will increase traffic on the existing bridges, and there is a long-term plan to add a third bridge.[24]

The yacht harbour on the river provides 128 berths on the marina, and the nearby Crab Marshboat yard operates a 75-tonne boat lift.

In 2000, a ship grounding further down river stopped river traffic.[25]


The town stood at the crossing of two Class A roads: from Peterborough to King's Lynn (A47) and from Ely to Long Sutton (A1101). The A47 now bypasses the town.


Wisbech once had three railway lines, but they all closed between 1959 and 1968:

There were also harbour quay lines either side of the River Nene – M&GN Harbour West branch and GER Harbour East branch.[26]

There is an active campaign to reopen the March–Wisbech line as part of the national rail network, with direct services to Cambridge and possibly Peterborough. A report published in 2009 by the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) indicated that this was viable.[27] It is supported by Wisbech Town Council and subject to reports commissioned by the county council in 2013.[28] The line is currently at GRIP 3 study stage.[29]

Buses and coaches[edit]

In 1796 Wisbech had a daily mail coach service to London leaving at 4 pm and returning at 10 am and a stagecoach service three times weekly. Another service ran three times weekly from Lynn through Wisbech to Spalding and Boston.[30]

Wisbech is located on the excel bus route between Peterborough and Norwich, operated by First Eastern Counties. The town is also served by buses operated by Stagecoach East and Lynx, the latter including the 46 and X46 services between King's Lynn and Three Holes.


Parish population 1981
Wisbech 22,932 24,981 26,536 31,573 33,933

[citation needed]

As of 2016 the population of Wisbech was 33,933, of whom 16,800 were male and 17,133 female. 6,748 were aged under 18 and 7,156 over 65. [31]

In 2014 it was reported by a popular national newspaper that of the town's 28,000 population 5,000 (about 18%) were Lithuanians.[32] Several official places (libraries, surgeries, local council) provide translations into Lithuanian, as well as Polish, Latvian, Russian and Portuguese.[33]

Economy and infrastructure[edit]

The riverside location and fertile soils surrounding Wisbech allowed the town to flourish.

The first half of the 19th century was a very prosperous time for the town and in 1851 the population was 9,594. It decreased to 9,276 in 1861 and 9,395 in 1891. The 1931 census was 12,006 and the National Registration of 1939 showed 17,599.[34]

In recent decades the closure of the Clarkson Geriatric hospital (1983), Bowthorpe maternity hospital (c1983), Balding & Mansell (printers) (c1992), Budgens store[35](formerly Coop) (2017) and horticultural college (2012),[36] Bridge Street post office (2014) as well as gradual reductions in workforce by CMB indicate a decline in the economy. Small family businesses such as Bodgers (2013),[37] Franks butchers(2015)[38] and local bakeries have given way to the supermarkets.

The larger employers in Wisbech include Nestle Purina petcare, Cromwell rd[39] and Princes, Lynn Rd.[40]

May 2017 the new Cambridgeshire and Peterborough combined authority announces new investment into the area.[16]

In 2016 the Wisbech High Street project was awarded a £1.9M grant to bring back into use empty properties on the High Street. The Heritage Lottery Fund grant will run until 2021.[41]

April 2018 plans for £8M redevelopment of the hospital are announced.[42]

Plans for an additional 1,500 homes were announced in the press in May 2018.[43]

It was announced by local M.P. Steve Barclay that Fenland schools would receive £250,000 towards recruiting more teachers.[44]

Religious sites[edit]

The Anglican Parish Church of St Peter and St Paul in parts dates back to the 12th century. The tower contains 8 bells and is still in use.

The Octagon church was erected in 1827 as a chapel of ease, the lantern became unsafe owing to defective foundations and in 1846 was replaced with a battlement but demolished later. The site became a bank and is currently a vet’s.[45]

The Anglican St Augustine’s church on Lynn Rd was erected in 1868-9 and an associated school building is now a scouting hall.[46]

Our Lady & Saint Charles Borromeo Church has been the church of Roman Catholics since 1854.

Baptist, Hill St, Society of Friends, North Brink, United Reformed, Castle Square, King’s Church, Queens Rd, Jehovahs Witnesses, Tinkers Drove, Trinity Methodist, Church Terrace, Salvation Army, West St & Soiritualist, Alexander Rd.[47]

Various denominations met at other locations many of which have been demolished or used for other purposes.[48]


A colour photograph of an unusual Victorian house with a small spire on the top. To the left is a set of old fashioned schoolrooms with large sash windows. In front of the house is a small lawn, covered in snow.
Wisbech Grammar School on North Brink.

Wisbech's two secondary schools (11–18) are the state-funded Thomas Clarkson Academy (previously the Thomas Clarkson Community college and formerly the Queen's School, which itself was the amalgamation of the Queen's Girls' and Queen's Boys' schools), and the independent Wisbech Grammar School, which was founded in 1379, making it one of the oldest schools in the United Kingdom. Magdalene House is the Preparatory school of Wisbech Grammar School.

Primary schools in Wisbech include; Clarkson Infants School, St Peters CofE Aides Junior School, Orchards CofE Primary school, Peckover Primary School, The Nene Infant School, Ramnoth Junior School and Elm Road Primary School. There are also specialist schools, Meadowgate School, Wisbech School, The County School & Trinity School. There is also a further education centre: the College of West Anglia formerly the Isle of Ely College.[49]

Plans for a new £23M 600 pupil school to open in 2020 were announced in the Wisbech Standard.[50]


The local non league football team is Wisbech Town Football Club, nicknamed The Fenmen.

Notable buildings[edit]

The Clarkson Memorial in Wisbech 2013
The Octagon Chapel in Wisbech Old Market, demolished in 1952

Notable people[edit]

In order of birth:

Film and television[edit]

The North Brink by the River Nene in Wisbech
The Brinks, depicted in 1851

A 1924 film recorded a day at the North Cambs hospital in the East Anglian Film Archive (EAFA).[58]

1926 street scenes filmed to be shown at the local Electric Theatre. EAFA.[59]

North Cambs hospital in 1930s. EAFA.[60]

‘Approaching Wisbech’ an amateur film of a simulated road traffic accident made in the late 1930s. EAFA.[61]

1961 The Wisbech to Upwell Tramway. EAFA.[62]

In 1963 Anglia TV recorded a film report on Wisbech Castle. This is also available to download on the East Anglian Film Archive.[63]

A 1963 drama filmed using boats from Wisbech.[64]

1975 Anglia TV report about the first purpose-built traveller site in GB. EAFA.[65]

Wisbech is noted for its unspoilt Georgian architecture, particularly along North Brink and The Crescent. It has been used in BBC One's 1999 adaptation of Charles Dickens' David Copperfield and ITV1's 2001 adaptation of Micawber, starring David Jason.

In 2000 The Antiques Roadshow was recorded at the Hudson Leisure centre.[66] A "Wisbech Rock Festival" appears in the film Still Crazy. The 2008 feature film Dean Spanley starring Peter O'Toole was largely filmed in Wisbech. The effect of immigration on the town was featured in the BBC documentary "The Day the Immigrants Left", presented by Evan Davis. The programme looked at jobs in the town reported to have been "taken over by migrants". In the programme, several local unemployed persons were given the chance to try such jobs.[67][68][69]

2009 Channel 5’s reality TV series ‘The Hotel Inspector’ featured The Rose and Crown hotel.[70]

Other media[edit]

Wisbech was one of eight towns featured in ‘Old Towns Revisited’ published by Country Life Ltd in 1952.[71]

There are two free newspapers distributed within the town, the Wisbech Standard (owned by Archant) and the Fenland Citizen(owned by Iliffe Media). Two free local magazines are published monthly - ‘The fens’ and ‘Discovering Wisbech’.[72]

According to a study looking into immigration patterns, Wisbech was once identified as the seventh "most English" town in Britain by Sky News However, on 16 February 2008 a report in the Daily Express titled "Death Of A Country Idyll" wrote about how the influx of Eastern European immigrants may have caused the increase of crime and other illegal activities. Then on 20 February 2008 The Fenland Citizen contained an article opposing the Daily Express article.[73]

In January 2012 the Daily Mail ran a story following the murder of Alisa Dmitrijeva, a Latvian teenager and resident of Wisbech, whose body was found on the Queen's Sandringham estate. The article alleged that the quintessentially English town had been taken over by a sinister Eastern European drug and crimes ring nicknamed the "Baltic Mafia" who were terrifying local residents. The article reported that there had been five murders within the Eastern European community from Wisbech within the last two years.[74]

Country Life magazine ran a feature on Wisbech. Market towns - Wisbech. [75]


Like the rest of the United Kingdom, Wisbech experiences an oceanic climate, but Cambridgeshire is one of the driest counties in the British Isles along with Essex. February is the driest month, whilst October is the wettest. In temperature terms, both January and December are the coldest months, whilst August is the warmest.

Climate data for Wisbech
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 7
Daily mean °C (°F) 4.5
Average low °C (°F) 2
Average precipitation cm (inches) 4.5
Average precipitation days 18 15 15 14 13 12 12 12 13 16 17 17 174
Source: World Weather Online[76]

Twin town[edit]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Ed by P.Reynold (1958). The Wisbech Stirs. Catholic Record Society.
  • Sir William Dugdale (1651). History of Imbanking and Draining of the divers Fens and Marshes both of Foreign Parts and this Kingdom.
  • John Smeaton (1768). The report of John Smeaton, Engineer, conerning the drainage of the North level of the Fens, and the outfall of the Wisbech river.
  • William Watson (1827). An historical account of the ancient town and port of Wisbech. H.&J.Leach.
  • Thomas Craddock & Neil Walker (1849). The history of Wisbech and the Fens. Richard Walker.
  • Frederic John Gardiner (1898). History of Wisbech & neighbourhood during the last 50 years - 1848-1898. Gardiner & co.
  • Mann Hutchesson (1791). Introduction to the Charter of Wisbech. W.Nicholson.
  • Dorothy Thurman, with illustrations by Derek Abel (1998). Wisbech: Forty perspectives of a Fenland town. The Wisbech Society and Preservation Trust Ltd. ISBN 0-9519220-5-X.
  • Arthur Oldham. Pubs and Taverns of Wisbech (out of print).
  • Ellen Gibson Wilson. The Clarksons of Wisbech and the abolition of the slave trade. The Wisbech Society and Preservation Trust Ltd. ISBN 0-9519220-0-9.
  • Peter Clayton. Octavia Hill 1838–1912 Born in Wisbech. The Wisbech Society and Preservation Trust Ltd. ISBN 0-9519220-1-7.
  • Roger Powell. Richard Young of Wisbech 1809–1871. The Wisbech Society and Preservation Trust Ltd. ISBN 0-9519220-3-3.
  • Madeline G H McReynolds. The Peckovers of Wisbech. The Wisbech Society and Preservation Trust Ltd. ISBN 0-9519220-2-5.
  • compiled by Kim Bowden & David Rayner (2004). Wisbech: Images of England. The History Press. ISBN 0752407406.
  • George Dunlop (2007). Wisbech Fire Brigade 1845-1949. G Dunlop. ISBN 0955598419.
  • George Dunlop (2008). Wisbech Fire Brigade 1950-1979. G Dunlop. ISBN 0955598435.
  • E.J.S. Gadsden (1966). The Wisbech and Upwell tramway. Branch Line Handbooks.
  • Arthur C Ingram (1979). Branch lines around Wisbech. Middleton Press. ISBN 9781901706017.
  • Andrew C Ingram (1983). The Wisbech and Upwell tramway Centenary album. Becknell Books. ISBN 0907087205.
  • Vic Mitchell; et al. (1995). Branch line to Upwell including the Wisbech canal. Middleton Press. ISBN 1873793642.
  • Chris Hawkins & George Reeve (1982). The Wisbech and Upwell tramway. Wild Swan publications ltd. ISBN 0906867096.
  • John Gordon. The House on the Brink. Childrens Book Club. ISBN 0060220287.
  • John Gordon (2009). Fen Runners. Orion Childrens. ISBN 1-84255-684-3.
  • A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 4: City of Ely N. and S. Witchford and Wisbech Hundreds. 2002.
  • W.J. Reader (1976). Metal Box. Heinemann. ISBN 0434625000.
  • Raymond Brown (1992). The story of Balding & Mansell. Balding & Mansell.
  • D Hall (1996). The Fenland project No 10:Cambridgeshire Survey:The Isle of Ely & Wisbech. EAA.
  • John Ellis (2011). To Walk In The Dark. the History Press. ISBN 978-0-7524-6023-9.
  • Mark Hinman & Elizabeth Popescu (2012). Extraodinary inundations of the sea: Excavations at Market Mews, Wisbech, Cambridgeshire. EAA.
  • Mike Osborne (2013). Defending Cambridgeshire. the History Press. ISBN 978-0-7524-9330-5.
  • Charlotte Mahoney (1970). A short history of Wisbech High School. Miss M Whitlock.
  • Rex Sly (2003). From punt to plough. Sutton publishing. ISBN 978-0-7509-3398-8.
  • The catalogue of the library of the Wisbech museum. Cambridge University Press. 2011. ISBN 1108031188.
  • Diane Calton Smith (2018). Webbed feet and wildfowlers - an early history of Wisbech and the Fens. New Generation Publishing. ISBN 1787193217.


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  3. ^ J. Bentham, Hist. Ely, 87.
  4. ^ [Wisbech: Manors', A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 4: City of Ely; Ely, N. and S. Witchford and Wisbech Hundreds (2002), pp. 243–245.]
  5. ^ *Shirley Carter (2018). The mystery of King John’s treasure.
  6. ^ Lysons, Samuel (18 August 2018). "Magna Britannia;: Being a Concise Topographical Account of the Several Counties of Great Britain". T. Cadell and W. Davies. Retrieved 18 August 2018 – via Google Books.
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  35. ^ "Wisbech Budgens store to close on Thursday". fEnlandcitizen.co.uk. Retrieved 18 August 2018.
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  37. ^ "Two new fast food outlets in centre of Wisbech to bring 60 full and part time jobs to the town". Wisbechstandard.co.uk. Retrieved 18 August 2018.
  38. ^ "Butcher's shuts after 107 years". Bbc.co.uk. 22 February 2015. Retrieved 18 August 2018.
  39. ^ "SCALDING STEAM: Five suffer burns in factory horror". Peterboroughtoday.co.uk. Retrieved 18 August 2018.
  40. ^ "Princes, Lynn Road, Wisbech (C) Richard Humphrey". Geograph.org.uk. Retrieved 18 August 2018.
  41. ^ *ed Paul E Eden (May 2018). Discovering Wisbech. Claire Saberton.
  42. ^ "NHS Trust launches redevelopment plans for North Cambridgeshire Hospital, Wisbech". Wisbech2020vision.co.uk. Retrieved 18 August 2018.
  43. ^ Sansom, Kath. "Have your say on a major housing estate of 1,500 homes being built in Wisbech". Wiscbechstandard.co.uk. Retrieved 18 August 2018.
  44. ^ *The fens issue 2. Natasha Shiels. May 2018.
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  56. ^ The fens. Ed Natasha Shiels. June 2018 p18
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  64. ^ "East Anglian Film Archive: The Flood, 1963". Eafa.org.uk. Retrieved 18 August 2018.
  65. ^ "East Anglian Film Archive: First purpose-built gypsy camp in Britain, 1975". Eafa.org.uk. Retrieved 18 August 2018.
  66. ^ "Antiques Roadshow - S23 - Episode 7: Vintage Antiques Roadshow: Wisbech". Radio Times. Retrieved 18 August 2018.
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