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Wisbech (// 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, after Cambridge. Before the Local Government Act 1972 came into force in 1974 Wisbech was a municipal borough.
- 1 History
- 2 Government
- 3 Transport
- 4 Demography
- 5 Economy and infrastructure
- 6 Religious sites
- 7 Education
- 8 Sport
- 9 Notable buildings
- 10 Notable people
- 11 Film and television
- 12 Other media
- 13 Climate
- 14 Twin town
- 15 See also
- 16 Further reading
- 17 References
- 18 External links
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. 
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. 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. 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.
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.
Both Edward I and Edward IV visited Wisbech in 1469.
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. 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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
The 5-mile (8-km), £6 million A47 Wisbech/West Walton bypass opened in spring 1982.
In 2011, the Wisbech magistrates court closed.
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.
In 2015 in his first week with the East Anglian Air Ambulance, Prince William came to Wisbech. 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. The town also elects councillors to Fenland District Council and Cambridgeshire County Council. Wisbech is within the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough combined authority. 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.
The port is Cambridgeshire's only gateway to the sea. 
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. The port of Wisbech could accommodate sailing ships of 400 tons, but its prosperity declined after 1852 when extensive river works impeded navigation.
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. Narrow boats continue to access inland waterways via the river Nene.
In 1931 A concrete bridge was built to replace the previous town bridge.
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.
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.
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:
- The 1847/48–1968 GER March to Watlington (junction), Norfolk (on the Ely to King's Lynn main line) via Wisbech East (Victoria Road);
- The 1866–1959 M&GN Peterborough to Sutton Bridge via Wisbech North (on Harecroft Road); and
- The 1883/84–1966 GER Wisbech and Upwell Tramway.
There were also harbour quay lines either side of the River Nene – M&GN Harbour West branch and GER Harbour East branch.
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. It is supported by Wisbech Town Council and subject to reports commissioned by the county council in 2013. The line is currently at GRIP 3 study stage.
Buses and coaches
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.
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.
In 2014 it was reported by a popular national newspaper that of the town's 28,000 population 5,000 (about 18%) were Lithuanians. Several official places (libraries, surgeries, local council) provide translations into Lithuanian, as well as Polish, Latvian, Russian and Portuguese.
Economy and infrastructure
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.
In recent decades the closure of the Clarkson Geriatric hospital (1983), Bowthorpe maternity hospital (c1983), Balding & Mansell (printers) (c1992), Budgens store(formerly Coop) (2017) and horticultural college (2012), 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), Franks butchers(2015) and local bakeries have given way to the supermarkets.
May 2017 the new Cambridgeshire and Peterborough combined authority announces new investment into the area.
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.
April 2018 plans for £8M redevelopment of the hospital are announced.
Plans for an additional 1,500 homes were announced in the press in May 2018.
It was announced by local M.P. Steve Barclay that Fenland schools would receive £250,000 towards recruiting more teachers.
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.
The Anglican St Augustine’s church on Lynn Rd was erected in 1868-9 and an associated school building is now a scouting hall.
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.
Various denominations met at other locations many of which have been demolished or used for other purposes.
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.
Plans for a new £23M 600 pupil school to open in 2020 were announced in the Wisbech Standard.
- Wisbech Castle & grounds leased by Wisbech town council from Cambridgeshire county council.
- Former New Inn, Union St dating to about 1500.
- Peckover House (1722); owned by the National Trust)and in which can be found the remains of the white cross.
- Thomas Clarkson Memorial (1881)
- Richard Young MP Memorial (1871) sited in Wisbech Park.
- Parish Church of St Peter and Paul. There are some pictures and a description of the church at the Cambridgeshire Churches website.
- Our Lady & Saint Charles Borromeo Church
- St Mary's Parish church, also on the Cambridgeshire Churches website.
- Octavia Hill’s Birthplace House where she was born before the family's move to London.
- Wisbech & Fenland Museum; extensive collections of local records and other items. Notable artifacts include: Napoleon's Sèvres breakfast service, said to have been captured at the Battle of Waterloo; Thomas Clarkson's chest, containing examples of 18th century African textiles, seeds and leatherwork which he used to illustrate his case for direct trade with Africa; and the original manuscript of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations.
- Elgood's Brewery;
In order of birth:
- Richard Huloet, lexicographer and author.
- Thomas Herring, (1693–1757), Archbishop of Canterbury (from 1747), was educated at Wisbech Grammar School.
- Joseph Medworth, (born in Wisbech, 1752–1827) was a builder who developed "The Crescent" in Wisbech and redeveloped "Thurloe's Mansion" into the current villa on the castle site.
- William Godwin the elder, (born in Wisbech, 3 March 1756–7 April 1836) was an English political writer and novelist, considered an important precursor of utilitarian and of liberal anarchist thinking. He first married Mary Wollstonecroft. A daughter of theirs, Mary Wollstonecroft Godwin, became Mary Shelley, famed author of Frankenstein.
- Thomas Clarkson, anti-slavery campaigner, was born in Wisbech in 1760 and educated at Wisbech Grammar School. The Clarkson Memorial was built to commemorate his life's efforts to end slavery in the British Empire on 25 March 1833.
- John Clarkson (1764–1828), younger brother of Thomas, was another key figure in the British abolitionist movement. As governor of Sierra Leone he organised voluntary migration of former slaves freed by the British under a deal to reward their loyalty during the American War of Independence.
- Charles Wale KCB (1765-1845) attended Wisbech Grammar school.
- William Skrimshire, (born in Wisbech, 1766–1829) was a surgeon and botanist.
- Elizabeth Dawbarn (died 1839) was a religious pamphleteer who addressed children and adults.
- Richard Young (MP) DL (1809–1871) for Cambridgeshire was a ship owner, five times Mayor of Wisbech (1858–62), JP for the Isle of Ely and Norfolk and a sheriff of the city of London in 1871.
- Alexander Peckover 1st Baron Peckover (1830-1919) banker and philanthropist.
- William Digby, (born in Wisbech, 1 May 1849 – 29 September 1904) was an English writer, journalist and liberal politician, and first secretary of the National Liberal Club.
- Rev. William Hazlitt, who was minister at the Presbyterian meeting house here in 1764–66, became an influential Unitarian minister. He was father of the essayist William Hazlitt and the portrait painter John Hazlitt. While resident at Wisbech he married Grace Loftus.
- Sisters Miranda and Octavia Hill, born at Wisbech, founded the Kyrle Society, a progenitor of the National Trust, of which Octavia became co-founder.
- W. H. Jude (1851-1922) composer and organist attended Wisbech Grammar school.
- Philip Vassar Hunter CBE (1883-1956) engineer was born in Wisbech.
- Rev. W. Awdry (15 June 1911 – 21 March 1997), creator of Thomas the Tank Engine, was Vicar of Emneth in 1953–65. Toby the Tram Engine, one of Awdry's characters, was based on the small steam trams that ran farm produce on the Strawberry Line between Wisbech and Upwell.
- Jesse Pye (1919–1984), professional footballer, scored two goals in the 1949 FA Cup Final, and played for England, before becoming a player-manager for Wisbech Town F.C. in 1960–66.
- Norman G Jacobs MBE (1923 - 2016). Promotor and cinema owner.
- John Gordon (1925–2017), young-adult fiction writer and author of The Giant Under The Snow, grew up in Wisbech. The town and the surrounding fens inspired many of his novels, including The House on the Brink (Peckover House) and Fen Runners.
- Russell Arthur Missin (1922-2002), was born at Gorefield, near Wisbech) was organist and master of choristers at Newcastle Cathedral.
- Brian Hitch (1932-2004), diplomat, academic and musician was born in Wisbech.
- Anton Rodgers (1933–2007), actor, was born in Wisbech.
- Sir Harry Kroto (1939–2016) was the 1996 Nobel Laureate in chemistry, for the discovery of fullerenes.
- Mick Walker (born 30 November 1942, Wretton, Norfolk – 8 March 2012) was a Wisbech motorcyclist and author.
- Malcolm Douglas Moss, (born 1943, Lancashire) politician, was a Wisbech Town councillor and later MP for North East Cambridgeshire from 1987 until retirement at the 2010 general election.
- Tony Martin (born c. 1944), gained notoriety while living in an isolated Norfolk farmhouse outside Wisbech, for shooting two men and killing one of them. Both travellers, they were burgling his home one night. Martin was convicted of murder but gained fame as a symbol of rough justice.
- Mike Stevens (born 1957) is a musical director, session musician and record producer.
- Lance Hart (born c. 1959), perpetrator of the 2016 Spalding shooting, was a former resident of Wisbech.
- Joe Perry (born 13 August 1974 in Wisbech) – is a snooker player.
- Jody Cundy (born 14 October 1978 in Wisbech) is a Paralympian.
- George Russell (racing driver), (born February 1998)
Film and television
A 1924 film recorded a day at the North Cambs hospital in the East Anglian Film Archive (EAFA).
1926 street scenes filmed to be shown at the local Electric Theatre. EAFA.
North Cambs hospital in 1930s. EAFA.
‘Approaching Wisbech’ an amateur film of a simulated road traffic accident made in the late 1930s. EAFA.
1961 The Wisbech to Upwell Tramway. EAFA.
In 1963 Anglia TV recorded a film report on Wisbech Castle. This is also available to download on the East Anglian Film Archive.
A 1963 drama filmed using boats from Wisbech.
1975 Anglia TV report about the first purpose-built traveller site in GB. EAFA.
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. 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.
2009 Channel 5’s reality TV series ‘The Hotel Inspector’ featured The Rose and Crown hotel.
Wisbech was one of eight towns featured in ‘Old Towns Revisited’ published by Country Life Ltd in 1952.
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’.
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.
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.
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|
|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|
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