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North Brink
Wisbech is located in Cambridgeshire
 Wisbech shown within Cambridgeshire
Population 31,573 (2011)
OS grid reference
Civil parish Wisbech
District Fenland
Shire county Cambridgeshire
Region East
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Post town WISBECH
Postcode district PE13
Dialling code 01945
Police Cambridgeshire
Fire Cambridgeshire
Ambulance East of England
EU Parliament East of England
UK Parliament North East Cambridgeshire
List of places

Wisbech () is a market town, inland port and civil parish with a population of 31,573 in the Fens of Cambridgeshire, England. The tidal River Nene runs through the centre of the town and is spanned by two bridges. The name 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. Since 2011 Wisbech has become the second largest town in Cambridgeshire (after St Neots;[1] Cambridge and Peterborough are both cities) with a population of over 31,000.

Before the Local Government Act 1972 came into force in 1974 Wisbech was a municipal borough; it is now a civil parish in the Fenland District.


  • History 1
  • Railways 2
  • Culture 3
  • Education 4
  • Sport 5
  • Notable buildings 6
  • Notable people 7
  • In film and television 8
  • Wisbech in the news 9
  • Climate 10
  • Twin town 11
  • See also 12
  • Further reading 13
  • References 14
  • External links 15


During the Iron Age, the area where Wisbech would develop lay in the west of the Brythonic Iceni tribe's territory. 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 c. 1000, when Oswy and Leoflede, on the admission of their son Aelfwin as a monk, gave the vill to the monastery of Ely. (J. Bentham, Hist. Ely, 87). In 1086 Wisbech was held by the abbot, there may have been some 65 to 70 families, or about 300 to 350 persons, in Wisbech manor. It must be remembered, however, that 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. [2]

Wisbech Castle was built by William I to fortify the town, and during the reign of Elizabeth, James I and Charles I became a state ecclesiastical prison, incarcerating Catholics, many who died there of insanitary conditions.[3] 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 for the Quaker banking family in 1722 and now owned by the National Trust. Formerly known as Bank House, the Peckover Bank later became part of Barclays Bank.

In the 17th century, the local inhabitants became known as the "Fen Tigers" because of their resistance to the draining of the fens, but the project turned Wisbech into a wealthy port handling agricultural produce. At this 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. 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).

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.[4]

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

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

On 19 January 2012 BBC Look East reported that there were growing tensions in the town where one third of the population are eastern European migrants.[5]

The town's market days are Thursday and Saturday.


Prior to the 1960s Beeching Axe, Wisbech had three railway branch lines: the 1847/1848-1968 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 1883/1884-1966 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.

The Wisbech and March Bramleyline heritage railway would like to restore and re-open the remaining March to Wisbech line as a tourist line similar to the Mid-Norfolk Railway at Dereham. The Wisbech branch is Network Rail property and is still classed as a fully functioning goods line, although the last goods service was in Summer 2000, so the Bramleyline Heritage Railway would lease the track from NR on a 99-year lease. When the line has been fully re-opened, following HM Rail Inspectorate approval, rail services would run between March Elm Road (a new station next to Elm Road crossing, March) and Wisbech East (a new station on Weasenham Lane, Wisbech). It is hoped that a new station will be built at Coldham on the site of the old station's Down (Wisbech bound) platform, with another at Waldersea to allow visitor access to where the group hope to have a depot.

There is an active campaign to reopen the March to Wisbech line as part of the national rail network, with direct services to Cambridge or possibly Peterborough. A report published in 2009 by ATOC (the Association of Train Operators) indicated this as viable, and is now supported by Wisbech Town Council, and subject to reports commissioned by the County Council for publication in 2013.


The Angles Theatre is a thriving professional theatre, run almost entirely by volunteers and backed by many leading names including Derek Jacobi, Jo Brand and Cameron Mackintosh. It is also the home of the "Nine Lives" theatre company, which was formed as part of Performing Arts programme run by the Isle College.

The amateur dramatic group the Wisbech Players has been performing for over 50 years. They currently perform twice a year in spring and autumn at the Angles Theatre.

Amateur dramatic group the Wisbech Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society (WAODS) have been providing musicals to the town since 1905 and a yearly pantomime since 1975. The society's home is at the local Thomas Clarkson Community College, where rehearsals and performances take place.

Every summer a "Rose Fair" is held in aid of St Peter's Church. The church is decorated with floral displays sponsored by local organisations and businesses. A parade of floats forms up in Queens Road and circuits the town. Strawberry and cream teas are served and stalls raise funds for local charities. Coaches bring visitors from a wide area. Details are available from the local tourist office.

The Luxe cinema in Alexandra Rd screens films in a former WI hall.

Wisbech is twinned with Arles in France.

Local youth organisations include the Army Cadet Force, Air Training Corps, Sea Cadets, Girls Venture Corps Air Cadets, Fire cadets and St John Ambulance cadets. There are numerous Scouting groups for boys and girls.


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 (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.

Primary schools in Wisbech include; Clarkson Infants, St Peters Juniors, The Orchards, Peckover, Nene Infants, Ramnoth Junior School, Leverington Primary School and Elm Road Primary School. There is also a school for children with special learning needs, Meadowgate School. There is also a further education centre, the College of West Anglia formerly the Isle of Ely College, in the town. Many find that after seeking higher education the area is unable to offer suitable employment and subsequently many are forced to move from the area.


The local football team is Wisbech Town Football Club, nicknamed The Fenmen. Other sports clubs include Wisbech Rugby Union Football Club, Wisbech Hockey Club (who are currently looking to recruit players to strengthen both the Men's and Ladies 1st team squads), Wisbech Tennis Club, Wisbech Cricket Club (who have an annual fixture with the M.C.C. - Marylebone Cricket Club), Wisbech Squash Club, Wisbech Swimming Club and a number of martial arts clubs.

The "Nine Mile River Swim" between Wisbech and Sutton Bridge in the River Nene was won four times in the 1930s by Ernie (Bunny) Bunning. When the swim was moved to the swimming pool as a 220-yard race David Bunning, his son, won the cup four times in the 1960s.

Notable buildings

the Clarkson Memorial in Wisbech 2013
  • Richard Young MP Memorial (1871) sited in Wisbech Park.
  • St Peter and St Paul's Parish Church. There are some pictures and a description of the church at the Cambridgeshire Churches website.[6]
  • St Mary's Parish church, also on the Cambridgeshire Churches website.[7]
  • Octavia Hill Birthplace Museum where she was born before the family's move to London.
  • Elgood's Brewery;
    Elgoods Brewery on North Brink in Wisbech.
    The brewery was founded in 1795, and bought soon after by the Elgood family. It is a traditional brewery, but produces less than some modern micro-breweries, with output at around 90-100 barrels per week. The beers produced include: "Black Dog Mild", "Golden Newt", "Cambridge Bitter", "Greyhound Strong Bitter", "Old Smoothie Mild", "Old Smoothie Bitter", "Brookes Ale", "Reinbeer" and "Jingle Ale". Recently the brewery has won the Champion Beer of Britain award for its Cambridge Bitter. The brewery is also known for its gardens, which are open to the public.
The Octagon Chapel in Wisbech Old Market, demolished in 1952.
  • [8]

Notable people

  • William Godwin, (born in Wisbech, 3 March 1756 – 7 April 1836) was an English political writer and novelist, considered one of the important precursors of both utilitarian and liberal anarchist thought. He first married Mary Wollstonecroft. One of his daughters Mary Wollstonecroft Godwin became Mary Shelley, the famed author of Frankenstein.
  • Joseph Medworth, (born in Wisbech, 1752 - 1827) was a builder and carried out the development of 'The Crescent' in Wisbech and the redeveopment of 'Thurloe's' Mansion' into the current villa on the 'Castle' site.
  • William Skrimshire, (born in Wisbech, 1766–1829) was a surgeon-botanist.
  • Richard Young (1809–1871), MP (ship owner), Mayor of Wisbech 1858-62, one of the Sheriffs of the city of London 1871.
  • William Digby, (born in Wisbech, 1 May 1849 – 29 September 1904) was an English writer, journalist and liberal politician. He was the first secretary of the National Liberal Club.
  • Thomas Clarkson, the anti-slavery campaigner, was born in Wisbech in 1760 and educated at Wisbech Grammar School. The Clarkson Memorial was built to commemorate his life ending slavery in the British Empire on 25 March 1833.
  • the Crown during the American War of Independence, to Sierra Leone, where he became governor.
  • The Reverend William Hazlitt, who was the minister at the Presbyterian meeting house from 1764 to 1766. Hazlitt became an influential Unitarian minister, and was the father of the essayist William Hazlitt and the portrait painter John Hazlitt. While resident at Wisbech, he married Grace Loftus.
  • The sisters Miranda and Octavia Hill, both born at Wisbech. Miranda founded the influential Kyrle Society, a progenitor of the National Trust. Social reformer Octavia was co-founder of the National Trust.
  • Alexander Peckover (banker) (16 August 1830 – 21 October 1919) Baron Peckover of Wisbech. Lord Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire 1893-1906.
  • Sir Harry Kroto, 1996 Nobel Laureate in chemistry, for the discovery of fullerenes.
  • Anton Rodgers (1933–2007), actor, was born in Wisbech.
  • Jill Freud (born 1927), actress (and wife of Sir Clement Freud MP for Isle of Ely 1973-87) founded 'Jill Freud and Company' whilst working with the Angles Theatre in 1980.
  • Malcolm Douglas Moss, (born 1943, Lancashire) politician. He was a Wisbech Town councillor and later Member of Parliament (MP) for North East Cambridgeshire from 1987 until his retirement at the 2010 general election.
  • Bernard Martin (1916 - 2005), local councillor and town mayor 1980-81.
  • The Reverend W. Awdry (15 June 1911 – 21 March 1997)(the creator of Thomas the Tank Engine was Vicar of Emneth, 1953-65. Toby the Tram Engine, one of the Rev. W. Awdrey's characters, is based on the small steam trams that used to transport farm produce on the Strawberry Line between Wisbech and Upwell.
  • John Gordon, adolescent fiction writer and author of The Giant Under The Snow, grew up in Wisbech. The town and the surrounding fens provided inspiration for many of his novels, including: The House on the Brink (Peckover House); and Fen Runners.
  • Jesse Pye. Professional football player, who scored two goals in 1949 FA Cup Final, and who represented England at international level, became player-manager for Wisbech Town F.C. from 1960–1966. He scored the goal that knocked Colchester United out of the first round of the FA Cup in the 1959/60 season.
  • Mike Stevens Musical Director and Record Producer.
  • Tony Martin who, while living in an isolated Norfolk farmhouse just outside Wisbech, gained notoriety for shooting and killing one of two young men, both from a travellers' community, who were burgling his home one night. Although he was convicted of murder, he became something of a local celebrity as a symbol of rough justice.
  • Mark Wheat, radio host on The Current from Minnesota Public Radio, born in Wisbech.
  • Joe Perry (born 13 August 1974 in Wisbech) – snooker player.
  • Jody Cundy born 14 October 1978 in Wisbech – Paralympian.
  • Newcastle Cathedral.
  • Constable William Wolsey and painter Robert Pygot, who were burned at the stake for Christian heresy on 16 October 1555.[9][10]
  • Will Millard (29 June 1983 - Present) - writer and explorer; presenter of BBC2's Hunters of the South Seas.[11][12]

In film and television

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

Wisbech is noted for its unspoilt BBC One's 1999 adaptation of Charles Dickens' David Copperfield and ITV1's Micawber, starring David Jason. 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 program looked at jobs in the town reported to have been "taken over by migrants". in the program several local unemployed persons were given the chance to try such jobs.[13][14][15]

Wisbech in the news

There are two free newspapers distributed within the town, the Wisbech Standard (owned by Archant) and the Fenland Citizen.

The Tesco store in Cromwell Road was one of three stores (the other two being in Kent) chosen to run an initial trial of the Clubcard loyalty card. The trial ran from October 1993 and due to the success of this trial, the Clubcard programme was rolled out nationwide in February 1995.[16]

The "rabbits on the roundabout" caused considerable discussion. A number of rabbits took up residence on a town centre roundabout, causing damage to the flowers and shrubs. Locals compounded the issue by dumping piles of salad 'seconds' on the roundabout for the rabbits to eat. Despite calls to remove the rabbits, local opposition prevailed. The rabbits remained, much to the humour of outside observers. The roundabout has now been landscaped with maritime 'rabbit-friendly' features to link to the nearby riverside redevelopment. Since then, an outbreak of myxomatosis took hold of the 'Wisbech warren', and killed many of the animals. A pest control company removed the rest. Rabbits are now conspicuous by their absence from the roundabout, which remains professionally landscaped.

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.[17]

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.[18]

On 28 August 2012 there was a serious incident at the Wisbech District Hospital when police were called because of people reportedly on the roof of Wisbech District Hospital. Two local officers of the Cambridgeshire Constabulary, Wisbech Policing Team answered the call. On arrival they found one of the hospital's doctors had been assaulted by the group. As the two officers: Police Community Support Officers (PCSO) Lisa Mann and Luke Cornwell split up to search the hospital one of the suspects a woman armed with an axe returned to the hospital making threats to kill, PCSO Mann tackled the woman, disarming her and restraining her on the floor. Her colleague PCSO Cornwell joined her and assisted in detaining the woman until help arrived.

The woman detained was arrested and in November 2012 pleaded guilty to numerous offences at Cambridge Crown Court, including burglary, assault, public order offences and racially aggravated harassment. Both PCSO’s received formal commendations for their actions.[19][20][21][22]

Another officer of Cambridgeshire Constabulary, Wisbech Policing Team also made the news when on Friday 12 November 2013 PCSO Terry McCormack was struck off his bike on Churchill Road by a shoplifting suspect he was chasing. Despite suffering a broken ankle he remounted his bike and chased the suspect for 20 minutes before cornering him in Prospect Place. Despite the man attempting to escape by climbing a fence PCSO McCormack kept hold of the man detaining him even as he violently resisted the PCSO until help arrived. The suspect was arrested.[23]


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

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[24]

Twin town

See also

Further reading


  1. ^ according to and the St Neots town council website
  2. ^ [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.]
  3. ^ The Wisbech Society & Preservation Trust, The Castle
  4. ^ BBC Archive
  5. ^ BBC: Migrants singled out by attackers in Wisbech
  6. ^ This church's page at the Cambridgeshire Churches website
  7. ^ This church's page at the Cambridgeshire Churches website
  8. ^ [2]
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^ Scoring Points - Business Life Article, November 2003
  17. ^ Wisbech: blighted by crime? - Fenland Today
  18. ^ Drugs, the teenager found murdered on the Queen's estate and how the Baltic Mafia is terrorising one of Britain's oldest market towns
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^

External links

  • Fenland & West Norfolk Aviation Preservation Society
  • Wisbech Town Cricket Club
  • The Angles Theatre
  • 2001 Census
  • River Nene through Wisbech, from source to mouth.
  • Fenland Citizen Web site of local newspaper
  • Fenland District Council District councils web site
  • The Wisbech Society & Preservation Trust
  • Thomas Clarkson Academy
  • Wisbech Amateur Operatic & Dramatic Society (WAODS)
  • Wisbech Players
  • Octavia Hill Birthplace House
  • Community website
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