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Wisbech
North brink wisbech.jpg
The North Brink
Wisbech is located in Cambridgeshire
Wisbech
Wisbech
Population 31,573 (2011)
OS grid reference TF4609
Civil parish
  • Wisbech
District
  • Fenland
Shire county
Region
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Post town WISBECH
Postcode district PE13, PE14
Dialling code 01945
Police Cambridgeshire
Fire Cambridgeshire
Ambulance East of England
EU Parliament East of England
UK Parliament
  • North East Cambridgeshire
List of places
UK
England
Cambridgeshire
52°39′50″N 0°09′36″E / 52.664°N 0.160°E / 52.664; 0.160

Wisbech ( WIZ-beech) is a market town, inland port and civil parish in the Fenland district in Cambridgeshire, England. In 2011 it had a population of 31,573. The town lies in the far north-east of Cambridgeshire, bordering Norfolk and only 5 miles (8 km) south of Lincolnshire. The tidal River Nene running through the town is spanned by two road bridges. Wisbech is in the Isle of Ely (a former administrative county) and has been described as 'the Capital of The Fens".

Wisbech is noteworthy for its fine examples of Georgian architecture, particularly the parade of houses along the North Brink, which includes the National Trust property of Peckover House and the circus surrounding Wisbech Castle.

History

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.

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 of whom died there of 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-wisbech
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.

The five-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 East European migrants.

The town's market days are Thursday and Saturday.

Culture

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.

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.

Notable residents

Deceased

Royalty, Nobility and Public Office

  • Thomas Parke (c1543-1630), Town Bailiff and High Sheriff of the county of Cambridge and Huntingdon. Married 1. Jean Coulson, 2 or 3. Audrey Cross. Died on 1 January and a monument is inside St. Peter's church, Wisbech.
  • John Thurloe, MP (1616–1668), Solicitor-general, Lord Chief Justice, Secretary of State and lawyer. Cromwell' spymaster. He replaced the bishop's palace at Wisbech with a mansion (later demolished by Joseph Medworth).
  • Mathias Taylor JP, linen draper, Capital Burgess and appointed Constable of the Castle in 1631.
  • Jane Stuart (Quaker) (c1654-1742), a daughter of James II joined the Society of Friends on the North Brink and lived on the Old Market, she died aged 88 in Wisbech on 12 July and is buried in the Friends' graveyard.
  • Sir Philip Vavasour, High Sheriff of Cambridgeshire. Knighted in 1761. Lived on South Brink, Wisbech.
  • Sir Charles Wale KCB (1765–1845), General and Governor of Martinique, attended Wisbech Grammar School.
  • James Crowden CVO (1927–2016). Chartered surveyor, Olympian, Lord Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire, High Sheriff of Cambridgeshire and Isle of Ely. Wisbech J.P. Born 14 November in Tilney All Saints, died 24 September 2016.

Church and Religion

  • John de Wisbech, Abbot of Croyland. He was first Prior of Freiston. He died on 19 November 1476.
  • John Alcock (bishop), (c1430-1500) appointed to the see of Ely on 6 October 1486 he died in The bishops palace in Wisbech and is buried in Ely Cathedral.
  • John Feckenham, (c1515-1584) Abbott of Westminster, imprisoned in The Bishop's palace from 1580 until his death in October, 1584. At his own cost he arranged the repairs of the road and erected a market cross in the town.
  • Theophilus Buckworth, Bishop of Dromore. Born and died in Wisbech. a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, was an Irish Anglican priest:
  • The Wisbech Martyrs, Robert Pygot a painter from Wisbech and William Wolsey a constable of Welney, Upwell & Outwell were tried at Ely sessions for heresy and later burnt at the stake on 16 October 1555.
  • Thomas Herring, MA (1693–1757), Archbishop of Canterbury (from 1747), was educated at Wisbech Grammar School.
  • Rev. William Hazlitt, (1737–1820) 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.

Writers

  • Richard Huloet, lexicographer and author.
  • William Godwin the elder, (born in Wisbech, 3 March 1756 – 7 April 1836) father of Mary Shelley, was an English political writer and novelist.
  • Lt Col William Watson, DL FAS (1770–1834) died on 31 March 1834. Lawyer, brewer, banker, soldier, magistrate, town bailiff, chief bailiff of the Isle of Ely and author of A history of Wisbech. He is buried in Wisbech.
  • Arthur Artis Oldham (1886–1980), historian and writer was born in Wisbech. Titles included A History of Wisbech River (1933), Wisbech Bridges, Inns and Taverns of Wisbech (1950), Wisbech Windmills, Windmills around Wisbech, The Inns & Taverns of Wisbech (1979) and Windmills in and around Wisbech (1994). He married Ellen (Nellie) Fewster and had two children. He retired to Norwich where he died in 1980.
  • John Muriel (1909–1975), born in Hadleigh, Suffolk, aka as John St Clair Muriel, John Lindsey or Simon Dewes, was an author who taught at Wisbech Grammar School. His father was John Muriel (1859–1946) a Novels, autobiographies and short stories include: Molten Ember (1930), Voice of One, Still Eastward Bound (1940), Suffolk Childhood (1959), Essex Days (1960) and When All the World was Young (1961). One of his pupils was John Gordon.
  • Rev. W. Awdry OBE (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 similar to the small steam trams that ran farm produce on the Strawberry Line between Upwell and Wisbech.
  • John Gordon (1925–2017), attended Wisbech Grammar School. The town and the surrounding fens inspired many of his novels, including The House on the Brink (Peckover House) and Fen Runners.
  • Mick Walker (1942–2012), born 30 November 1942, Wretton, Norfolk. Following 10 years in the RAF he became a dealer, importer and race sponsor. After running his motorcycle business he became assistant editor of Motorcycle Enthusiast magazine and an author of over 100 books. He died on 8 March 2012 and was survived by his wife Susan and son Steven.

Visual Arts

  • Algernon Peckover (1803–1893), Painter, Quaker a son born in Wisbech on 25 November to Jonathan and Susanah Peckover. A collection of his drawings and watercolours from 1859 to 1865 are at Peckover House & Garden. He married Priscilla Alexander. A son Alexander was created 1st Baron Peckover of Wisbech. Died on 10 December.
  • Alfred Balding (1858–1915), Painter, photographer and lithographer. His paintings are now in collections at the Wisbech & Fenland Museum and the Science Museum. Partner in the firm of Balding & Mansell, printers.

Music

  • W. H. Jude (1851–1922) composer and organist attended Wisbech Grammar School.
  • Russell Arthur Missin FRCO (1922–2002), was born at Gorefield, near Wisbech) was organist and master of choristers at Newcastle Cathedral.

Performing Arts

  • Fanny Robertson aka Frances Mary Robertson (1768–1855), actor and theatre manager and lessee of Wisbech theatre (now the Angles Theatre). Born Frances Mary Ross. Married Thomas Shaftoe Robertson (1765–1831). Retired to live in Norfolk street and died on 18 December 1855.
  • Henry Herbert aka Master Herbert (born in Wisbech 22 December 1829), child actor known as 'The Infant Roscius'. Son of John Herbert.
  • Fanny Maria Robertson (1831–1909) actress, elder sister of Dame Madge Kendal.
  • Anton Rodgers (1933–2007), actor, was born in London on 10 January 1933 and moved to Wisbech during the war. He was president of the Georgian Angles Theatre.

Social Reform and Campaign

  • Thomas Clarkson MA, 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. Two local schools and a road are named after him.
  • Lieutenant John Clarkson RN (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.
  • Elizabeth Dawbarn (died 1839) was a religious pamphleteer who addressed children and adults.
  • James Hill (banker) (c1800-1871) a Unitarian, social reformer, newspaper editor, merchant, ship owner, owner of the Angles Theatre and banker. His children included Octavia Hill and Miranda Hill.
  • Caroline Southwood Hill (née Smith)(1809–1902), writer and educationalist. Eldest daughter of Dr Thomas Southwood Smith. Became third wife of James Hill (banker)on 21 July 1835. Mother of Octavia Hill. Died aged 94 on 31 December 1902.
  • Priscilla Hannah Peckover (1833–1931), Quaker, pacifist and linguist; she founded the Wisbech Local Peace Association, which grew to have 6,000 members.
  • Miranda Hill (1836–1910), born in Wisbech, founded the Kyrle Society, a progenitor of the National Trust.
  • Octavia Hill (1838–1912), born at Wisbech, was treasurer of the Kyrle Society, a progenitor of the National Trust, of which Octavia became co-founder.

The Academy

  • Professor Thomas Craddock (1812–1893), photographer, writer and academic. Coauthor of a History of Wisbech, later professor of Literature, Queen's College, Liverpool. Died 9 April 1893 in Liverpool.

Medicine and the Sciences

  • William Skrimshire, (born in Wisbech, 1766–1829) was a surgeon and botanist. A walkway 'Skrimshires Passage' off Hill Street is named after him.
  • Fenwick Skrimshire, (born in Wisbech, 1774 – 11 June 1855) was an English naturalist and physician to John Clare.
  • Richard Middleton Massey MD, FRS, FSA (1678–1743), Doctor and antiquarian. Born in Cheshire, after studying at Oxford he became deputy keeper at the Ashmolean Museum he later obtained a licence to practice medicine in Wisbech. He was appointed Keeper of the town library and was a founder member of Spalding Gentlemen's Society. He retired to his family estates in Rostherene and died in 1743 on 29 March 1743.
  • Professor Sir Harry Kroto FRS (1939–2016), born in Wisbech 7 October 1939 son of Heinz Fritz Kroton and Edith Kathe Dora Kroto was the 1996 Nobel Laureate in chemistry, for the discovery of fullerenes.

Photography

  • Rev. William Ellis (29 August 1794 – 9 June 1872) and pioneer photographer, was brought up and went to elementary school in Wisbech. He later went to Homerton college (then in London) and became a missionary, this coupled with his writing and photographic skills led him to become the author of History of Madagascar (1838), Polynesian Researches and History of the London Missionary Society and other publications.
  • Samuel Smith aka 'Philosopher Smith' (1802–1892), merchant and pioneer photographer. A director of Wisbech Gas Light and Coke company and a member of the Palaeontographical Society of London. His photos taken in the 1850s and 1860s record the development of the town. Collections can be seen in the Science Museum, London and Wisbech & Fenland Museum.
  • William Peckover F.S.A., (1790–1877) philanthropist son of Jonathan Peckover. President of Wisbech & Fenland Museum. Died 12 May.
  • Edward Johnson (1822–1907), photographer. His photographs of local churches were published in three volumes by Leach & Son.
  • Lilian Ream (1877–1961) photographer. Lilian was born in West Walton, Norfolk. Aged 17 she became photographic assistant to William Drysdale and went on to dominate the local photographic business. After her retirement her son Roland took the studio and it continued until it eventually closed in 1971. Over 10,000 negatives have survived to form the 'Lilian Ream collection'. This may be the most comprehensive record of its kind in England. In April 2013 the Wisbech Society erected a blue plaque at 4 The Crescent in her honour.
  • Geoff Hastings (1926-2005) photographer and artist. He used a camera to record the changes in the town during the 1950s and 1960s. Also a journalistic photographer and artist. Many of his large collection of images are held at the Wisbech & Fenland Museum and reproduced in the Images of Wisbech booklets and other publications.

Sport

  • 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.
  • John Barrie (snooker player), (1924–1996) snooker and champion billiards player. Born William Barrie Smith on 30 June, Wisbech and died 20 April aged 71.

Diplomacy

  • Brian Hitch (1932–2004), born Wisbech, Ambassador to Malta and academic.

The Peckover Family

Over many generations the Peckover family rose from humble Quaker origins to become bankers and peers, and the first family of Wisbech. They were notable for their philanthropic works.

  • Alexander Peckover 1st Baron Peckover LL.D., FRGS., FSA., FRGS., FLS. (1830–1919) British Quaker banker and philanthropist. Born in Wisbech 16 August 1830. Died 21 October 1919.
  • Johnathan Peckover (1838–1882), Quaker and philanthropist. Born 16 June and died 8 February. Son of Algernon and Priscilla Peckover. He founded the Wisbech Working Men's Institute in 1864.
  • Algerina Peckover (1841–1927), Quaker, philanthropist and plant collector who donated a collection of Madagascan ferns to Wisbech Herbarium in 1904.
  • Alexandrina Peckover (1860-1948). Philanthropist. Born 10 July 1860 in Wisbech. A daughter of Baron Peckover and Eliza (nee Sharples). She donated land for the Barton road recreation ground and later £5,000 for the youth movement. After her death on 16 April 1948 her home, Bank House on the North Brink, Wisbech, was given to the National Trust, it was later renamed Peckover House.
  • Priscilla Hannah Peckover (1834-1931). Quaker and Peace campaigner. Third child of Eliza and Alexander Peckover. Secretary of Wisbech Peace Association, author of Peace & Goodwill. Nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1903, 1905, 1911 and 1913.
  • (see also Algernon Peckover, painter)

Other

  • Jane Southwell, (aka Lady Jane Trafford) (1732–1809), heiress of Wisbech Castle, married Sir Clement Trafford (aka Clement Boehm), they had three children Clement (1761–1768) Sigismund & Jane. Separated by 1764. She changed her name back to Southwell by an Act of Parliament in 1791 in order to inherit from her brother Edward. Buried at Orsett, Essex the home of her daughter Jane who married Richard Baker. In her will she expressed a wish to be buried in Wisbech.
  • Joseph Medworth, (born in Wisbech, 1752–1827) was a builder who developed the castle estate into a circus including "The Crescent" in Wisbech and redeveloped "Thurloe's Mansion" into the current Regency villa on the castle site. He died on 17 October 1827.
  • Richard Kelham Whitelamb, baptised 1765 in Wisbech was 2' 10" tall. His portrait by Samuel Ireland (1744–1800) is in the Royal Collection. He was an exhibit at fairs and a handbill dated 23 August 1787 states "he is now in the 22nd year, 34 inches high and weighs 42lbs."
  • Charles Boucher (died 1866), Brewer lived at 'The Castle' and owned the Union Brewery and 44 public houses.
  • Rev. Chauncy Hare Townshend M.A.(1798–1868), philanthropist and owner of property in Wisbech. He was a friend of Charles Dickens and the author's manuscript of Great Expectations given him by Dickens was left to Wisbech & Fenland Museum.
  • Lt Robert Pate, Jr (25 December 1819 – February 1895) son of corn merchant Robert Francis Pate DL, was a British Army officer, remembered for his assault on Queen Victoria on 27 June 1850. He was transported to Australia for seven years, where he married and later returned to England.
  • Philip Vassar Hunter CBE (1883–1956) engineer was born in Wisbech.
  • Sir Frank Arthur Stockdale, GCMG, CBE, FLS (24 June 1883 – 3 August 1949) a pupil at Wisbech Grammar School became an agriculturist and colonial agricultural administrator.

Living

Names in birth order:

  • Ray DaSilva, born Ray Palmer in 1933 in Wisbech, magician and puppeteer, founded the DaSilva Puppet Company.: After touring overseas the company moved from its base in Cambridgeshire to Norfolk, opening Norwich Puppet Theatre in 1980. As well as being a puppeteer (both making and performing), he was a director, producer and dealer in Puppet books. He was a founder member of the Puppet Centre Trust, chair of British UNIMA and a co-founder of Puppeteers East.
  • Mia Hansson, born 1974, a former teacher and embroiderer. In 2022 halfway through making a full size replica of the Bayeux Tapestry.
  • Malcolm Douglas Moss MA, (born 1943, Lancashire) politician, was a Wisbech Town councillor and later conservative MP for North East Cambridgeshire from 1987 until retirement at the 2010 general election. Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Northern Ireland Office) 25 October 1994 – 2 May 1997. Made an Honorary Freeman of Wisbech.
  • Victoria Gillick (born 1946 Hendon), activist and campaigner.
  • Mike Stevens (born 1957) is a musical director, session musician and record producer.
  • Joe Perry (born 13 August 1974 in Wisbech) is a professional snooker player.
  • Jody Cundy CBE, (born 14 October 1978 in Wisbech) is a Paralympian.
  • Ellen Falkner MBE (née Alexander; born 12 June 1979 in Wisbech) is an English international lawn and indoor bowler
  • George Russell (born 15 February 1998) current Williams Formula One Driver, grew up in Wisbech and attended Wisbech Grammar School.

Climate

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, 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
(45)
8
(46)
11
(52)
13
(55)
16
(61)
19
(66)
21
(70)
22
(72)
19
(66)
15
(59)
10
(50)
7
(45)
14
(57.2)
Daily mean °C (°F) 4.5
(40.1)
5
(41)
7
(45)
9
(48)
12
(54)
14.5
(58.1)
16.5
(61.7)
17
(63)
14.5
(58.1)
11
(52)
7
(45)
4.5
(40.1)
10.21
(50.38)
Average low °C (°F) 2
(36)
2
(36)
3
(37)
5
(41)
8
(46)
10
(50)
12
(54)
12
(54)
10
(50)
7
(45)
4
(39)
2
(36)
6.4
(43.6)
Precipitation cm (inches) 4.5
(1.77)
3
(1.2)
3.3
(1.3)
4
(1.6)
4.6
(1.81)
4.4
(1.73)
4.8
(1.89)
5.2
(2.05)
5.3
(2.09)
5.6
(2.2)
5
(2)
4.4
(1.73)
54.1
(21.3)
Avg. precipitation days 18 15 15 14 13 12 12 12 13 16 17 17 174
Source: World Weather Online

Twin town

Economy

Historical

Before the draining of the Fens was completed, livestock was grazed on the common land and were marked to identify their owners; this was also the case with swans, which were usually marked on their bills. The riverside location and fertile soils surrounding Wisbech allowed the town to flourish.

A thriving pipe-making business was being carried out in the town by Amy White in the 1740s. Soap-making was also taking place in the 1740s

A number of breweries existed in the town; the last one remaining is Elgood's on the North Brink. Established in 1795 and remaining a family owned business, the brewery and gardens are a popular location for tourists to visit.

The first half of the 19th century was a very prosperous time for the town and an annual average of 40,000 tons of goods passed through the port, consisting mainly of coal, corn, timber and wine. The surrounding land produced large quantities of sheep and oxen as well as wool, hemp and flax. Such was the trade with Denmark that a consul was based in North Terrace in a Queen Anne house sometimes called the Danish House. In 1851 the population was 9,594. It decreased to 9,276 in 1861 and picked up to 9,395 in 1891. A National Provincial Bank, on the North Brink and a Savings Bank was built in Hill street in 1851 (it later became a Liberal Club, it is currently the Horsefair Tavern) In 1853 the Wisbech and Isle of Ely Permanent Building Society was established.

Rope-making took place at the Ropewalk and tent-making also took place in the town at W. Poppleton's, Nene Parade. Customers included the visiting J.W. Myers circus in 1881.

The Wisbech Fruit Preserving Company Ltd was wound up in 1894 and the site put up for sale.

In October 1906 the first of the annual mustard markets of the year took place where the harvest of 'brown' and 'white' seed took place. Regular annual Buyers included Messrs Coleman of Norwich.

The Wisbech Mustard market held on four Saturdays in October was claimed to be unique, in 1911 it had been running for over forty years. Buyers from the major mills and producers attended and traded in and near the Rose and Crown.

Large numbers of workers were needed to pick fruit, in 1913 due to the great influx of pickers, the police had to find accommodation for 500 'homeless' workers each night. Until 1920 the train companies provided special rail fares for fruit pickers coming to the area.

Liptons had one of their jam factories in the town in the 1920s.

Samuel Wallace Smedley (1877-1958) bought the old Crosse and Blackwell jam making factory. Wisbech Produce Canners (formed in 1925), on Lynn Rd, was the first in England to produce frozen asparagus, peas and strawberries. The Wisbech Producer canners in 1931 became part of the National Canning Company. It was renamed Smedley's Ltd in 1947, later Smedley HP Foods Ltd and later taken over by Hillsdown Foods. It is presently (2021) owned by Princes Group.

Contemporary

The Metal Box company established their largest manufacturing unit at Weasenham Lane in 1953. The site provides processed food cans for fruit, vegetables, soups, milk and pet foods. The workforce grew to over 1,000 before reducing as a result of automation and redundancies. Steel was brought from Welsh steelworks and also from overseas. The site had its own rail yard before the Wisbech to March line closed. The site is now part of Crown Cork.

English Brothers Ltd, another long-established company in Wisbech, are importers of timber brought in at Wisbech port. In 1900 they manufactured wooden troop hits for the war in South Africa. During World War II they produced wooden munitions boxes. Shire Garden Building Ltd based in Wisbech and Sutton Bridge have been manufacturing wooden buildings since the 1980s.

In 2010 Dutch based Partner Logistics opened a £12m frozen food warehouse on Boleness Rd, employing over 50 staff. The 77,000 pallet, fully automated 'freezer' centre had contracts with Lamb Weston, Bird's Eye and Pinguin Foods.

In recent decades the closure of the Clarkson Geriatric hospital (1983), Bowthorpe maternity hospital (c. 1983), Balding & Mansell (printers) (c. 1992), 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.

The larger employers in Wisbech include Nestle Purina petcare, Cromwell Rd and Princes, Lynn Rd.

In April 2018 plans for an £8m redevelopment of the North Cambridgeshire Hospital were announced.

Tourism

National Trust property Peckover House and Garden attracts tourists and locals. The Wisbech & Fenland Museum draws in visitors to see the Charles Dickens manuscript, Thomas Clarkson memorabilia and other exhibits. The Octavia Hill Birthplace House also attracts those interested in the National Trust, army cadet force or social housing. The Angles Theatre, The Light and The Luxe Cinema also attract audiences from outside the town. The port of Wisbech and marina attract boating enthusiasts. Wisbech Castle has started to attract visitors to its programme of events and activities.

Demography

Parish population 1981
1991
2001
2011
2016
Wisbech 22,932 24,981 26,536 31,573 33,933

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.

Several official places (libraries, surgeries, local council) provide translations into Lithuanian, as well as Polish, Latvian, Russian and Portuguese.

Sport

As the River Nene, and other waterways are located in the area, water sports are popular. The rivers and canal provide opportunities for canoeing and kayaking. As an example of organised water sport, in 1955, the Wisbech Yacht Club opened their new clubhouse at Lattersley Pit, Whittlesey. Football was played in the town even before Wisbech Park was opened in 1869. The nearby St. Augustine's club evolving into Wisbech Town F.C.

Education

Wisbech Grammar School
Wisbech Grammar School on North Brink.

An infant school for two to six-year olds was established in the great hall of the workhouse in 1839. Primary schools in Wisbech include: Clarkson Infant and Nursery School, St Peters Church of England Junior School, Orchards Church of England Academy, Peckover Primary School, The Nene Infant School, Ramnoth Junior School and Elm Road Primary School. There are also specialist schools, Meadowgate Academy, Cambian Wisbech School, The County School & Trinity School. Wisbech has two secondary schools: the independent Wisbech Grammar School, which was founded in 1379, making it one of the oldest schools in the United Kingdom, and the state-funded Thomas Clarkson Academy. There is also a further education centre: the College of West Anglia formerly the Isle College.

Transport

Waterways

See also: Port of Wisbech

Wisbech sits on either side of the River Nene, and its port is Cambridgeshire's only gateway to the sea. Schemes to connect the River Nene and the River Welland are proposed, allowing boats a fresh water connection. In the past, the Port of Wisbech could accommodate sailing ships of 400 tons, but its prosperity declined after 1852 when extensive river works impeded navigation. In the previous decade it had been described as England's most important port for the export of wheat. It had in its day been referred to as 'the Milch cow of the corporation'. Now, a river-side yacht harbour provides 128 berths for vessels, and Crab Marshboat yard operates a 75-tonne boat lift. In December 2013, the town's river flood defences were tested when an unusually high tide threatened to top the recently improved walls and flood gates.

Roads

In 1831 the construction of a lifting bridge at Sutton Bridge finally provided a means to travel directly between Norfolk and Lincolnshire. 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 A1101 now crosses the river at the newer 'Freedom bridge' taking some traffic away from the older 'Town Bridge'. The A47 now bypasses the town. The former part of the A47 inside the town (Lynn Rd and Cromwell Rd) is now the B198.

Railways

Wisbech once had three passenger railway lines,served by Wisbech East railway station, Wisbech North railway station and Wisbech and Upwell Tramway but they all closed between 1959 and 1968. There is an active campaign to reopen the March–Wisbech Bramley Line as part of the national rail network, with direct services to Cambridge and possibly Peterborough. It is supported by Wisbech Town Council and subject to reports commissioned by the county council in 2013. The line is currently Wisbech East railway station(2019) at GRIP 3 study stage. A report published in 2009 by the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) indicated that this was viable. The line has been identified as a priority for reopening by Campaign for Better Transport.

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