WISBECH: Geographical and Historical information from the year 1835.


[Transcribed information from A Topographical Dictionary of England - Samuel Lewis - 1835]
(unless otherwise stated)

"WISBECH, , a sea-port and market-town, in the hundred of WISBECH, Isle of ELY, county of CAMBRIDGE, 44 miles (N.) from Cambridge, and 94 (N. byB.) from London, containing, with Wisbech St. Mary, 7877 inhabitants. This place, which is of great antiquity, is noticed by the name of Msbece, in a charter of Wulfhere, son of Peada, King of Mercia, by which that prince gave some lands in the vicinity to the abbey of Medehamstead, now Peterborough, The first part of the name is derived from the river Ousc, which was formerly called the Wise, and the latter syllable, of which the orthography has been adapted to that opinion, has been supposed to express its situation near the sea shore: according to other antiquaries, it is derived from the Saxon bee, signifying, either a river or a tongue of land at the confluence of two rivers, which, corresponding to its situation at the mouth of the Ouse, or Wise, near its confluence with the Nene, seems to justify the orthography Wisbech, generally adopted by the inhabitants, and sanctioned by a charter of Edward VI., in which the name is written Wisbeche. From the time of Wulfhere, nothing of importance occurs in the history of the place, till that of William the Conqueror, who, in the last year of his reign, erected a strong castle to keep the refractory barons in submission, and to check the ravages of the outlaws, who made frequent incursions from the neighbouring fens into the upland parts of the county. The castle, which was placed under the command of a governor, who was styled constable, and had a powerful garrison of soldiers, was, with the greater part of the town, destroyed by an inundation of the sea, in 1236, but they were soon afterwards restored, and the former having subsequently become greatly dilapidated, Bishop Morton erected another of brick, on its site, which became an episcopal palace of the Bishops of Ely, and their occasional residence. In the reign of Elizabeth the castle was appropriated as a place of security for the confinement of state prisoners; and during the protectorate of Cromwell, it was purchased by his secretary, Thurloe, who occasionally made it his residence. After the restoration, the castle again reverted to the Bishops of Ely, by whom it was sold: and the site and remains have subsequently disappeared in the recent improvement of the town. Richard I., in 1190, granted the inhabitants an exemption from toll in all fairs and markets throughout the kingdom, which grant, with other privileges, was confirmed by King John, who, in 1216, visited Wisbech, and took up his residence in the castl On his departure, that monarch attempting to cross the Wash at an improper time, lost all his carriages, treasure, and regalia, by an inundation of the sea. The town is situated on both sides of the river Nene, over which is a handsome stone bridge of one elliptical arch, seventy-two feet in span, and consists of several streets regularly formed; the houses are in general well-built, and on the site of the ancient castle, which was taken down in 1816, a handsome circus, of fifty well-built houses, has been erected, adding greatly to the general appearance of the town, whichhas been progressively improving, and is at present the most nourishing place in the Isle of Ely. The town is well paved, at the expense of the inhabitants, lighted and watched by the corporation, and amply supplied with water. A Literary Society was established in 1781, who have a library containing more than three thousand volumes: there is also a parochial library, containing many valuable works of eminent divines. Over the corn exchange are billiard and reading rooms; and there are a neat theatre, which is occasionally opened, and an assembly-room, which is appropriately fitted up. A neat and commodious edifice has been recently erected, in which are hot and cold salt water baths, furnished with dressing-rooms, and every requisite accommodation. The trade of the port has been considerably improved, and is still increasing. About a century since considerable quantities of oil, for the preparation of which not less than seven mills were employed in the town, and great quantities of butter,' were shipped from this portj of the latter, eight thousand firkins were sent annually to London. From the great improvements that have been made in the system of draining, by which a considerable portion of unproductive land in the neighbourhood has been brought into cultivation, the trade in corn has been greatly increased, and the, annual average quantity of that article alone, shipped from the port to Cambridge, Lynn, and other places, is not less than one hundred and twenty thousand quarters; the other exports are rape seed and long wool, of which great quantities are sent to Yorkshire; and timber, for the use of the navy, which is brought hither from the county of Northampton: the principal imports are, wine, deals, and coal. In the year ending January 1826, forty-five foreign vessels, and one thousand one hundred and sixty-four British, cleared out from this port, the latter chiefly coastwise: the aggregate burden was seventy thousand three hundred and twenty tons; and the duties paid at the custom-house amounted to £29,531. 15.9. The navigation of the Nene has been greatly improved by a straight cut, or river, from Peterborough, by which vessels of one hundred tons burden can approach the quay, which is commodiously constructed; and a custom-house, forming part of the town hall, was erected on the site of the old Firkin Cross. A packet sails from Peterborough every Tuesday and Friday to Wisbeach, and returns every Wednesday and Sunday. In 1794, a canal was constructed, extending from the river, at Wisbech, to the Old Nene at Outwell, and thence to the Ouse, at Salter's Lode sluice, opening a communication with Norfolk, Suffolk, and the eastern counties. There is no branch of manufacture carried on in the town, but the vicinity abounds with rich pasturage; and great numbers of oxen and sheep, which attain a large size, are sent to the London market. The market is on Saturday: the fairs are on the Saturday before Palm-Sunday, and the Saturday before Ladyrday, for hemp and flax; a large fair for horses, which is numerously attended by the London dealers, and which was formerly held on the Wednesday before Whit-Sunday, is now on the second Wednesday in April; and a very large cattle fair is held on the 12th of August, at which three thousand head of cattle have been sold. The guild of the Holy Trinity, established in 1379, having been found, at the time of the dissolution, to have supported a grammar school, and maintained certain jetties and piers "against the rage of the sea," was restored by Edward VI., who gave the inhabitants a charter of incorporation, under the provisions of which ten capital burgesses are annually elected by the inhabitants, being freeholders, or occupying houses of the value of forty shillings per annum, for the management of the guild estates, producing from £2000 to £3000 per annum, and of whom one is appointed town bailiff.. This charter was renewed by James I., and confirmed by Charles II. The corporation possess no magisterial authority; but the town being situated within the Isle of Ely, which is a royal franchise, assizes are held here in summer, and in Lent at Ely, alternately; quarter sessions are also held at these places alternately; petty sessions are held twice in the week; and a court of requests for the recovery of debts under 40s. is held at the shire-hall, on the second Friday in every month. The town-hall is a part of the custom-house. The shire-hall, where assizes and sessions are held, is annexed to the gaol, which was: rebuilt in 1807, and contains seventeen wards for prisoners of both sexes, two for debtors, with a yard, chapel, and tread-mill, at which eleven men can work, and which was erected at an expense of £600. ' Wisbech comprises the parishes of St. Mary and St. Peter, in the archdeaconry and diocese of Ely. The living of St. Peter's is a vicarage, with the perpetual curacy of St. Mary and the chapelry of Guyhirn annexed, rated in the king's books at £26. 13. 4., and in the patronage of the Bishop of Ely: the church is a spacious and handsome structure, with a fine' tower distinct from the former, principally in the later style of English architecture; the north aisle of the chancel is in the decorated style, with a fine window of the same character at the west end of the south aisle j the naves are divided by light and slender pillars and pointed arches, and separated from their respective aisles by low massive pillars and semicircular Norman arches; the nave bears the date 1586, but the building appears to have been erected much earlier, the noble stone tower having been erected in the year 1500. The living of St. Mary's is a perpetual curacy, annexed to the vicarage of St. Peter: the church ife in the later English style, with a plain tower, and is situated about two miles north-west. of the town. A chapel of ease, octangular in form, and designed to accommodate one thousand persons, including three hundred free sittings for the poor, is in process of erection near the old market place: it was commenced by subscription, and endowed by Dr. Jobson, the incumbent, with an estate valued at £200 per annum. There are places of worship for Baptists, Independents; Johnsonians, Society of Friends, Presbyterians,: Wesleyan Methodists, and Unitarians. The free grammar school is of very ancient foundation, supposed to have been established by the guild of the Holy Trinity, so early as 1379; it is now under the superintendence of the capital burgesses, having been erected on the site of the old town hall in Ship-lane, and is subject to the visit- ation of the Bishop of Ely. The master, who is chosen by the burgesses, and receives a salary and perquisites to the amount of £160 per annum, holds his situation for life, unless displaced by the visitor; classical instruction is afforded gratuitously to ali boys of the town who apply; from twenty to thirty are on the foundation. Attached to this institution, from a bequest by Thomas Parke, in. 1628, are four by-fellowships, of A10 per annum each, at Peter House, Cambridge; four scholarships, of £10 per annum each, and two others, at the college of St. Mary Magdalene, the latter now amounting to £70 per annum each. A National school, erected in 1811, at the Church-terrace, in which two hundred and fifty boys are instructed, is supported by various benefactions and voluntary contributions. A girls' school, in which are one hundred and twenty scholars, is endowed with lands let for about £55, and is situated in Lower Hill-street. A benefaction for lending sums of money to poor tradesmen, free of interest, was founded by a Mr. John Crane, an apothecary of Cambridge, in 1652, which was further increased by a gift of £300 from a Mr. W. Holmes. In 1813, six almshouses were erected near the church by the burgesses; there are also eleven others erected from various bequests. Here was anciently an hospital of St. John the Baptist, but no traces of it-are discernible. Archbishop Herring received his education in the free grammar school of this town."

"MURROW, (or Morrowe) a hamlet in the parish of WISBECH, and hundred of WISBEACH, Isle of ELY, county of CAMBRIDGE, 6 miles (W. S.W.) from Wisbeach, with which the population is returned. Here was anciently a chapel or oratory, in which, by reason of the distance of'the parish church, the inhabitants obtained license from the bishop, in 1388, to attend divine service for one year."

[Description(s) transcribed by Mel Lockie ©2010]