by Colin Hinson ©2013
WISBECH comprises the parishes of St. Augustine, St. Mary, and St. Peter. It is a seaport, municipal borough, and market town, in the hundred of the same name, Isle of Ely, county Cambridge, 25 miles north of Ely, and 40 from Cambridge. It is situated in the Fens, on the river Nene and Wisbech canal, near the Norfolk border, and is connected by several branch lines of railway, with the Great Eastern and Midland lines. In the Saxon times it was called Wisbec, and was given by Osway in 1000 to Ely abbey. The Conqueror built a castle here in 1071, which was rebuilt by the bishops of Norwich, who made it their palace in the fifteenth century. On several occasions it has been inundated by the sea, and was shaken by an earthquake in 1750. It was first chartered by Edward VI., and was fortified by Cromwell. Under the Municipal Reform Act it is divided into the north and south wards, including part of Walsoken, and is governed by a mayor, 6 aldermen, and 18 councillors, with the style of "burgesses of the borough of Wisbech."
The corporation revenue amounts to about £3,000 per annum. The spring and midsummer assizes for the liberty of the Isle of Ely are held here, and petty sessions for the hundred regularly by the county magistrates. It is a polling place for the county elections, and a seaport town, with customhouse and quays, capable of admitting vessels of 400 tons from Lynn Deeps. An iron bridge and wharves have recently been erected at a cost of about £60,000 to the town. The population of the municipal borough in 1861 was 9,276. It contains a shire hall or sessions house, erected in 1801; corn exchange, in 1811; house of correction for the Isle of Ely and borough of Wisbech; a custom house, savings-bank, two branch banks, stamp office, theatre, library and reading-rooms, mechanics' institute, literary society, museum, union workhouse, baths, assembly rooms, gas and water works, and two cemeteries. There are besides, breweries, planing and saw mills, foundries, boat-building yards, mast and block works, rope-walks, a cooperage, tannery, cotton-reel manufactory, corn-mills, malt - houses, tobacco-pipe works, and brickfields. A considerable business is done in the shipping trade and in corn, timber and malt, no less than 250,000 quarters of grain having changed hands in a single year. Many hands are also engaged in boat-building and the repair of ships. It gives name to a deanery in the archdeaconry and diocese of Ely. The living is a vicarage* in the diocese of Ely, value £950, in the patronage of the bishop. The church, dedicated to SS. Peter and Paul, has recently been repaired at a cost of £4,500, and contains St. Martin's chantry, a canopied brass of Thomas De Braunstone, bearing date 1401, and monuments to the Southwells and North Sandford, a benefactor of the town. The register commences in 1558. There is besides a chapel-of-ease, built in 1831. The Roman Catholics, Baptists, Wesleyans, Independents, Society of Friends, and Unitarians, have chapels. The free grammar school of Edward VI. was refounded out of an ancient guild of the fourteenth century, and stands on the site of the old townhall. It has a revenue from endowment of £100, besides several scholarships at Cambridge. Wright's schools have an endowment of £250, and Dr. Jobson's Sunday-schools one of £200. There are besides National, British, and infant schools. The charities, including the endowments of the schools and almshouses, produce £1,500 per annum. Wisbech is the head of a Poor-law Union, new County Court district, and superintendent registry. Market day is on Saturday, chiefly for corn and malt, when occasionally 9,000 quarters of wheat have been sold. Fairs are held on the Saturday preceding Palm Sunday and Lady-Day for hemp, &c.; on the Thursday before Whit Sunday, and on 5th July for horses, and on 12th August for cattle.