UK Genealogy Archives logo
DISCLOSURE: This page may contain affiliate links, meaning when you click the links and make a purchase, we may receive a commission.

Wisbech, Cambridgeshire

Historical Description

Wisbech (formerly, but incorrectly, spelt Wisbeach), a busy, populous, thriving market-town and municipal borough in Cambridgeshire. The navigable river Nene makes it a port, and there are stations on the G.E.R., G.N.R., and M.R., while by means of the Wisbech Canal and the Ouse it has continuous water communication with Cambridge, Hertford, and London. The town is 11 miles NN by E from March, 14 WSW from Lynn, 22 E from Spalding, 40 N from Cambridge, and 91 from London. It is an ancient place and was known to the Saxons as Wisebec. In the year 1000 it was given by Oswy, son-in-law of Brithnoth, to Ely Abbey, and in 1071 a castle was built here by the Conqueror to command the entrance of the Ouse, which at that time passed by Wisbech. On the site of this castle, of which the well still remains, the Bishops of Ely erected a second castle, which was one of their principal residences. It was visited in 1469 by Edward IV., was rebuilt in 1478-83 by Bishop Morton, was the death-place of Bishops Alcock and Watson, and at the sale of the church lands under Cromwell it was bought by Secretary Thurloe, who built a house on its site, of which only the foundations now remain. The town was incorporated by Edward VI., is divided into north and south wards, and is governed by a corporation, consisting of a mayor, 6 aldermen, and 18 town councillors, who act as the urban sanitary authority. Wisbech has a separate commission of the peace, and it is the head of a union and county court district. The river Nene intersects the town, and the thoronghfarea facing the river, known as the N and S Brinks, are well bnilt. There is a good water supply derived from chalk springs at Marham in Norfolk, 21 miles distant. The banks of the river were strengthened with piles at a cost of about £20,000 in 1890-91, and vessels of 780 tons can enter the port. Wisbech is a subport of King's Lynn. The number of vessels registered as belonging to it in 1895 was 9 (534 tona). The entries and clearances each average 220 (40,000 tons) per annum. The chief exports are coal, corn, and salt, and the chief imports corn, seeds, potatoes, wool, bones, coal, timber, and iron. Sea-fishing is carried on. The corn market day is Saturday. Cattle markets are held on Thursdays and Saturdays weekly, and fairs on the Saturday after the end of Lynn 14 February fair (which lasts eight days), the second Thursday in May and 25 July for horses, the first Thursday in August for beasts, and the third Wednesday in September for hiring. The industries of the town include brewing, printing, rope-making, coach-building, planing and sawing mills, wind and steam mills for corn and oilcake and agricultural implement works. The town has a head post office, a police station, a custom house, a corn exchange, two banks, and several good hotels. There is a public hall in Upper Hill Street, capable of holding 800 persons, with a lecture hall capable of holding 200. The museum in Museum Square has local collections of antiquities and natural history of considerable value; also an ethnological collection enriched by Clarkson, Stanger, and Ellis. A very fine collection of ceramics, articles of vertu, and coins, with a valuable library, was bequeathed to the museum in 1869 by the Rev. C. H. Townshend. A literary institution is amalgamated with the museum, and there is also a working men's club and institute, with lecture hall, class rooms, gymnasium, library, &c., in Lower Hill Street. A public park of 18 acres was opened in 1870. The living of the mother parish of St Peter and St Paul is a vicarage in the diocese of Ely; net value, £713 with residence, in the gift of the Bishop of Ely. The church is a building of stone in the Early Norman and Perpendicular styles, consisting of chancel, double nave, transept, S porch, and a large embattled tower. The chancel windows are filled with painted glass. On the floor is a much worn but interesting brass of Sir Thomas de Braunstone, constable of Wisbech Castle in 1401. On the walls are several handsome mural monuments. The ecclesiastical parish of St Augustine was formed in 1869 from the civil parishes of St Peter and Leverington. The living is a vicarage of the net value of £226 with residence, in the gift of the Bishop of Ely. The church, opened in 1869, is a building of brick and stone in the Early English style. Acreage of the borough, 6476; population, 9395; of the ecclesiastical parish of Wisbech St Peter and St Paul, 6211; of St Augustine, 2950. Thomas Clarkson, the celebrated philanthropist and abolitionist, was a native of Wisbech, and a memorial in his honour was unveiled in 1881. There is a chapel of ease in the Old Market, an octagonal embattled building of brick, consisting of chancel, nave, S porch, and belfry. The living is a perpetual curacy of the net value of £280. There are a Roman Catholic chapel, General and Particular Baptist chapels, Congregational, Primitive Methodist, United Methodist, and Wesleyan chapels, and a Friends' meeting-house. The charities of Wisbech are numerous and valuable, amounting in the aggregate to over £1000 a year. There are an endowed asylum for poor persons, twelve almshouses, a cottage hospital, and a fever hospital.

Wisbech or Northern Parliamentary Division of Cambridgeshire was formed under the Redistribution of Seats Act of 1885, and returns one member to the House of Commons. Population, 49,645. The division includes the following:-Whittlesey and Thorney-Stanground, Thorney, Whittlesey; Wisbech-Elm, Leverington, Newton, Outwell, Parson Drove, Tid (St Giles), Upwell, Welney, Wisbech (St Mary), Wisbech (St Peter); Chatteris and March or North Whichford-Benwick, Chatteris, Doddington, Manea, March, Welches Dam, Wimblington; Ely (part of)-Coveney, Downham, Littleport; Wisbech, municipal borough.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England & Wales, 1894-5


The following is a list of the administrative units in which this place was either wholly or partly included.

Ancient CountyCambridgeshire 
Ecclesiastical parishWisbech St. Peter and St. Paul 
Poor Law unionWisbech 

Any dates in this table should be used as a guide only.

Directories & Gazetteers

We have transcribed the entry for Wisbech from the following:

Land and Property

The Return of Owners of Land in 1873 for Cambridgeshire is available to browse.


Online maps of Wisbech are available from a number of sites:

Newspapers and Periodicals

The British Newspaper Archive have fully searchable digitised copies of the following Cambridgeshire papers online:

Visitations Heraldic

The Visitations of Cambridgeshire 1575 and 1619 is available online.

Postal districtPE13
Post TownWisbech