North brink wisbech.jpg
North Brink
Wisbech is located in Cambridgeshire
Wisbech shown within Cambridgeshire
Population 33,933 (2016)
OS grid reference TF4609
Civil parish
  • Wisbech
Shire county
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
List of places
52°39′50″N 0°09′36″E / 52.664°N 0.160°E / 52.664; 0.160Coordinates: 52°39′50″N 0°09′36″E / 52.664°N 0.160°E / 52.664; 0.160

Wisbech (/ˈwɪzb/ WIZ-beech) is a Fenland market town, inland port and civil parish in the Fens of Cambridgeshire, England. It had a population of 31,573 in 2011. The town lies in the far north-east of the county, bordering Norfolk and only 5 miles (8 km) south of Lincolnshire. The tidal River Nene running through the town centre is spanned by two bridges. In 2011, Wisbech was the second largest town in Cambridgeshire, after Cambridge. Before the Local Government Act 1972 came into force in 1974 Wisbech was a municipal borough.


Wisbece as recorded in the 1086 Domesday. The name Wisbech 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. Alternatively the first element may derive from the River Whissey which used to run to Wisbech or possibly ‘marshy-meadow valley or ridge’. OE Wisc or wisc + bece or baec. [1]

During the Iron Age, the area where Wisbech would develop lay in the west of the Brythonic Iceni tribe's territory. Icenian coins are known from both March & Wisbech.[2] 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 about 1000, when Oswy and Leoflede, on the admission of their son Aelfwin as a monk, gave the vill to the monastery of Ely.[3] 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. However, 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.[4]

Wisbech Castle was built by William I to fortify the town.

In 1216 King John of England visited the castle as he came from Bishop’s Lynn. Tradition has it that his baggage train was lost to the incoming tide of The Wash. Treasure hunters still seek the lost royal treasure.[5]

Both Edward I and Edward IV visited Wisbech in 1469.[6]

During the reigns of Elizabeth I, James I and Charles I, it became a state ecclesiastical prison for incarcerating Catholics, many of whom died there owing to the insanitary conditions.[7] 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 is 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 inhabitants became known as the "Fen Tigers" for their resistance to the draining of the Fens, but the project turned Wisbech into a wealthy port handling agricultural produce. At the 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.

In 1797 a Corps of volunteer infantry was formed. A Light Infantry company was added in 1807.[8]

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).[9]

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

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.[10]

The five-mile (8 km), £6 million A47 Wisbech/West Walton bypass opened in spring 1982.

2011 Wisbech magistrates court closes.[11]

On 19 January 2012, BBC Look East reported growing tensions in the town, where one-third of the population were said to be East European immigrants.[12]

In 2015 in his first week with the East Anglian Air Ambulance Prince William came to Wisbech.[13] The town's traditional market days are Thursday and Saturday, but the town council now runs markets seven days a week. The Sunday market runs alongside a car-boot sale.


The Wisbech town council elect a town mayor. The town council of 18 councillors is elected every four years. The town has seven wards:- Clarkson, Kirton, Medworth, Octavia Hill, Peckover, Staithe & Waterlees village. The town council are responsible for allotments and the market place. In 2018 they took a lease on Wisbech Castle.[14] The town also elects councillors to Fenland District council and Cambridgeshire county council. Wisbech is within the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough combined authority.[15] It is part of the Northeast Cambridgeshire parliamentary seat. In 1659 John Thurloe was elected to represent Wisbech. He was also elected for Cambridge Borough for whom he preferred to sit. Wisbech was not a polling station until after 1832.[16]



Wisbech sits either side of the river Nene although in the past prior to drainage schemes it sat on the river Great Ouse.

In 1631 Sir Cornelius Vermuyden built the Horseshoe Sluice at Wisbech at a cost of £8,000.[17] In 1680 the trade of Wisbech had increased sufficiently for the port to be reckoned independent and no longer a member of King’s Lynn. In 1720 the corporation was licensed to buoy the channel for the first time. By 1751 it was possible in a dry year to walk across the river bed under Wisbech Bridge. Ship building was carried out in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. A custom house was built in 1801. The greatest shipowner was Richard Young (1809-1871) who had at various times 43 boats operating from the port.[18] The port of Wisbech was able to accommodate sailing ships of 400 tons but its prosperity declined after 1852 when extensive river works impeded navigation.[19]

The Wisbech Canal was cut to allow narrow boats to connect with the river but no longer does so as parts have been filled in.[20] Narrow boats continue to access inland waterways via the river Nene.[21] 1931 A concrete bridge is erected to replace the previous town bridge.[22] In 1971 an additional bridge was erected over the river. Plans to build additional homes and a new school on the west of the town will increase traffic on the existing bridges and there is a long term to add a third bridge.[23] The yacht harbour on the river provides 128 berths on the marina and the nearby Crab Marshboat yard operates a 75 tonne boat lift. The port is Cambridgeshire’s only gateway to the sea. [24]

In 2000 a ship grounding further down river stopped river traffic.[25]


The town stood the crossing of two Class A roads: from Peterborough to King’s Lynn (A47) and Ely to Long Sutton (A1101). The A47 now bypasses the town.


Before the Beeching closures of the 1960s, Wisbech had three railway lines: the 1847/48–1968 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 1883/84–1966 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.[26]

There is an active campaign to reopen the March–Wisbech line as part of the national rail network, with direct services to Cambridge and possibly Peterborough. A report published in 2009 by the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) indicated that this was viable.[27] It is supported by Wisbech Town Council and subject to reports commissioned by the county council in 2013.[28] The line is currently at GRIP 3 study stage.[29].

Buses and coaches[]

In 1796 Wisbech had a daily mail coach service to London leaving at 4pm and returning at 10am and a stage coach service three times weekly. Another service ran three times weekly from Lynn through Wisbech to Spalding and Boston.[30]

Wisbech is located on the excel bus route between Peterborough and Norwich, operated by First Eastern Counties. The town is also served by buses operated by Stagecoach East and Lynx, the latter including the 46 and X46 services between King's Lynn and Three Holes.



Wisbech 22,932 24,981 26,536 31,573 33,933


2016 estimates:

Gender estimate:
Male 16,800
Female 17,133

Age groups estimate;
0-17 6,748.
18-64 20,039.
65+ 7,156.

In 2014 it was reported by a popular national newspaper that of the town's 28,000 population 5,000 (~18%) were Lithuanians.[32] Several official places (libraries, surgeries, local council) provide translations into Lithuanian, as well as Polish, Latvian, Russian and Portuguese.[33]

Economy & infrastructure[]

The riverside location and fertile soils surrounding Wisbech allowed the town to flourish.

The first half of the 19th century was a very prosperous time for the town and in 1851 the population was 19,594. It decreased to 9,276 in 1861 and 9,395 in 1891. The 1931 census was 12,006 and the National Registration of 1939 showed 17,599.[34]

In recent decades the closure of the Clarkson Geriatric hospital (1983), Bowthorpe maternity hospital (c1983), Balding & Mansell (printers) (c1992), Budgens store[35](formerly Coop) (2017) and horticultural college (2012)[36], 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)[37], Franks butchers(2015)[38] and local bakeries have given way to the supermarkets.

The larger employers in Wisbech include Nestle Purina petcare, Cromwell rd[39] and Princes, Lynn Rd.[40]

May 2017 the new Cambridgeshire and Peterborough combined authority announces new investment into the area.[41]

In 2016 the Wisbech High Street project was awarded a £1.9M grant to bring back into use empty properties on the High Street. The Heritage Lottery Fund grant will run until 2021.[42]

April 2018 plans for £8M redevelopment of the hospital are announced.[43]

Plans for an additional 1,500 homes were announced in the press in May 2018.[44]

It was announced by local M.P. Steve Barclay that Fenland schools would receive £250,000 towards recruiting more teachers.[45]

Religious sites[]

The Anglican Parish Church of St Peter and St Paul in parts dates back to the 12th century. The tower contains 8 bells and are still in use.

The Octagon church was erected in 1827 as a chapel of ease, the lantern became unsafe owing to defective foundations and in 1846 was replaced with a battlement but demolished later. The site became a bank and is currently a vet’s.[46]

The Anglican St Augustine’s church on Lynn Rd was erected in 1868-9 and an associated school building is now a scouting hall.[47]

Our Lady & Saint Charles Borromeo Church has been the church of Roman Catholics since 1854.

Baptist, Hill St, Society of Friends, North Brink, United Reformed, Castle Square, King’s Church, Queens Rd, Jehovahs Witnesses, Tinkers Drove, Trinity Methodist, Church Terrace, Salvation Army, West St & Soiritualist, Alexander Rd.[48]

Various denominations met at other locations many of which have been demolished or used for other purposes.[49]


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 (previously the Thomas Clarkson Community college and 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. Magdalene House is the Preparatory school of Wisbech Grammar School.

Primary schools in Wisbech include; Clarkson Infants School, St Peters CofE Aides Junior School, Orchards CofE Primary school, Peckover Primary School, The Nene Infant School, Ramnoth Junior School and Elm Road Primary School. There are also specialist schools, Meadowgate School, Wisbech School, The County School & Trinity School. There is also a further education centre: the College of West Anglia formerly the Isle of Ely College.[50]

Plans for a new £23M 600 pupil school to open in 2020 were announced in the Wisbech Standard.[51]


The local non league football team is Wisbech Town Football Club, nicknamed The Fenmen.

Notable buildings[]

The Clarkson Memorial in Wisbech 2013
The Octagon Chapel in Wisbech Old Market, demolished in 1952

Notable people[]

In order of birth:

Film and television[]

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

A 1924 film recorded a day at the North Cambs hospital in EAFA.[59]

1926 street scenes filmed to be shown at the local electric cinema EAFA.[60]

North Cambs hospital in 1930s.EAFA.[61]

‘Approaching Wisbech’ an amateur film of a simulated road traffic accident madevin the late 1930s.EAFA.[62]

1961 The Wisbech to Upwell Tramway.EAFA.[63]

In 1963 Anglia TV recorded a film report on Wisbech Castle. This is also available to download on the East Anglian Film Archive.[64]

A 1963 drama filmed using boats from Wisbech.[65]

1975 Anglia tv report about the first purpose-built traveller site in GB. EAFA.[66]

Wisbech is noted for its unspoilt Georgian architecture, particularly along North Brink and The Crescent. It has been used in BBC One's 1999 adaptation of Charles Dickens' David Copperfield and ITV1's 2001 adaptation ofMicawber, starring David Jason.

In 2000 The Antiques Roadshow was recorded at the Hudson Leisure centre.[67] 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 programme looked at jobs in the town reported to have been "taken over by migrants". In the programme, several local unemployed persons were given the chance to try such jobs.[68][69][70]

2009 Channel 5’s reality tv series ‘The Hotel Inspector’ featured The Rose and Crown hotel.[71]

Other media[]

There are two free newspapers distributed within the town, the Wisbech Standard (owned by Archant) and the Fenland Citizen(owned by Iliffe Media). Two free local magazines are published monthly - ‘The fens’ and ‘Discovering Wisbech’.[72]

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.[73]

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.[74]

Country Life magazine ran a feature on Wisbech. Market towns - Wisbech. [75]


Like the rest of the United Kingdom, Wisbech 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
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[76]

Twin town[]

See also[]

Further reading[]


  1. ^ A.D.Mills. Dictionary of English Place-names. 1998. ISBN 0-19-280074-4. 
  2. ^ ed JJ Wilkes and CR Elrington (1978). A history of Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely vol VII. OUP. 
  3. ^ J. Bentham, Hist. Ely, 87.
  4. ^ [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.]
  5. ^ *Shirley Carter (2018). The mystery of King John’s treasure. 
  6. ^ https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=-zwJAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA289&lpg=PA289&dq=Edward+I+and+Edward+IV+visits+to+wisbech&source=bl&ots=FPjoJjaZS2&sig=T8-AaWVHxKIATjyG_1IBnSfGyBU&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiKie_o1vnbAhWTOsAKHYR_Br4Q6AEwCXoECAEQAQ#v=onepage&q=Edward%20I%20and%20Edward%20IV%20visits%20to%20wisbech&f=false
  7. ^ http://www.wisbech-society.co.uk/castle.html The Wisbech Society & Preservation Trust, The Castle
  8. ^ *Mike Osborne (2013). Defending Cambridgeshire. 
  9. ^ http://www.cambstimes.co.uk/what-s-on/photos-of-wisbech-in-the-1960s-70s-and-a-history-of-wisbech-canal-to-go-on-show-1-3040558
  10. ^ BBC Archive
  11. ^ http://www.cambstimes.co.uk/news/closure-of-fenland-magistrates-court-in-wisbech-announced-by-the-government-today-1-753487
  12. ^ BBC: Migrants singled out by attackers in Wisbech
  13. ^ https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-cambridgeshire-33586281
  14. ^ http://www.wisbechstandard.co.uk/news/wisbech-town-council-agree-34-per-cent-precept-rise-1-5369056
  15. ^ https://www.gov.uk/government/news/cambridgeshire-and-peterborough-set-for-new-mayor
  16. ^ RB Pugh (1953). A history of Cambridge and isle of Ely vol IV. 
  17. ^ http://www.heritagegateway.org.uk/Gateway/Results_Single.aspx?uid=MCB17292&resourceID=1000
  18. ^ ed RB Pugh (1953). The Victoria History of the county of Cambridge & Isle of Ely vol IV. OUP. 
  19. ^ F. A. Reeve (1976). Victorian & Edwardian Cambridgeshire. Batsford. 
  20. ^ http://www.cambstimes.co.uk/what-s-on/photos-of-wisbech-in-the-1960s-70s-and-a-history-of-wisbech-canal-to-go-on-show-1-3040558
  21. ^ https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-beds-bucks-herts-44579432
  22. ^ http://www.wisbech-society.co.uk/townbridge.html
  23. ^ http://www.fenland.gov.uk/wisbechaccess
  24. ^ http://www.fenland.gov.uk/wisbechportandyachtharbour
  25. ^ https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/547c712de5274a429000010f/lagik.pdf
  26. ^ http://www.visitmyharbour.com/harbours/north-east-england/wisbech-marina/expanded.asp
  27. ^ Connecting communities:Expanding Accra to the rail network 2009
  28. ^ https://www.cambridgeshire.gov.uk/transport-funding-bids-and-studies/railway-between-march-and-wisbech/
  29. ^ GRIP process explained: Retrieved 22 September 2017.
  30. ^ http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/cambs/vol4/pp238-243
  31. ^ https://www.citypopulation.de/php/uk-england-eastofengland.php?cityid=E35000453
  32. ^ Little Lithuania: Population 28,000 (5,000 are Lithuanian)
  33. ^ Ką reikia dėti į atliekų dėžes? (Lithuanian)
  34. ^ ed R.B.Pugh. A. History of Cambridge and isle of Ely vol IV. OUP. 
  35. ^ https://www.fenlandcitizen.co.uk/news/breaking-news-wisbech-budgens-store-to-close-on-thursday-1-7853869/
  36. ^ http://www.wisbechstandard.co.uk/news/student-reunion-held-to-mark-the-closure-of-the-wisbech-horticultural-station-1-1445503
  37. ^ http://www.wisbechstandard.co.uk/news/two-new-fast-food-outlets-in-centre-of-wisbech-to-bring-60-full-and-part-time-jobs-to-the-town-1-3612226
  38. ^ https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-cambridgeshire-31573914
  39. ^ https://www.peterboroughtoday.co.uk/news/environment/scalding-steam-five-suffer-burns-in-factory-horror-1-64968
  40. ^ https://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/4217181
  41. ^ https://www.gov.uk/government/news/cambridgeshire-and-peterborough-set-for-new-mayor
  42. ^ *ed Paul E Eden (May 2018). Discovering Wisbech. Claire Saberton. 
  43. ^ http://www.wisbech2020vision.co.uk/article/13319/NHS-Trust-launches-redevelopment-plans-for-North-Cambridgeshire-Hospital-Wisbech
  44. ^ http://www.wisbechstandard.co.uk/news/walsoken-wisbech-1-500-homes-fenland-king-s-lynn-council-1-5475159
  45. ^ *The fens issue 2. Natasha Shiels. May 2018. 
  46. ^ Pugh, R.B. (1953). The Victoria History of the County of Cambridge And Isle of Ely vol IV. London: Oxford Univesity Press. p. 250. 
  47. ^ Pugh, R.B. (1953). The Victoria history of the county of Cambridge and the isle of Ely. London: Oxford university press. p. 250. 
  48. ^ anonymous (2918). Wisbech Official Town Guide & Map. Wisbech Town Council.  Check date values in: |year= (help)
  49. ^ A history of Cambridge & the isle of Ely. Vol IV. ed. RB Pugh. 1953. OUP.
  50. ^ anonymous (2018). Wisbech Official Town Huide & Map 2018. Wisbech Town Council. 
  51. ^ http://www.wisbechstandard.co.uk/news/new-secondary-school-in-wisbech-given-the-go-ahead-by-council-bosses-1-5531294
  52. ^ Template:A history of Cambridge & Isle of Ely vol IV
  53. ^ http://www.cambstimes.co.uk/cambridgeshire-life/letters/richard-young-memorial-started-life-as-a-drinking-fountain-1-1705221
  54. ^ This church's page at the Cambridgeshire Churches website
  55. ^ https://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/101161226-church-of-st-mary-wisbech-st-mary#.WzYUOxbTXYU
  56. ^ This church's page at the Cambridgeshire Churches website
  57. ^ The fens. Ed Natasha Shiels. June 2018 p18
  58. ^ Gardiner, F.G. (1898). History of Wisbech and neighbourhood, during the last 50 years- 1848-1898. Marlborough & Co, London. 
  59. ^ http://www.eafa.org.uk/catalogue/972
  60. ^ http://www.eafa.org.uk/catalogue/173
  61. ^ http://www.eafa.org.uk/catalogue/174
  62. ^ http://www.eafa.org.uk/catalogue/974
  63. ^ http://www.eafa.org.uk/catalogue/139644
  64. ^ http://www.eafa.org.uk/catalogue/2977
  65. ^ http://www.eafa.org.uk/catalogue/775
  66. ^ http://www.eafa.org.uk/catalogue/116931
  67. ^ https://www.radiotimes.com/tv-programme/e/fzy6/antiques-roadshow--series-23---7-vintage-antiques-roadshow-wisbech/
  68. ^ http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00r3qyw
  69. ^ http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/cambridgeshire/hi/people_and_places/newsid_8530000/8530168.stm
  70. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bbq_2dai4Hk
  71. ^ http://www.channel5.com/episode/rose-crown/
  72. ^ http://www.discoveringmagazines.co.uk/wisbech/index.html#
  73. ^ Wisbech: blighted by crime? – Fenland Today
  74. ^ Drugs, the teenager found murdered on the Queen's estate and how the Baltic Mafia is terrorising one of Britain's oldest market towns
  75. ^ Country Life June 20, 2018
  76. ^ "Wisbech, United Kingdom Weather Averages". World Weather Online. Retrieved 1 September 2017. 

External links[]