Friday, 5 September 2014

About Wisbech

The first thing you need to know about Wisbech is how to say it. Some people will tell you that the local pronunciation is Wiz-betch, Wiz-bidge or even Wiz-beck but my own survey (conducted by sitting at the front of the bus and listening to passengers asking for their tickets) confirms that it's Wiz-beach. Heaven knows why it lost that letter "a".

Wisbech has a castle - it doesn't look anything like a castle (that's it above) but that's what they call it. It's built on the site of the old Norman castle which was probably constructed by William I to try to control the troublesome inhabitants of the Fens, but today of course it's just a town house.

Near to "The Castle" is this magnificent Georgian crescent, in fact it nearly encircles the castle as it follows the line of its old defences. You can see the beautiful proportions of the buildings and the regular rhythm of the window placement. In fact the window position pays little regard for the internal function of the rooms and some are actually blank windows, just painted on for effect.

Top-left and bottom-right aren't really windows at all!

There's a rather fine church in the centre of town, SS Peter & Paul, with an award winning garden where you'd normally expect to find a graveyard. In the sixteenth century the old tower fell down and, unsurprisingly, caused a lot of damage. When they rebuilt the tower it was built as a separate structure - an unusual but not unique arrangement.

It has a clock on three of its four sides; the people of Walsoken, to the east of the town, refused to contribute to the building so the eastern wall is left blank! 

Inside it's a most peculiar shape as there are two naves placed side-by-side and two chancels arranged similarly. Together with the aisles on either side it makes for an extremely broad expanse of pews. The reason for this plan was the sudden huge growth of the town - and consequently the congregations - beginning during the Georgian period.

The River Nene allowed Wisbech's rapid growth as a port during the years following the draining of the Fens; all this new agricultural land was suddenly very productive and Wisbech was ideally placed to exploit it. Wisbech was Britain's boom town and many fine buildings can still be seen in the town, particularly right alongside the river, on the North and South Brinks - the merchants liked to keep a very close eye on their businesses.

If any of this looks familiar you may have seen it in any number of films and TV programmes, especially adaptations of Dickens's novels. One of the finest houses, Peckover House, is open to the public and I'll show you that by and by. And on the other bank of the river stands the Octavia Hill Birthplace Museum...

...surprisingly this is not a National Trust property; surprising because she was instrumental in setting up that organisation. And in the background you can see the Clarkson memorial which I showed you in my previous post. It's amazing how many reformers and original thinkers lived in Wisbech during it's boom years. Some of the trade was with the Baltic nations; nowadays many from those lands are coming to live here, tempted by the need for seasonal and agency work.

I've still got a few more things to show you of this little jewel of a town. In the meantime here's a little Wisbech story for you:

Many years ago there was a man in the town who rather liked a bet and would do anything for a wager. One evening in the pub some fellow drinkers challenged him to go over the church wall at midnight and bring back a skull from the boneyard which was situated there. "Yes, I'll do that" he said unsuspectingly.
As the bell tolled midnight he entered the churchyard and went to grab a skull. Just as he was doing so a voice from the shadows said, "Hey, that's mine!" He quickly threw down the skull and chose another. The voice was heard again "Hey, that's mine!" "That's a damned lie," said the man, "you can't have two!" And with that he jumped back over the wall and won the bet.

Take care.


  1. It only just misses being in Lincolnshire John - my county - so I knew it quite well when I still lived at home. And yes, we always called it ' wisbeach' - lovely little town.

  2. Not a place I know, John (though I did know the pronunciation), and it looks splendid - beautifully photographed, as always. Loved the story at the end; can't beat a bit of skulduggery...

  3. An interesting tour of 'wizbeach' (I always thought it was wiz-beck, I've learned something today!).

  4. I hope I remember how to pronounce Wisbech. It might come in handy one day. Loved the story about the skulls and the bet. :)

  5. Spent many years in the Lincolnshire area (flying on Vulcan bombers) and my parents lived near Norwich, so I feel some affinity.

  6. You have a much longer history than our United States, as least a recorded one. I am reminded of Eddie Izzard's comment when introduced to a building here in the U.S. when told its age. His response: "Fifty years! Can't be!" I use it every chance I get ...

  7. Very interesting! Great photos and your descriptions and history are fascinating. It all makes me realize just how young European history is in my country - Australia.

  8. I thoroughly enjoy all the history you put in your posts, thank you John.

  9. The Georgian crescent is really lovely and the trompe l'oeil is a very clever way to maximize the effect of the design. Yet another wonderful church with great arches.
    It's interesting to hear the history of the different towns. It seems that change is the only constant over time.

  10. Wisbech is a bonnie town.. wonderful Georgian Crescent and the houses along the river. Gorgeous church, all those fabulous arches, I do love arches! Good story, you can't fool a betting man :) Wonder just how many Hare & Hounds and Rose & Crowns there are in England. Thanks again John, always enjoy these explorations :)


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