Guest Contributor: Wisbech Wanderings part 1
First published in the Fens magazine
By Garry Monger
DIGGING UP THE PAST
WISBECH WORDS AND WALKS (Part 1)
Wandering Wisbech as part of our ‘Lockdown’ exercise provides an opportunity to learn more about the town’s heritage.
Most residents are familiar with Joseph Medworth’s Castle Circus development which includes The Crescent, Union Place, Ely Place, Castle Square, Museum Square and Market Street. Fewer will know that some of these properties and others in the Market Place, North and South Brinks feature in films and books.
There are over two hundred Georgian and other historic buildings and monuments; blue plaques provide some information and details of listed buildings can be found online(1). Many buildings have been refronted over the years and some may hide earlier structures. The old library, now the reception of the Angles Theatre, in Alexandra Road, conceals the original Georgian theatre behind. Opposite is the Luxe Cinema formerly a Women’s Institute hall.
Wisbech War Walk
Wisbech played a significant part in World War One by not only providing soldiers for the British Army but also prefabricated buildings for army regiments and a hospital.
This map highlights the locations that would have been of importance during the war and also the places of remembrance for those who made the ultimate sacrifice.(2).
Other walks in Wisbech and the Fens can be found at the Visit Cambridgeshire Fens website (3).
The town’s residents have included an archbishop, bishops, High Sheriffs, Secretaries of State, MPs, Constables of the Castle, barons, knights, colonels, admirals, Nobel Laureates, Nobel Peace Prize nominees and Olympians.
Writers to visit Wisbech and record their experiences in their diaries or memoirs include Isaac Casaubon (1611), Samuel Pepys (1663), Daniel Defoe (1723), William Cole (1772), John Howard (1776), Joseph Baretti (1778), William Cobbett (1830), William Macready (1836), Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald (1964) and Nicholas Wollaston (1965).
The town has had a number of histories published over the years, the first ‘An Historical Account of the Ancient Town and Port of Wisbech by William Watson (4) in 1827. This was followed by The History of Wisbech’ published in 1833, The History of Wisbech and the Fens (1849) by Thomas Craddock and Neil Walker (5),
and History of Wisbech and Neighborhood, During the Last Fifty Years – 1848-1898 (1898) by FJ Gardiner (6).
Former Wisbech journalist, John Gordon, is one of the best-known writers to feature Wisbech locations in his books: The House on the Brink, The Giant under the Snow, Riders of the Wind and other stories. The Castle, Museum, Peckover House, Rose and Crown Hotel and other pubs are easily recognisable. Whilst many stories are aimed at the adolescent market, the books are enjoyed by a wider readership and he is held in high regard as an author in the style of M R James.
For a younger readership Rev W Awdry’s Thomas the Tank series of books feature trams that would have been seen running along the Wisbech to Upwell tram line and locomotives at the railway stations. Walking the route of the line follows the former canal, in parts it has been made into the dual carriageway (Churchill Road).
More recent non-fiction publications which are easier to obtain include those by Jane Arthur, Robert Bell, Trevor Bevis, Peter Clayton, George Dunlop, Jane Holloway, Bridget Holmes, Andrew C. Ingram, Andy Ketley, Roger Powell, Kevin Rodgers, Rex Sly, Diane Calton Smith, William P Smith and Dorothy Thurman.
Those published by Wisbech Society may be ordered online (7) and those published by the Friends of Wisbech & Fenland Museum are available from the museum shop and Etcetera (8).
Links to online publications, maps and retailers are in the footnotes.
More recent films using Wisbech as a location include ‘Still Crazy’ (1998) starring Jimmy Nail, Bill Nighy and Timothy Spall. ‘David Copperfield’ (1999), ‘Micawber’ (2001) starring David Jason, ‘Dean Spanley’ (2008) starred Peter O’Toole.
Channel Five featured the Rose and Crown hotel in the 2009 series of ‘The Hotel Inspector’ with Alex Polizzi and the hotel’s former owners (https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=f4U4Z3pATn0).
Last year Wisbech ‘2019 Made in Minecraft: A different point of view’ was released (http://www.collusion.org.uk/projects/minecraft-wisbech/ ) (note – will be available again shortly, please go to wisbechprojects.org.uk for updates)
1. https://britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/england/wisbech-fenland-cambridgeshire#.Xp3giNHTWhA .
5. https://archive.org/details/historywisbecha00cradgoog )
Film footage of the town includes that available online at the East Anglian Film Archive. This includes the North Cambridgeshire hospital in the 1920s (http://www.eafa.org.uk/catalogue/972)
and 1930s, (http://www.eafa.org.uk/catalogue/174) street scenes from the 1920s shown at the Electric Theatre, and 1963 film of Wisbech Castle (http://www.eafa.org.uk/catalogue/2977).