Wandering Wisbech – Part 2
Wandering Wisbech as part of our Lockdown exercise provides us with an opportunity to learn more about the town’s heritage.
Arthur A. Oldham’s The Inns & Taverns of Wisbech, published in 1950, names numerous licenced premises of the past. Until water was piped from Marham, beer was safer to drink than water. Unfortunately the combination of strong drink and the open waters of the river and canal could lead to tragic consequences.
On many occasions after closing time, the landlord’s next sight of his customer might be when the body was fished out and brought back to the same inn to meet the coroner. Public houses, particularly those close to the waterways, were convenient locations for inquests.
Nowadays the town has little more than a baker’s dozen of hotels, inns and public houses. A pub crawl would not be a long-distance event. Starting at the Rose and Crown in the Market Place, walk through the High Street and turn right into Bridge Street turning left at the Clarkson Memorial. Having passed the Angel Inn on the corner of Alexandra Road and South Brink, you will see the White Lion Hotel. Crossing the Town Bridge to face Cornhill, turn left and you will soon pass the Hare and Hounds on North Brink. The Red Lion is further down. Cross the junction with Chapel Road and walk on until you reach The Rose Tavern. Further down is Elgood’s Brewery. Return along the brink and to the Old Market, and you’ll see the King’s Head. Progress along North Street and turn right to cross Freedom Bridge to Lynn Road. A walk of about a mile brings you to The Locomotive. Crossing Lynn Road to the other side and a short walk along Old Lynn Road brings you to the Black Bear. A large bear once stood outside the entrance.
Turn right along Kirkgate Street and carry on to Norwich Road where you will find The Three Tuns. Cross the dual carriageway and turn right, then sharp left and right along Church Terrace which brings you to the Dukes Head. Return to the Market Place and The Globe (formerly The Muppet Inn). Cross the Market Place to the Coyote Bar & Diner in New Inn Yard, the end of the tour.
A trawl of the town’s records produces over two hundred hotels, inns, taverns and beerhouses. This is not surprising as at any one time there were more than seventy licensed premises. The names of pubs changed, sometimes with the proprietor. The survivors are easily listed: The Angel, Black Bear, Dukes Head, The Globe, The King’s Head, Hare & Hounds, The Locomotive, The Red Lion, Rose, Rose & Crown Hotel, Three Tuns, The Wheatsheaf Inn and White Lion Hotel.
Recent closures included The Five Bells, The Horsefair Tavern and The Case. Other premises now converted include the Bowling Green (a children’s nursery), Clarkson Arms (residential), Engineers Tavern (residential), The Flowerpot (residential), the George (retail), the Lathrenders Arms (restaurant), The Bell (residential), the Railway Tavern (residential), The Royal Standard (funeral directors), The Mermaid (retail), The Spread Eagle Hotel (retail), The Turnpike (residential), White Hart (partly-demolished), West End (now Blues restaurant) and The Wisbech Arms (a hairdressers).
Competition between rival landlords could be intense and when the railways arrived landlords would run omnibuses to pick up potential customers from the stations. In earlier times passengers would book their tickets for stagecoaches or river traffic at a hotel.
Former pub names also give clues to the port of Wisbech’s maritime heritage and those trades and industries thriving in the town. The British Rifleman, Corn Metre, Custom House Tavern, Ferry Boat, Harbour Hotel, Ropers Arms, Royal Sailor, Sailors Return, Shipwrights Arms and Soldiers Return all link to the Port of Wisbech. The Brewers Arms, Three Jolly Butchers, Three Horse Shoes, Horse and Groom, Masons Arms, Porters Arms, Printers Arms and Windmill are reminders of other trades.