Wisbech in 1843
WISBECH, a municipal borough and seaport, in the county of Cambridge, in the division of the Isle of Ely, and hundred of Wisbech, 90 miles north by east from London.
The town is situated in the flat district of the Fens, chiefly on the east bank of the river Nene. The town is about 7 miles from the embankment of the Wash where it is crossed by the road from King's Lynn to Sutton. The present bridge of stone, which connects the two parts of the town, was erected at an expense of about £1,800, in the place of a wooden one which was destroyed in 1758. It has only one arch of 72 feet span. The road-way is so narrow as not to allow two carriages to pass, and the descent from the centre so steep that accidents frequently occur from the difficulty of checking the rapid movement of vehicles when heavily laden. The town itself has a neat and uniform appearance ; the houses are tolerably good, the streets are clean and lighted with gas, and a handsome circus, which was constructed in 1816, occupies the space on which the castle of Wisbech formerly stood. The surrounding country is exceedingly bare of trees. The markets both for meat and vegetables are well supplied. In dry seasons however water for domestic use is very scanty and bad, the best being often rain-water collected in cisterns from the roofs of the houses. The Corn Exchange, or Exchange Hall, was built by the corporation in 1811, for the accommodation of the merchants and farmers on the market-day, but they did not find it to answer their purpose, and deserted it. In 1831 it was inclosed by the capital burgesses, and converted into a room for lectures, concerts, and similar purposes, the rooms above being used as billiard-rooms and news-rooms. At the back of the Corn-Exchange is a large plot of ground used as a cattle-market.
The New Town-Hall was built in 1801 on the site of a building called The Firkin Cross, which was the butter-market, the town having formerly had a considerable trade in butter, but the land in the neighbourhood is now nearly all under tillage, and the butter trade has ceased. The lower part of the Town-Hall is the poultry-market ; one division of the upper part is the custom-house, and the other division is the council-chamber of the burgesses.
The House of Correction was built in 1807. It has a tread-wheel erected at an expense of £600, which is used as a flour-mill ; the prisoners are generally about 30. The sessions-house, or shire-hall, is part of the same building, and in it the Lammas assizes and Midsummer and Epiphany sessions are held. The workhouse was built in 1722, and cost about £2,000. A union workhouse has been since built, which, when the population returns for 1841 were given in, contained 154 persons.
The market-place occupies a large piece o the centre of the town. In 1811 it was paved with Yorkshire slabs at an expense of £1,170. The public baths, a short distance below the town, on the west bank of the river, are small, but neatly constructed.
St. Peters Church is a large and ancient building, with a tower detached from the body. The chamber over the porch is used as a public library. St. Peters is a vicarage, which, with the curacy of St. Mary, is of the annual value of £1,779 : it is in the gift of the bishop of Ely. The New Chapel, which is a perpetual curacy under trustees, is of the annual value of £200. There is a General Baptist Chapel, a Baptist Chapel, a Methodist Chapel, an Independent Chapel, and places of worship for Unitarians and Quakers. A neat cemetery has been recently formed and opened.
The free grammar-school was established in 1549 by a charter of Edward VI. Two scholarships for Magdalen College, Cambridge, were attached to it, but the funds were misapplied for many years, till in 1765 the corporation were compelled by proceedings in Chancery to restore them to the purposes of the founder. A charity-school for boys and another for girls were established about 1730. There are several public charities in Wisbech, most of which were under the management of the corporation, but are now under trustees, according to the regulations of the Municipal Corporations Act.
There is a canal between Wisbech and Outwell, which was completed in 1792 : it connects the Nene with the Ouse. Considerable sums have lately been expended in making new sluices and repairing old ones.
The navigation of the Nene to Wisbech has gradually become very difficult and dangerous, from the accumulation of mud and sand ; but by cuts and other works it has recently been much improved. The mills which were used to force the water to the sea are no longer needed, and vessels can arrive at the quay of the port without any material impediment. The vessels belonging to Wisbech in 1842 were 22 under 50 tons, of the total burthen of 781 tons, and 56 above 50 tons, of the total burthen of 5,200 tons. There are two steamers, under 50 tons burthen. In 1841 the number of vessels which sailed coastways from the port were 840, total 39,317 tons ; the number which entered the port were 1,024, total 62,401 tons. In 1841, 25 British and 16 foreign vessels, total 4,674 tons, entered Wisbech from foreign ports ; 1 British and 3 foreign, total 502 tons, sailed for foreign ports. There is no colonial trade. In 1840 the gross receipt of customs duty was £8,591.
The corporation, previous to the Municipal Reform Act, consisted of ten capital burgesses and 40 shilling freeholders who were householders in the town. The burgesses were elected by the household freeholders. The whole number of the corporation, including the burgesses, in 1835, was 280, and the total population of the borough was 8,777 The governing charter was 21 Charles II. By the Municipal Reform Act Wisbech was divided into 2 wards, with 6 aldermen, and 18 councillors. The burgesses on the roll in the first registration in 1835 were 396 ; the limits of the borough were not altered.
In 1841 the population of the parish of Wisbech St. Peter was 8,530 ; of Wisbech St. Mary, 1,599 ; and of the chapelry of Guyhirn, 332 : total 10,461.
A castle was built at Wisbech in 1086 by William I. From the Domesday Book it appears that ‘In the town two fisheries did render to the abbot [of Ely] 14,000 eels, and at present doth render 13 shillings and 4 pence. The abbot hath soke over all the men of the town.’ The inhabitants were made toll-free by grant from Richard I, and confirmed by subsequent kings. Wisbech suffered greatly more than once in the breaking down of the embankments and overflowing of the sea. In 1379 the Guild of the Holy Trinity of Wysbech was established ; and there were eight minor guilds. The last meeting of the Guild of the Holy Trinity was in 1557 (1st Edward VI), but there is no entry of proceedings after 1540, soon after the dissolution of the monasteries, when the Guild of the Holy Trinity. was suppressed. Commissioners met at Ely in 1548 to inquire into its affairs and property. The castle was dismantled in the reign of Henry II.; it was destroyed by an inundation in 1236, and was afterwards rebuilt. It had a constable, and several persons were confined in it as state prisoners. It became the property of the bishops of Ely, and was afterwards .bought by Thurloe, Cromwell's secretary, who rebuilt it as a modern mansion. It has since been demolished.