1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Wisbech
WISBECH, a municipal borough, market town, and port in the Wisbech parliamentary division of Cambridgeshire, England, 38 m. N. by W. of Cambridge, on the Great Eastern and the Great Northern and Midland joint railways. It lies in the flat fen country, on the river Nene (mainly on the east bank), 11 m. from its outlet on the Wash. By the Wisbech canal it has communication with the Ouse. The church of St Peter and St Paul has a double nave, with aisles, the north arcade being Norman; but the rest of the building is mainly Decorated and Perpendicular. There are remains of a Norman west tower; the Perpendicular tower stands on the north side. The museum contains a valuable library and various collections, including antiquities and objects of art and natural history. Other institutions include a grammar school founded in the middle of the 16th century and provided for by a charter of Edward VI., the Cambridgeshire hospital, a custom-house, a cattle-market, and an important corn exchange, for Wisbech has a large trade in grain. A Gothic monument commemorates Thomas Clarkson (1760-1846), a powerful opponent of the slave-trade, and a native of the town. The shipping trade is carried on both at the town itself and at Sutton Bridge, 8 m. lower down the river. The chief imports are coal, timber and iron, and the exports grain and other agricultural products and salt. Foreign trade is chiefly with the Russian Baltic ports. In the neighbourhood large quantities of fruit are grown, including apples, pears, plums, gooseberries, and strawberries. Potatoes, asparagus, and other vegetables are also grown for the London market. The town possesses agricultural implement works, coach building works, breweries, rope works, planing and sawing mills, and corn and oil-cake mills. The borough is under a mayor, 6 aldermen, and 18 councillors. Area, 6476 acres.
Wisbech (Wisebec, i.e. Ousebec) is near a Roman embankment and tumuli. About 940 the manor is said to have been given to the abbey of Ely by Oswy and Leoflede; the abbot held it in 1086; and it became attached to the see of Ely with the other possessions of the monastery. The castle is alleged to have been built by William I., and was converted from a fortress in the fens into an episcopal palace between 1471 and 1473. The growth of Wisbech depended on its position and episcopal patronage. In 1190 tenants of Wisbech Barton acquired an exemption from tolls throughout England, confirmed by John, Henry IV. and Henry V. The Gild of the Holy Trinity is mentioned in 1379, and grew rich and powerful. After its dissolution the townsmen became, in 1549, a corporation holding of the king, by a charter which transferred to them the property and duties of the gild, and was renewed in 1610 and 1669. By the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835 a mayor, aldermen and a council replaced the capital burgesses, the older governing body. The borough returned a member only to the parliament of 1638; its elected member, Secretary Thurloe, chose then to represent another constituency. A fair of twenty days from the vigil of Holy Trinity was granted to the bishop of Ely in 1327. The mart still occupies by custom the interval between Lynn mart, of which it is probably an offshoot, and Stamford fair in mid-Lent. A pleasure fair, called the Statute Fair, takes place shortly before Michaelmas. Importance attaches to the horse fair, held in 1827 in the week before Whitsuntide and now on the second Thursday in May and on July 25, and to the cattle fair in the beginning of August. Saturday was market day in 1792; a corn market is now held on Saturday, a cattle market on Thursday and Saturday. In 1086 eels were prolific in Wisbech water. The port was noteworthy until a diversion of the Ouse, before 1292, rendered it hardly accessible. Drainage restored trade before 1634, and the act of 1773 for making Kinderley's Cut was the beginning of prosperity. From 1783 to 1825 agricultural produce was exported and coal imported. Hemp and flax had an importance, lost between 1827 and 1849, but responsible in 1792 for fairs on Saturday and Monday before Palm Sunday.
See W. Watson, History of Wisbech (Wisbech, 1827); N. Walker and C. Thomas, History of Wisbech (Wisbech, 1849); History of Wisbech (Wisbech and London, 1833).