New look heritage trail launched in time for summer holidays

Wisbech Merchants Trail Map
Charlotte Marshall

A trail which helps bring Wisbech’s heritage to life has been given a revamp – with a new interactive mobile app putting history at your fingertips.

The Wisbech Merchants Trail, which was first created a number of years ago, has been updated as part of Fenland District Council’s Wisbech High Street Project.

Funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and with support from local volunteers, the project has refreshed the original trail, developed a state-of-the-art ‘Wisbech Merchants Trail’ mobile app and created a new trail booklet and map.

Visitors and residents alike can now download the app for free on any smart device, or pick up a trail booklet from locations across the town, to discover more about its rich history and explore key points of interest.

The updated trail will be officially launched on Saturday, August 10, outside the Wisbech Museum, where visitors can have a look at the app as well as pick up a copy of the new booklet. There will also be a tour at 1pm of some of the nearby ‘stops’ on the trail.

Cllr Chris Seaton, Fenland District Council’s Portfolio Holder for Heritage, said: “I’m delighted that the trail has been updated in both digital and traditional methods to help bring the town’s heritage stories to a wider audience.

“It’s a fascinating tour of 18th and 19th Century Wisbech, with 17 historical locations all within a short walking distance of the town centre. I’m sure it will be a huge hit over the summer holidays with families and attract many new visitors to the town.”

Each of the ‘stops’ on the trail are marked with a numbered brass plaque set into the pavement, and have accompanying historical facts in both the app and booklet.

The app includes an interactive map and easy to navigate pages, with a trail voiceover provided by local author Diane Calton-Smith. It is available to download now from the Apple Store and Google Play by searching ‘Wisbech Merchants Trail’.

Copies of the Trail booklet and map will be available at various locations across the town including the Wisbech and Fenland Museum, Wisbech Information Centre, Peckover House, Elgoods Brewery, Wisbech Library, Octavia Hill Museum, Octavia View and Fenland District Council’s Customer Services Centre at The Boathouse.

Merchants Trail stops

  1. The Clarkson Memorial. This towering Victorian monument commemorates the life and achievements of Thomas Clarkson (1760-1846), a great campaigner against the slave trade, who was born in Wisbech. The memorial was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott whose brother was vicar of St Peter’s Church in Wisbech.
  2. The Rose and Crown Hotel and Market Place. Thought to be the oldest surviving hotel in Wisbech, the Rose and Crown was the town’s principal coaching inn before the railway and is a reminder of Wisbech’s historical importance as a commercial centre with trade benefitting from road and river access.
  3. The Crescent and Wisbech Castle. The curving terraces of houses surrounding the Castle gardens form one of Wisbech’s architectural highlights, a striking example of Georgian architecture and town planning by a local builder, Joseph Medworth. The Castle itself is steeped in history, with at least four structures having been built on the present site bearing the name Wisbech Castle. It is possible even that the Gunpowder Plot was hatched at the Castle!
  4. Wisbech and Fenland Museum. Opened in 1847, the museum is one of the very first purpose-built museums in the country. It helped to provide an intellectual and cultural focus for Wisbech’s substantial middle class in the 19th century. Inside is a fully preserved Victorian interior with original display cases still in use, and its vast library contains the original manuscript of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.
  5. Church of St Peter and St Paul. The parish church, parts of which date back to 12th Century, is unusual in that it has two naves and two chancels under a single roof making it extremely broad. Inside there are fine 17th and 18th century monuments and Victorian stained glass windows which testify to the former prosperity of Wisbech and its residents.
  6. The Angles Theatre. The theatre, now a lively arts centre, has had an extraordinary range of uses over the years and was originally two separate buildings – at the back a Georgian theatre built in 1793 and in front a Victorian infants’ school dating from 1837.
  7. Octavia Hill’s Birthplace House. This substantial house overlooking the river dates from the 1720s. It has been open to the public since 1994 and its room displays tell the story of the life and work of Octavia Hill, born in Wisbech in 1838, and her remarkable family.
  8. The River Nene. After the estuary of the River Ouse became silted up, it was diverted into the sea at King’s Lynn. This led to the construction of the present course of the River Nene from Peterborough to the Wash. The drained marshes provided rich productive farmland, bringing prosperity to Wisbech and its Port. It was the centre of a thriving agricultural region and an important trading centre – with shipments of corn and oil seed rape to the coast and continent, and imports which included coal from the North and timber from the Baltic.
  9. Carlisle Garden. Overlooking the river and quays, the garden commemorates William Harwood Carlisle, surgeon and Freeman of the Borough and his daughter Ann, a former town mayor.
  10. The Old Market. Once a rough, cobbled area surrounded by warehouses and shops, the Old Market was a commercial and trading centre for local farmers, near to both the Corn Exchange and the Cattle Market. A railway line from the docks had a terminus here.
  11. Nene Parade. Running down the east side of the river from Freedom Bridge to the Boathouse, Nene Parade was formerly one of Wisbech Port’s busiest quays. The area behind Nene Parade consisted of timber and coal yards along with warehouses and some of the less salubrious sites in the town – the gasworks, the manure works and the Union Workhouse. All of these have long since disappeared and the area is now the site of an ambitious regeneration programme.

11a. Wisbech General Cemetery and pocket park.

A new ‘stop’ to the original Merchants Trail, the cemetery was one of the earliest so-called ‘garden cemeteries’ in the country when it was opened in 1836. It has recently been renovated with a grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

  1. Wisbech Corn Exchange. Built in 1811, the Corn Exchange symbolised Wisbech’s importance as a commercial and administrative centre. In its early days the building was used for public meetings and as an entertainment venue. In the Second World War it was also the HQ of the Home Guard and after the war it was solely used for entertainment including roller-skating, dancing, concerts and wrestling; more recently it was a popular bingo hall.
  2. North and South Brink. Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, the architectural historian, described North Brink as ‘one of the finest Georgian brick streets of England’. In view of its elegant streetscape following the curve of the river, it has been used as the location for period dramas, both in film and television. South Brink consists of an almost uninterrupted series of Georgian properties, save for some incongruous, former school buildings set behind railings.
  3. Peckover House and the Peckovers. Known for their philanthropy, the Peckovers were concerned with various causes and campaigned for the abolition of slavery, pacificism and improvements in education. The family of Quakers began their association with Wisbech in 1777, when Jonathan Peckover moved to Wisbech to establish a grocery business. In 1794 he moved into Peckover House, then known as Bank House, as it was from here that Jonathan conducted his banking business. Peckover House, which is said to be one of the finest Georgian town houses in the country, was gifted to the National Trust by Alexandrina Peckover in 1943.
  4. Friends’ Meeting House. Built in 1854, the Friends’ Meeting House replaced an earlier building consisting of two thatched cottages in which local Quakers had worshipped since 1711. The plainness of the newer building, still in use today, reflects something of the fundamental simplicity of the Quaker faith.

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