Wisbech, the northernmost town in Cambridgeshire, is dubbed the ‘Capital of the Fens’. Lining the River Nene, it nestles against the Norfolk border, just a few miles south of Lincolnshire. It feels well off the beaten track but Slow travellers who venture to this outpost can look forward to some of the most impressive Georgian architecture in Britain, along with fascinating museums and memorials that honour the town’s inspirational former residents – the likes of anti-slavery campaigner Thomas Clarkson, philosopher William Godwin and social reformer Octavia Hill.
Central Wisbech has two distinct halves: the town centre with its marketplace and Georgian crescent, and the historic Brinks area, which overlooks the River Nene. These two areas are roughly separated by Town Bridge which, installed in 1931, was one of the UK’s first concrete bridges. For in-depth tours of these areas and a selection of fantastic walking tours, head to Visit Cambridgeshire or the National Trust.
What to see and do in Wisbech
The Angles Theatre first opened in 1792 and is one of the oldest surviving Georgian theatre buildings in the country. As you face the theatre, the red-brick building on your left bears a blue plaque that marks the birthplace of journalist and political philosopher William Godwin, who was the founder of philosophical anarchism and the father of Frankenstein novelist Mary Shelley.
The Wisbech and Fenland Museum
The Wisbech & Fenland Museum opened its door in 1847. Focusing on fenland culture and Wisbech history, the museum is a charming example of a Victorian museum, with original display cases housing its eclectic collections. Photos and artefacts tell stories of fenland farming, drainage, crime and bygone crafts and trades, like peat digging, along with information about key town landmarks like Wisbech port and Angles Theatre.
You can also learn about famous residents like Thomas Clarkson – the museum displays the leg shackles, thumbscrews and branding irons that Clarksons’ collected in the 18th and 19th centuries to reveal the cruelty of the slave trade.
In the early 1800s, Joseph Medworth also built The Crescent – this circus of Georgian terraced houses which surrounds the manor is built within the Norman castle’s old moat. On the northeast side of The Crescent (between Union Pl and Ely Pl), Market Street leads to Market Place, where markets are still held seven days a week.
Set slightly back from the main strip of Georgian buildings, the standout landmark of the Brinks is the National Trust’s Peckover House. Built in 1722, this Georgian merchant’s house is testimony to the wealth of Wisbech in the 18th century.
For 150 years, it was home to the Peckovers – a Quaker banking family that played an important role in the history of the town. To explore the house, it’s best to book in advance on the National Trust website.
Octavia Hill’s Birthplace House
This volunteer-run museum was the birthplace of Octavia Hill (1838–1912) – a social reformer who co-founded the National Trust, campaigned to improve urban housing and fought hard to preserve open spaces. She believed in the importance of nature for well-being and wanted to improve the standard of living conditions for working-class people.
The museum has a pretty garden and 13 rooms, many of which have been decorated in an early Victorian style, typical of the era when Octavia Hill lived here (1830s/40s). The rooms tell the story of her life, her achievements and the people who influenced her.