Wisbech and its hidden museum

If you walk along Market Street from Wisbech Market Place, you will soon arrive at The Crescent. One of only five perfect residential crescents in the country, it surrounds the grounds of the Castle, a Regency villa.

Turn left into The Crescent (or right, since it's a crescent, so you'll end up in the same place if you keep walking). Its magnificent Georgian houses should be enough to distract you from the monstrosity of Museum Square's 1970s library.

If you turned right, you would have walked three-quarters of the way around rather than one-quarter and spared yourself the façade of the library. Built-in the early 1870s, the quite noteworthy Ely Place Baptist Chapel was demolished a century later. Even though neither building was ideal for this prime location, the chapel has become the preferred option today.

As you stroll through Museum Square, with the castle behind you, you will see St Peter and St Paul's parish church. St Peter's Church is accompanied by St Peter's Gardens and Museum Square, making an elegant entrance to both from The Crescent, a grand building almost 1,000 years old with a rich history.

 

Museum of Wisbech & Fenland

Wisbech and Fenland Museum dominate the square's left side. Due to Covid's temporary closure, the building is undergoing a major reconstruction, and the reader is forgiven for thinking that the refurbishment should extend to its crooked windows. In fact, the museum was built on top of the moat of the original castle and, as a result, is greatly affected by subsidence.

The Wisbech & Fenland Museum was built in 1846/47 and is significant for recording Wisbech and local history, but perhaps even more so for being the first purpose-built museum in the UK. Many of the museum's collections and exhibit cases are in their original Victorian layout. The building is itself a museum, so it becomes an integral part of the museum.

In addition, the museum library holds a manuscript for Charles Dickens' Great Expectations, and it is rare to find a museum that can take pride in exhibiting an original classic.

 

Castle Lodge

The former parole office at No.1 Museum Square was located next to the museum for many years. Due to the location's obvious unsuitability, there was strong local opposition to converting No.2 into an HMO. Because of this, the scheme was abandoned and the building was offered for sale at auction recently.

At the same time, No. 1, also known as Castle Lodge, is undergoing a painstaking restoration. Located between a castle, church, and museum, its pleasing façade is enough to draw the interest of a casual observer. However, history is also hidden here.

 

It was a fit of pique

Make sure to walk from Market Place to Museum Square next time you're in Wisbech. If you look again at Castle Lodge, you'll notice a strange wooden canopy above the door. As can be seen from the style of the windows and the dressed stonework at the corners, it came from Thurloe's Mansion.

You have now discovered, or rediscovered, Museum Square, a charming, historic spot in an easy-to-overlook Fenland town. In the process, you've crossed paths with Dickens, travelled back almost 1,000 years, and kept up with the Medworths.

 


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