Menu

THE CASTLE

Wisbech CastleThere may well have been five castles on the present site. The first one, perhaps only a matter of surmise, would have been a primitive structure of turves, no stones involved.

After 1066, William the Conqueror established the mark of his authority in every important place, and the town of Wisbech, at that time on the sea, was deemed worthy of a stone fortress.

In 1236, both Town and Castle were swept away in a terrible inundation. The castle remained in ruins for the better half of a century, and then was rebuilt and became one of ten castles, palaces and manor houses attached to the See of Ely. It was John of Wisbeche, a monk living at Wisbech Castle, who for twenty-eight years under Alan de Walsingham, supervised the erection of the superb Lady Chapel at Ely Cathedral.

In the times of persecution, Wisbech Castle became a state ecclesiastical prison, incarcerating Catholics in the reigns of Elizabeth, James I and Charles I and Protestants in that of Queen Mary. Many were executed. It is possible even that the Gunpowder Plot was hatched at the Castle !

Since Wisbech was a Cromwellian area, the Castle, by now in a state of terminal dilapidation, was sold in 1658 to the Right Honourable John Thurloe, Cromwell's Secretary of State. He had the ruined castle demolished and replaced it by a most elegant house designed by Peter Mills, a pupil of Inigo Jones. The appearance of this fourth "Castle" is familiar to many. There is a well known print taken from the fine oil painting at Peckover House which is on loan from the Bishop of Ely.

At the Restoration, Thurloe's Mansion reverted to the See of Ely and was occupied by members of the Southwell family over a period of a hundred and five years. Then in 1792 it was put up for sale, and purchased by Joseph Medworth, a former Wisbech Charity boy who had succeeded in business.

He offered it for sale to the Corporation for the use of the Grammar School, but they declined. Believing that they were waiting for his demise in the hope of getting it at a lower price, Medworth had the Mansion demolished. Using much of the same materials, he managed to replace it by the more pedestrian building, which stands today. Joseph Medworth was a great benefactor to Wisbech but it is hard to forgive him for depriving it of its great architectural gem, and that in a fit of pique!

Wisbech Castle website

Return to tour