Wisbech: Later history of the castle

A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 4, City of Ely; Ely, N. and S. Witchford and Wisbech Hundreds. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 2002.

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'Wisbech: Later history of the castle', in A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 4, City of Ely; Ely, N. and S. Witchford and Wisbech Hundreds, (London, 2002) pp. 254. British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/cambs/vol4/p254 [accessed 20 April 2024]


Secretary John Thurloe, who purchased the manor during the Interregnum, replaced Morton's palace by a house in the style of the time, said to have been designed by Inigo Jones, but almost certainly by his pupil John Webb. It had a resemblance to Thorpe Hall, Peterborough, which is certainly the work of the latter architect. (fn. 1) At the Restoration the property reverted to the bishops. Most of them, however, spent little, if any, time at Wisbech, and the practice arose of leasing the castle to local families. Henry Pierson was the first post-Restoration tenant; later the Southwell family were lessees for more than a century. In 1778-9 Edward Southwell was paying £30 a year rent. (fn. 2) In 1793 statutory powers were acquired (fn. 3) by Bishop Yorke to sell the castle and grounds. The Bill passed despite the opposition of Sir James Eyre, Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, (fn. 4) and the premises were sold by auction in the same year to Joseph Medworth of Bermondsey (fn. 5) for £2,305. (fn. 6) In 1811 Medworth offered the house to the capital burgesses for the Grammar School, but they had hopes of obtaining possession after Medworth's death at a reduced price and the offer fell through. (fn. 7) Medworth, who had been developing the 5-acre grounds as a residential estate since 1793, (fn. 8) pulled down Thurloe's house and erected the present 'Wisbech Castle' in 1816.


  • 1. A model of Thurloe's house is preserved in the Museum. For Webb and Thorpe Hall see V.C.H. Northants. ii, 458.
  • 2. Bp.'s Mun., Ely, D 6.
  • 3. By 33-34 Geo. III c. liii.
  • 4. In a letter (written by Dr. John Warren, Bishop of Bangor) preserved at Ely (Bp.'s Mun., D 9), Eyre considered that it would be improper for so rich a see to alienate property, and imputed dishonesty to Bishop Yorke as the castle was said to be in bad repair. Warren and Eyre were sons-in-law of Henry Southwell of Bank House, Wisbech, a member of the family tenanting the castle, and to that extent interested parties.
  • 5. Formerly of Wisbech. See p. 246, note 24.
  • 6. Fenland N. & Q. iv, 362 (containing a site plan).
  • 7. Gardiner, Hist. Wisb. (1898), 234-6; V.C.H. Cambs. ii, 328-9. The house was in good repair in 1791, the chimney-stacks and cornices having been repointed five years earlier, but there were holes in the stable roof and the gardens were neglected (MS. in Wisb. Mus.). The preamble to the Act authorizing the sale states that the castle had for many years been in a ruinous state.
  • 8. York (recte Yorke) Place commemo rates the bishop under whom the sale took place. A proposal to prolong Market Street (laid out by Medworth) on the other side of the Market Place, to form a new approach to Lynn Road, was not carried out. This proposal was still under debate in 1824, when it was suggested that the Grammar School should purchase Dr. Whitsed's house (formerly belonging to Dr. Fraser) and give up part of its premises in Hill Street to allow the new street to be made (Jackson Diary, 30 July 1824) (Wisb. Mus.).