Wisbech: Fires

Page 261

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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Timber is scarce in the Fens and brick earth plentiful. Timber-framed construction was therefore superseded by brickwork at an early date. This perhaps explains why it is that Wisbech has not suffered severely from fires. (fn. 1) In 1558 William Styrmin was paid 40s. for his charges laid out after a fire in the Old Market. (fn. 2) Another fire in the same quarter occurred in 1607. Amongst other payees, John Norton received £10 compensation for his house 'pulled down for the preservation of the rest'. (fn. 3) After this it was resolved that the town's fire equipment should consist of 24 leather buckets, 3 large ladders, and 3 'cromes' with 14-yard ropes fastened to the chains. Another serious fire occurred in 1652, when some almshouses were destroyed. A general collection throughout the Isle yielded £14 0s. 10d., including £4 16s. 5d. from Wisbech itself, which was distributed in amounts varying from 5s. to £1 12s. 6d. amongst sixteen beneficiaries. (fn. 4) Four years later (1656) the Corporation obtained the use of a fire engine for 20s. yearly; it was stored first in the church, and from 1679 in an engine house by the neighbouring almshouses. (fn. 5) A new house was built near the oil mills in the Old Market in 1776, (fn. 6) but as late as 1781 the town relied at least in part on amateur assistance in extinguishing fires, 10 guineas being paid to those who had helped to put out a fire in Bell Lane. (fn. 7) At the end of the 19th century the Wisbech Fire Brigade consisted of a captain, 3 officers, 4 subordinate officers, and 20 men, with 2 steam and 1 manual fire engines. (fn. 8) The fire station in Lower Hill Street was replaced by the present one in Horse Fair in 1932.


  • 1. Walker and Craddock, Hist. Wisb. 238.
  • 2. Corp. Rec. ii, 209.
  • 3. At this time house property of the Corporation let for about £7 a year (e.g. Corp. Rec. iii, 91).
  • 4. Corp. Rec. iv, 124-5.
  • 5. Ibid. 133b, 146b, 210b.
  • 6. Ibid. vi.
  • 7. Anonymous late 18th-century diary in Wisb. Mus.
  • 8. Kelly, Dir. Cambs. (1900).