Wisbech: Bridges

Page 265

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.

This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.



The first mention of the bridge over the Well Stream is in 1317, when in the settlement of a dispute between Bishop Hotham and Sir Geoffrey de Coleville over their manors of Wisbech and Walsoken, certain houses erected by the latter at his end of the bridge are alluded to. (fn. 1) Grants of pontage were made to the bishop in 1327, 1328, and 1331. (fn. 2) References to bridges are frequent in the Corporation records, mostly to that across the Nene on the site of the present bridge. In 1586-7 and 1618 Walsoken bridge, the former 'great bridge' of Wisbech, was out of repair. (fn. 3) The new 'great bridge', the present Wisbech bridge, was built or perhaps rebuilt in 1583. (fn. 4) It was of timber and fairly often in need of repair, notably in 1651 and 1683 when over £100 was spent on it. (fn. 5) The repair of the original (Walsoken) bridge had been a responsibility of the hundred, and attempts were made in 1668 and 1679 to get contributions from Elm, Outwell, and Upwell for the repair of Wisbech bridge. (fn. 6) Finally, in 1739, John Addy, carpenter, undertook its upkeep for the Corporation for £18 a year exclusive of any damage caused by floods and shipping accidents. (fn. 7) Eighteen years later it was decided to replace this wooden bridge by a stone one. The result was a onearch bridge which excited Cole's admiration; it was designed by a Mr. Shearman of Peterborough with the assistance of Sir James Burrough, and was completed in 1758 at a cost of £2,250. (fn. 8) This bridge, with its high camber and steep approaches, proved dangerous to road traffic, (fn. 9) and as early as 1819 an abortive proposal was made to replace it. (fn. 10) In 1855-7 it was succeeded by an iron structure designed as a swing bridge but never actually so used except in testing. (fn. 11) This bridge in turn became inadequate for traffic and dangerous owing to its high parapets and was replaced by the present concrete bridge in 1931.


  • 1. Cal. Pat. 1317-21, 36; Hist. MSS. Com. 6th Rep. App. 317.
  • 2. Cal. Pat. 1327-30, 95, 227; 1330-4, 183.
  • 3. Corp. Rec. ii, 194; iv, 12a.
  • 4. Ibid. ii, 153. The Commissioners of Sewers ordered the Bishop of Ely to defray one-third of the cost of its upkeep (M. Hutcheson, MS. Hist. Wisb. (Wisb. Mus.)).
  • 5. Corp. Rec. iv, 123b, 230a.
  • 6. Ibid. 165a.
  • 7. Corp. Rec. v (10 Jan. 1738-9).
  • 8. Ibid. vi (21 Oct. 1757, &c.).
  • 9. A traffic count in May 1852 showed that 73,760 foot passengers, 2,436 carriages, 3,669 horses, and 3,250 beasts crossed the bridge in one week, between a quarter and a third of the traffic being on Saturday (market day) (Oldham, MS. Hist. Wisb. River, 180 (Wisb. Mus.)).
  • 10. The Revd. Jeremiah Jackson attended a meeting on this subject on 28 August of that year (Diary (Wisb. Mus.)).
  • 11. Gardiner, Hist. Wisb. 111-14.