Wisbech Hundred: Wisbech St. Mary

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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T D Atkinson. Ethel M Hampson. E T Long. C A F Meekings. Edward Miller. H B Wells. G M G Woodgate, 'Wisbech Hundred: Wisbech St. Mary', 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. 232-238. British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/cambs/vol4/pp232-238 [accessed 23 May 2024].

T D Atkinson. Ethel M Hampson. E T Long. C A F Meekings. Edward Miller. H B Wells. G M G Woodgate. "Wisbech Hundred: Wisbech St. Mary", 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) 232-238. British History Online, accessed May 23, 2024, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/cambs/vol4/pp232-238.

Atkinson, T D. Hampson, Ethel M. Long, E T. Meekings, C A F. Miller, Edward. Wells, H B. Woodgate, G M G. "Wisbech Hundred: Wisbech St. Mary", 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). 232-238. British History Online. Web. 23 May 2024, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/cambs/vol4/pp232-238.

In this section


Wisbech St. Mary, one of the larger parishes of the Isle, covers an area of some 10,000 acres (fn. 1) on the left (north-west) bank of the Nene. It appears to have emerged from Wisbech (St. Peter) in 1109 when Wisbech vill was divided between the Bishop of Ely and the prior and convent. That this separation had not taken place in early times is suggested by the fact that the parish boundary stops more than a mile short of the 'Roman Bank' which bounds all the other marshland parishes of the Isle. The tradition that St. Mary's church was the mother church of Wisbech is rendered improbable by the line of this boundary and also by the fact that until the last century Wisbech St. Mary was for ecclesiastical purposes a chapelry of Wisbech (St. Peter).

Wisbech St. Mary is the least nucleated of all the Isle parishes. The silt soil which covers the northeastern part provided a firmer foundation than peat, and though all the Marshland villages are more scattered than those farther south, Wisbech St. Mary is unusually so. The largest settlement is round the church, in the north-east corner of the parish about 3 miles south-west of Wisbech town. But this accounts for less than half the population, and there are other considerable villages at Murrow (which gave its name to the chief manor) on the northern and Guyhirn on the southern edge of the parish, and smaller ones at Tholomas Drove on the road between St. Mary's and Guyhirn and at Thorney Toll on the extreme western edge, 7 miles west of the parish church. There are also several scattered houses along the Nene bank and the droves across Wisbech High Fen in the west. In spite of the dispersed settlement pattern, the density of population (26 per 100 acres) is high; it is surpassed only by Outwell (77) and Leverington. (46), where somewhat exceptional conditions prevail, and Littleport (27), among the rural parishes of the Isle.

A large section of the parish falls within the Wisbech market-gardening area, and near Hiptoft Farm east of Murrow village is one of the largest areas of orchard, covering more than a square mile. There is also a good deal of bulb-growing.

The Nene forms the southern boundary of the parish. The main road from Peterborough to Wisbech (A 47) crosses the fen in its course from Thorney to Guyhirn, and leaves the parish at its junction with the March road at Guyhirn Bridge. A second-class road (B 1441) keeps to the left side of the Nene and runs from Guyhirn to Wisbech through Tholomas Drove and St. Mary's. This was formerly the main road from Peterborough and Thorney to Wisbech. The section between Tholomas Drove and Bunkers Hill was originally straight, and is still discernible; it was diverted to a more northerly course in the 18th century. (fn. 2) Another road (B 1187) runs from Guyhirn into Lincolnshire, passing the west end of Murrow village, where it is joined by B 1169 from Leverington which runs along the north edge of the parish. The Peterborough- Sutton Bridge branch of the former M. & G.N. Joint Railway, opened in 1866, (fn. 3) has stations in the parish at Murrow (East) and Wisbech St. Mary. About ¼ mile west of the former station it is crossed (fn. 4) by the March-Spalding line, opened the following year, which has a station for Murrow (West); that for Guyhirn is just over the parish boundary.

The Manor House at Wisbech St. Mary is a late 18th-century building with a stone-slated roof. Inham Hall and a farmhouse in St. Mary's village about 120 yards west of the school are also noteworthy, though late in date (early 19th century). All these three houses have fine doorways; that at Inham Hall is protected by a portico porch.


On the division of the Ely estates between the bishop and the convent, half the vill of Wisbech was reserved to the latter. This half was more or less co-extensive with the present parish of Wisbech St. Mary, and became known as the manor of WISBECH MURROW. This manor remained continuously with the prior and convent or their successors the dean and chapter, but documentary evidence is slight. Pope Gregory IX, c. 1231, con-' firmed 160 acres in the marsh (mora) of Wisbech to the monastery. (fn. 5) John de Watford held the manor on a twenty-two-year lease at £16 a year from 1277. (fn. 6) The Taxdtio of 1291 values the conventual property in Wisbech, with portions in Elm and Leverington, at £19 9s. 7d. (fn. 7) In 1324-5 it was let to farm at £51 12s. 6s., (fn. 8) a figure so much higher than any previous or subsequent one as to suggest that it included all the convent's estates in the marshland vills. A mill was let at 30s. a year in 1385. (fn. 9) In 1448 Wisbech Murrow manor produced rents of £16 16s. a year, and perquisites of court of 13s. 5d. (fn. 10) By 1522-3 the value had risen to £20 7s. 7½d., and the manor was appropriated to the pittancer of the monastery; in 1527-8, however, the manor was returned at only £13 and was the least valuable of all the conventual manors in Cambridgeshire except Mepal. (fn. 11) In 1541 it was formally transferred to the newly constituted Dean and Chapter of Ely. (fn. 12) In the early part of the 17th century the manor was farmed by the Pepys family, lessees under the dean and chapter, to Richard Bendish. (fn. 13) The survey of the parliamentary commissioners (1650) shows rents of £4 10s. 8d. and manorial perquisites valued at £5 18s. 10d. The only properties in demesne were two tenements, a thatched timber barn 66 ft. long and a small piece of arable ground; each of these was valued at 10s. (fn. 14) The whole had been leased in 1639 for twenty-one years to Samuel Pepys. (fn. 15) In 1641 a twenty-one-year lease was granted at £17 to Edward Crosse of Wisbech, whose daughter Katherine, a minor, was in possession in 1650. (fn. 16) The Commonwealth grantees of Wisbech Murrow were John Pepys and Percival Aunger. They paid £898 2s. 8d. for it-a lesser sum than was paid for most of the Ely capitular manors, showing that its relative importance had not increased in the past century. The appurtenant lands included 271 acres reclaimed from the marsh, almost all of which was in pasture. (fn. 17) At the Restoration the manor was restored to the dean and chapter. About 1730, when the demesne consisted of 20 acres of old inclosure and 300 acres of fen, Mrs. Susan Pepys paid the beneficial rent of £14 13s. 4d., and one quarter of wheat or £16s. 8d., and was obliged to provide the annual court dinner. The fines for renewal of the lease were rising sharply, from £85 in 1713 to £170 in 1720 and £190 in 1727. The sum of £7 15s. 1d. was received in quit rents and £3 3s. from profits of the court, at which the fines were certain. (fn. 18) Among subsequent tenants were Mr. Chettoe of Chesterton, a friend of Cole the antiquary (c. 1773), (fn. 19) and Cheeseman Williamson (1851). (fn. 20) In 1900 the lordship was vested in the Ecclesiastical (now Church) Commissioners as representing the dean and chapter. (fn. 21)

During the later Middle Ages various subordinate manors emerged in the Wisbech area, of which Hiptofts, Jacketts, Tuddenham Hall, and Bevis Hall were within the boundaries of St. Mary's parish.

In 1388 and 1406 Edward and John Hiptoft had licence for an oratory in their house, which must have been on or near the site of Hiptoft Farm, about a mile east of Murrow and a mile west of St. Mary's village. (fn. 22) In 1476 Isabel, wife of Sir William Norreys and formerly of John Nevile, Marquess of Montagu, held 100s. rents of assize in Wisbech, known as 'Hiptoftes rent'. (fn. 23) A manor of HIPTOFTS was in 1525-6 settled by Christopher Coote and Elizabeth his wife on John Hudleston and others, together with a fishery and 40s. rent in Wisbech and Leverington. (fn. 24) In 1620 it was held by Humphrey Gardiner of the Bishop of Ely as of his manor of Wisbech, but was no longer itself described as a manor. (fn. 25)

The manor of JACKETTS may be traced back to the lands of that name for which John Cave owed suit at Wisbech Hundred court in 1492-3. (fn. 26) By 1542 it was in possession of the Megges family, who were tenants of a good deal of Ely property including the bishop's manor of Wisbech Barton; in that year Thomas Megges died seised of it, his son Nicholas being heir. (fn. 27) The next recorded owner is Henry Adams of Tydd St. Mary, who bequeathed it to his brother Thomas, of Duxford, in 1587. (fn. 28) No connexion can be traced between this family and the Meggeses, or with the Steward family, into whose possession it had come in 1635. In this year William Steward died seised of it, bequeathing it in default of male heirs to his brother Thomas. It was then held of the bishop as of his manor of Wisbech Barton. (fn. 29) Thomas and his son of the same name were dealing with it 12 years later. (fn. 30) The manor is again recorded in 1668. (fn. 31) The name survived in 1777 as that of a piece of land of about 19 acres in Sayers Field, on the north side of the village street of St. Mary's near the old Primitive Methodist chapel. (fn. 32)

The manor of TUDDENHAM HALL must also have been in Wisbech St. Mary, as in 1392 it was held by Sir John de Tuddenham of the prior of Ely. (fn. 33) The first recorded lord was Sir Robert (1281), and it continued in the Tuddenham family until the execution of Sir Thomas at the accession of Edward IV, when his estates were forfeited. (fn. 34) The name of the family suggests that they were settlers from the high lands of mid-Norfolk, or possibly from one of the Tuddenham villages in Suffolk. In 1620 Tuddenham Hall manor, with 200 acres of arable land, was held by Humphrey Gardiner, to whom it had been bequeathed in tail male by his father Thomas (d. 1566). (fn. 35) His grandson and heir, another Humphrey, was then aged 12, and had livery of this manor and Hiptofts in 1636. (fn. 36) In 1677 it was conveyed by him, his wife Helen, and son Humphrey to John Willys, (fn. 37) and after being for a short time in the Penhall family (fn. 38) was in 1703 conveyed by John Penhall and Cecily his wife to Richard Reynolds, (fn. 39) whose family were in possession up to 1800. (fn. 40)

The reputed manor of BEVIS HALL, now represented by the farm of that name on the North Brink at the south-east corner of the parish, was settled in 1624 by William Reve of London, haberdasher, on his daughter Margaret, wife of George Bromley. (fn. 41) In the 18th century it passed to the Drury and the Southwell families, the latter being also the lessees of Wisbech Castle, and in 1746 it was bequeathed by Edward Southwell to his wife Jane, and by her to Sir Clement Trafford of Dunton Hall, Tydd St. Mary. In 1773, when the tenant was William Storey, it was mortgaged with Sir Clement's other property for £12,600, and sold after his death to Francis Saunders of Parson Drove. After being in the Culy family it was purchased in 1851 by Joseph Peck, whose son John sold it to W. G. Jackson. Mr. N. G. Jackson, grandson of the latter, sold it about 1910 to Mr. Frank Britain. The property was re-sold about 1933. (fn. 42)


Bishop Northwold, when ordaining the vicarage of Wisbech in 1252, specified that the priest appointed should conduct services in the chapel of Kilhus in Wisbech St. Mary. (fn. 43) He assigned to the vicar's support the tithe of mills, land bought from the Prior of Spinney for the endowment of the chapel, and the tithe of faldage, fishery, lambs, cheese, butter, geese, calves, and pigs. (fn. 44) In 1275, when Wisbech rectory was appropriated to Ely priory, a house for the priest at Kilhus is mentioned as distinct from the rectory house. (fn. 45) Nevertheless the chapel is not mentioned in the Taxatio. The 14th-century reconstruction of the chapel produced a building of considerable size, and in 1535 it was officially mentioned as capella Beate Marie, though still not separately valued. (fn. 46) The Parliamentary Survey of 1650 showed the tithes as separate from Wisbech St. Peter and worth as much as £60, (fn. 47) but St. Mary's did not finally achieve its independence until 1854. (fn. 48) The living is now a vicarage in the patronage of the Bishop of Ely. About this time the Revd. Henry Fardell, the last vicar of the undivided parish of Wisbech, deplored the lack of church accommodation in the outlying areas of the parish. 'I employed a waggon to convey my poor parishioners of St. Mary's to church, but it soon became abused and I was compelled to abandon the scheme.' (fn. 49)

The chapel of Guyhirn originated in a chantry founded in 1337 by John de Reddik, who endowed it with a messuage and land worth £8 13s. 4d., which at that time was the dower of his mother Florence. (fn. 50) This chapel was licensed for public worship by Bishop Fordham in 1398. (fn. 51) At the Reformation its endowments, amounting to 2 messuages (one of them the original Reddik 'mansion') and 118 acres of land, were worth £5 5s., with stock worth £6 19s. 8d. It also possessed plate and vestments, valued at £2 5s. 8d., including a 9 oz. parcel-gilt chalice (36s.). (fn. 52) The lands, with others in the neighbourhood producing in all £111 6s. 3d., were sold in 1549 to William Warde. (fn. 53) They descended through female lines to Margaret Morrice, who in 1640 sold them to John Jaggard of Haverhill (Suffolk). In 1668 they passed to his brother Daniel, a linen draper of Colchester, who re-sold them two years later in small lots. (fn. 54) By this time a small unconsecrated chapel (the still existing Old Church) had been built and endowed with £30 a year, (fn. 55) which by the middle of the 19th century had increased to about £100. (fn. 56) This chapel was served by a curate appointed by the Vicar of Wisbech until 1878, when Guyhirn was made a separate ecclesiastical district and the patronage vested in the Bishop of Ely. (fn. 57)

Plan of St. Mary's Church

There was in 1517 a guild of St. Mary Magdalen (the patron saint of the chapel) at Guyhirn. In this year Thomas Kersey of March bequeathed 3s. 4d. to the guild. (fn. 58)

The chapel of Corpus Christi at Murrow was founded in or before 1376, when John Fowler of Wisbech, with his household and neighbours, were licensed to attend divine service in it for one year, except on festivals and high days. The licence was justified on the ground that Murrow was far from any other chapel and that the roads from it were dangerous. (fn. 59) The plate and vestments at Murrow were valued at £4 5s. 8d. at the Reformation, and included a 16 oz. gilt chalice valued at £3 4s. (fn. 60) In 1553 26 acres of land in Wisbech which had belonged to the chapel were granted to John Butler and Thomas Chaworthe. (fn. 61) The memory of this chapel is still preserved in the name Chapel Hill. A new chapel was built at Murrow in 1857, which became the church of an ecclesiastical district thirteen years later. The parish includes Southea in Parson Drove. The living is a vicarage in the gift of the bishop. (fn. 62)

Dr. Abraham Jobson, Vicar of Wisbech 1802-28, bequeathed £100 to support a Sunday school at Guyhirn and £200 to establish another at Murrow. (fn. 63)

The church of ST. MARY consists of chancel, clerestoried nave, aisles, south porch, and west tower with a pyramidal cap covered with lead. The exterior, with the exception of the chancel and tower, is plastered. The fabric is of 14th-century origin. The chancel was rebuilt in the 15th century and the clerestory was added about the same period; shortly afterwards the parapet of the tower was added or rebuilt and several windows inserted. The south aisle was repaired with brick in 1758, as recorded on a tablet in the south wall. In 1840 the porch was considerably repaired and in the second half of the 19th century the whole building was drastically restored and re-roofed.

The east window of the chancel is of five lights under a four-centred arch. There are angle buttresses with two set-offs. In the lateral walls are three windows, all of three lights under a four-centred arch; the middle window on the north side has been curtailed at some period. On the south is a priest's doorway of the 15th century with continuous mouldings. There is a plain piscina with a two-centred arch having a continuous chamfer. The chancel arch, originally of the 15th century, has been rebuilt but the responds are old, with moulded caps and bases. Above the arch is a 15-century window of three lights originally external but now opening into the chancel owing to the raising of the roof in the last century. On the east gable of the nave is a 15th-century sanctus bell-cote.

The nave arcades consist of five wide arches of rather clumsy appearance; they are of two orders with moulded caps and bases. In the east respond of the north arcade there is a shallow niche, and the caps of the first bay have been mutilated for the fixing of a screen, now destroyed. There is an image bracket on a column of the south arcade, and a curious carved relief in one of the spandrels, portraying a man and woman standing on either side of a large vessel. There are some stone roof corbels carved with grotesque heads. The clerestory consists of three-light windows with cinquefoiled heads. The east window of the south aisle is modern and bad, but the remainder of the fenestration of the aisles is late 15th century with square heads, except the north-east window of the north aisle; the windows are of three lights with the exception of the east window of the north aisle which is of four lights and has a hood-mould with grotesque heads as stops. The north aisle has a good 14th-century doorway with round arch and continuous mouldings and a blank shield above. The buttresses and string-course are also of the 14th century, the former with two setoffs. Over the north doorway on the inside is a demiangel holding a blank shield. There are no windows in the west walls of the aisles. The porch, though it is stated to have been rebuilt in 1840, is obviously mainly original 14th-century work, even the stone coping on the gable being ancient. The arch is two-centred and of two orders with engaged shafts to the jambs. The side windows are of two lights with square cusped heads. The inner doorway is modern and mostly of plaster, and probably dates from the 1840 restoration. There is a mutilated stoup and a niche in the wall above it.

The tower, which is of four stages, dates from the second half of the 14th century and is well proportioned. It opens to the nave by a lofty two-centred arch with embattled caps and moulded bases to the responds. The west doorway has continuous mouldings and a hood terminating in carved heads. There are angle buttresses. In the second stage is a three-light 15th-century window with trefoiled heads to the main and tracery lights. The third stage has plain squareheaded openings to the north, south, and west, while the belfry is lighted by windows of two lights with trefoiled heads and a trefoil above. The parapet is of brick and probably dates from the end of the 15th century. There is a newel stair to the belfry in the south-west angle. The roofs are entirely modern and poor with the exception of that of the south aisle, which contains some old timbers of uncertain date.

The font is of the 14th century with an octagonal bowl and shaft; the sides of the bowl have arcading except in one case, where there is a quatrefoil contained in a circle. Portions of the 17th-century altar rails are now at the east end of the south aisle in front of the side altar, which is composed of an early 16th-century sideboard. Some early 17th-century panelling serves as a reredos for this altar, and there is a mutilated image bracket in the north-east corner. In the chancel are some handsome gilt chairs and a settee, all of 18thcentury date.

The plate includes a paten of silver, 1761, a modern chalice, paten and flagon of plated metal by Cox & Son of Southampton.

There are five bells in the tower by Osborn and Dobson of Downham, 1803.

The registers begin in 1570 and are complete.

The old church of ST. MARY MAGDALENE, GUYHIRN, consists of a simple parallelogram without any structural division and an open timber bell-cote on the west end of the roof. It is built of ashlar except the west wall and the upper part of the north wall, which are of brick. The roof is now covered with blue slates, but formerly with stone slates. It was erected in 1660 and this date appears over the south doorway. The present building replaced a medieval building on a different site. Since 1878, when a new church was erected about half a mile to the west, the old structure has served as a mortuary chapel. It was repaired in 1918, and is an interesting example of 17th-century Gothic.

There are east and west windows and one on the north and two on the south, which are all uniform in design; they consist of four uncusped lights under a square head and are glazed with old clear glass in rectangular leading. There are angle buttresses with one set-off; the north-west buttress has been rebuilt in brick. The doorway, which is placed at the west end of the south wall, has a four-centred arch and continuous chamfer; above is a shield with the date 1660 and the initials R.P. There is a base course. The open timber bell-cote has simple tracery of Gothic character in the sides and a low pyramidal top. Internally, there is a flat plaster ceiling. The plain wooden pulpit and the seating are probably late 17th-century work. There is a small modern stone font on a wooden base. The old brick floor remains. In the bell-cote is a bell dated 1637.

The modern church of St. Mary Magdalene consists of chancel, north vestry, south chapel, nave, south porch, and west bell-cote. The material is brick and the roofs are tiled. It was erected in 1878 from designs by Sir Gilbert Scott and is a particularly bad example of Victorian Gothic. It stands on, or near, the site of the medieval chapel and fragments of carved and moulded stones, now in the vicarage garden, were discovered when digging the foundations. All the fittings are modern.

The plate consists of a communion cup, standing paten, flagon, and dish, all plated, and a large almsdish of Sheffield plate and parcel gilt with the Raising of Lazarus in high relief in the centre and repoussé work on the rim.

The bell-cote contains three bells, probably contemporary with the church, by Warner of London.

The registers begin in 1871 and are complete.

The church of CORPUS CHRISTI, MURROW, erected in 1857, is a brick structure consisting of apsidal chancel, nave, south porch, and west turret containing one bell. The registers begin in 1858 and are complete.

An Anglican mission room, formerly used also as a school, was erected at Thorney Toll in 1872.


Owing no doubt to the scattered nature of the parish and the inadequate provision of Church accommodation, (fn. 64) Nonconformity obtained a firm hold in Wisbech St. Mary.

Guyhirn was the birthplace of David Culy, the son of a French Protestant refugee. In 1695 he founded a sect, holding extreme Anabaptist doctrines, which was named after him. At the time of his death (c. 1725) there were 700 to 800 Culimites over the northern part of the Isle, (fn. 65) and in the middle of the 18th century there were 15 families of adherents, mainly drawn from Wisbech St. Mary and Guyhirn. (fn. 66) No Culimite chapel is known with certainty to have existed in Wisbech St. Mary itself, but the Baptist chapel in Guyhirn which was founded before 1800 (fn. 67) may have taken over its meeting place. The Baptist chapel was closed between 1869 and 1875. (fn. 68)

In 1851 there were Wesleyan Methodist chapels at Guyhirn and in Wisbech St. Mary itself. (fn. 69) The latter is now demolished. The Guyhirn chapel, which dated from 1849, was rebuilt by the Primitive Methodists in 1868. The Primitive Methodist chapel at Murrow dates from 1835 and was rebuilt in 1875, (fn. 70) and other chapels of this denomination were subsequently built at Wisbech St. Mary village (1891, rebuilt 1926), Tholomas Drove (1845-now closed) and 'The Alley' or Hook's Drove (1841-Wesleyan Methodist Reformers, rebuilt c. 1900) in Wisbech High Fen. (fn. 71)

The Congregational chapel in Wisbech St. Mary, described in 1851 as a 'neat' building, dated from 1843, (fn. 72)

A Roman Catholic congregation existed at Thorney Toll from 1862; its present church dates from 1904. (fn. 73)


Francis Hardy, by will dated 1726, bequeathed 4 acres of pasture in Richey Field and 8 acres of fresh marsh in High Fen to support a school in this parish. In 1774 8 acres, recently inclosed, were added by Hardy's last surviving trustee, John Sumpter. (fn. 74)

In 1814 these lands were bringing in £60 a year, and there was a good schoolroom and teacher's house at Tholomas Drove. The principal farmers appointed the master and succeeded in getting their sons taught to the exclusion of free place holders. Of these there was supposed to be one for every pound of rent, but in actual fact they seldom numbered more than a dozen. Dr. Jobson, who as vicar of the parish was especially interested, persuaded the farmers to allow one free scholar for every 30s. of rent, and considered the master should be capable of teaching the resulting number of 40 boys as well as the fee-paying farmers' sons. He also proposed to appropriate £20 from John Bend's charity and £10 from the vicarage of Wisbech to establish primary schools at St. Mary's, Murrow and Guyhirn, from which children could go on to the Tholomas Drove School (Hardy's) at 8 or 9 years of age. The teachers at these primary schools were to receive 2d. a week for each child from the appropriated charities, and 1d. a week from the parents. An extra 2d. a week was to be paid for girls learning sewing. There were at this date 194 children between 6 and 12 years of age in the parish, of whom only 74 were getting any kind of education. (fn. 75) It is not certain how far Jobson's intentions were carried out, but in 1837 Hardy's School was reported as taking in 21 'free' children. (fn. 76) In 1851 the number was 25. (fn. 77) Hardy's School was rebuilt on a new site in St. Mary's village in 1859, (fn. 78) but had lapsed into a stagnant condition a few years later. In 1866-7 the Schools Inquiry Commission found only 35 pupils and an uncertificated master. None of the children learnt anything beyond the elements or took up apprenticed employment on leaving. (fn. 79) Just after this inquiry the school was enlarged, to provide 140 places, the National Society making a grant of £15, and another grant of the same amount towards a further enlargement in 1912. (fn. 80) After this second enlargement the school was recognized for 147, but the numbers on the books have greatly increased, reaching 177 in 1925 and 201 in 1931. Another classroom, to hold 44, was therefore added in the former year, and a practical instruction room in 1933, bringing the accommodation up to 191. A kitchen, dining-hall, and another classroom, in the form of huts, were added in 1949. The average attendance in 1938 was 143. (fn. 81)

The Murrow Church of England School was built in 1868 for 75 children. (fn. 82) By 1913 this school was so full that children were being refused admission. It was not found possible to enlarge it from voluntary sources, so that the County Council erected another school in a different part of the village. This school, which accommodated 100 children, was opened in 1915, and for some years there were two primary schools in the village. In 1933, however, the old (voluntary) school was closed and its 29 remaining pupils divided between the Council school, which took the juniors, and the new Payne School at Parson Drove, for the seniors from both Murrow schools. (fn. 83)

Another Church school was erected in 1872 at Thorney Toll in the extreme west of the parish. It was a combined Mission room and school, and originally accommodated 70 (later 105) children, but was more than half empty shortly before the First World War. In 1937 the school was 'decapitated' by the transfer of the senior children to the Hereward School, March, and reorganized as one department for 78 juniors and infants. The foundations of the building were inadequate and in 1945 it was decided that it would be impossible to repair them properly. There were then about 45 on the books. The school was closed in 1948. (fn. 84)

A third Church school is the still existing one at Guyhirn. This was built in 1875 for 120 children, the National Society making a grant of £80 towards the cost of £718. (fn. 85) Since the First World War the numbers on the books have greatly increased, from 91 in 1927 to 149 in 1934, and the school was therefore remodelled and extended in 1937 at a cost of £1,450, two new classrooms, a staff room, dining-hall and kitchen, and central heating being provided. Since 1935 this school has' been for juniors and infants only, in one department; there were 70 on the books in 1939. The senior children attend the Hereward School at March. (fn. 86)

In 1846-7 the National Society reported the existence of two schools in Wisbech St. Mary parish, staffed by a master and a mistress, open daily, and teaching 25 boys and 40 girls. (fn. 87) The boys' school was presumably Hardy's (q.v.); the girls' school was probably a dame school and short-lived. No such school is mentioned in the 1851 edition of Gardner's Directory.


Besides the purely educational charities of Hardy and Jobson, the following existed in Wisbech St. Mary in 1837. (fn. 88)

John Bend, by his will dated 1593, left a cottage and 3 acres in Chapel Field, and 58 acres in Richey Field, to provide stock to set the poor to work. The proceeds from sales were to go to poor persons who had lived in the parish six years without receiving relief. A further 8 acres were awarded under the Bedford Level Act of 1677, and the total yearly rents derived from these sources in 1837 (fn. 89) were between £140 and £150. By that date those wishing to benefit under this charity made personal application to the trustees, and if approved received 2s. 6d. each. After six months they were entitled, to further sums, if they had been of good behaviour. In 1837 about ninetyeight persons received an average of 25s. each through this charity. In 1851 there were 130 beneficiaries. (fn. 90)

Margaret Bende, by will dated 1605, bequeathed £50 to the Corporation of Wisbech, to provide 6s. 8d. yearly for the poor of Parson Drove, the remainder of the interest to those of Wisbech St. Mary. In 1837 £2 3s. 4d. was distributed in small sums to the poor of this parish.

The parish possessed fifteen 'town houses', all of brick and two of them thatched, which were let to poor families at 1s. per annum. The 26 acres of poor's allotment under the Wisbech St. Mary Inclosure Act (1833) were let out in allotments of 1 or 2 roods at 2s. to 2s. 6d. per annum. In 1851 there were sixty-five allotment holders. (fn. 91)


  • 1. Before 1933, 10,187 acres of land and inland water. The Isle of Ely Review Order of that year (M. of H. no. 76940) reduced it to 9,793 acres.
  • 2. Infm. Mr. G. M. G. Woodgate.
  • 3. V.C.H. Cambs. ii, 132-3.
  • 4. The only example of railway crossing railway on the level in the Eastern Counties, where it might be expected to be common. Apart from mineral lines and tramways there are only about a dozen such crossings in the whole of England.
  • 5. B.M. Add. MS. 5819, f. 4.
  • 6. Hist. MSS. Com., 6th Rep., App. 291.
  • 7. Tax. Eccl. (Rec. Com.), 270.
  • 8. D. & C. Mun., Ely, Treas. R. 1324-5.
  • 9. D. & C. Mun., Cupbd. A.
  • 10. Ibid.
  • 11. Rentals transcribed by Archdeacon S. J. A. Evans.
  • 12. L. & P. Hen. VIII, xvi, g. 1226 (12).
  • 13. Court R. (ex. infm. Mr. G. M. G. Woodgate).
  • 14. MS. Collect, of Mr. G.M.G. Woodgate: Wisbech, i, 47 (from a manuscript at Lambeth).
  • 15. C 54/3513, no. 15.
  • 16. Woodgate MSS. Wisb. i, 47.
  • 17. C 54/3513, no. 15.
  • 18. D. & C. Mun., Bentham Transcripts.
  • 19. B.M. Add. MS. 5847, f. 3.
  • 20. R. Gardner, Dir. Cambs. (1851), 567.
  • 21. Kelly, Dir. Cambs. (1900).
  • 22. Ely Dioc. Remembrancer, no. 143, p. 78; no. 188, p. 20.
  • 23. Cal. Inq. p.m. Hen. VII, i, 210 (p. 95).
  • 24. C.P. 25(2)/4/19/65.
  • 25. C 142/383/84.
  • 26. Peckover MSS. (Terrier of Bp. Alcock) (Wisb. Mus.).
  • 27. C 142/69/95. He was in possession of 24 acres called 'Jacketts' in 1536 (B.M. Add. MS. 5837, f. 200).
  • 28. C 142/214/240; P.C.C. 65 Windsor.
  • 29. C 142/524/90.
  • 30. C.P. 25(2)/401/Mich. 23 Chas. I.
  • 31. C.P. 25(2)/633/East. 20 Chas. II.
  • 32. Infm. Mr. G. M. G. Woodgate.
  • 33. C 136/78/3.
  • 34. Woodgate MSS.
  • 35. C 142/383/84.
  • 36. C 60/531, no. 13.
  • 37. C.P. 25(2)/633/Mich. 29 Chas. II.
  • 38. C.P. 25(2)/634/Mich. 36 Chas. II.
  • 39. C.P. 25(2)/910/Hil. and Trin. 2 Anne.
  • 40. C.P. 25(2)/1000/Mich. 6 Geo. I; Woodgate MSS.
  • 41. C 142/448/114.
  • 42. Woodgate MSS.
  • 43. The chapel stood in or near Kiln House Lane near the present church.
  • 44. Document copied into Reg. Fordham (Ely Dioc. Remembrancer, no; 192, p. 97).
  • 45. Ely Dioc. Remembrancer, no. 192, p. 98.
  • 46. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), iii, 500.
  • 47. Woodgate MSS. Wisb. i, 47.
  • 48. Order in Council, 11 Aug. 1854 (on death of the Revd. Henry Fardell, Vicar of Wisbech).
  • 49. H.O. 129/7/193.
  • 50. Ely Dioc. Remembrancer, no. 322, p. 55.
  • 51. Gibbons, Ely Episc. Rec. 400.
  • 52. S.C. 12/6/22.
  • 53. Cal. Pat. 1548-9, 326-7.
  • 54. Woodgate MSS.
  • 55. Bp.'s Mun., Ely, A 5.
  • 56. Gardner, Dir. Cambs. (1851), 567.
  • 57. Kelly, Dir. Cambs. (1900).
  • 58. Gibbons, Ely Episc. Rec. 213.
  • 59. Ely Dioc. Remembrancer, no. 117, p. 35. Mr. G. M. G. Woodgate also suggests that risks would have been run if the Fen Dyke at Murrow had been left unguarded in times of flood.
  • 60. S.C. 12/6/22. This survey is incomplete, not mentioning the landed endowment of the chapel.
  • 61. Cal. Pat. 1553, 290.
  • 62. Kelly, Dir. Cambs. (1900).
  • 63. Gardner, Dir. Cambs. (1851), 568.
  • 64. A return to the House of Lords in 1818 reported a deficiency of 3,409 in the seating capacity of churches to the population of Wisbech borough (H.L. 93 (1818), xviii). The position in St. Mary's parish, though not officially set out, was as bad; St. Mary's and Guyhirn chapels (seating capacity approximately 360 and 100 respectively) served a population of 991 (1811 Census).
  • 65. D.N.B.
  • 66. Gardner, Dir. Cambs. (1851), 607.
  • 67. H.O. 129/7/193.
  • 68. Kelly's Directories.
  • 69. H.O. 129/7/193.
  • 70. Kelly's Directories.
  • 71. Kelly, Dir. Cambs. (1933).
  • 72. Gardner, Dir. Cambs. (1851), 567; H.O. 129/7/193. This building is now demolished.
  • 73. Catholic Year Bk. 1950.
  • 74. Rep. Com. Char. (Cambs.) [103], H.C. (1837-8), xxiv, s.v. Wisb. St. Mary.
  • 75. Archives of Nat. Soc.
  • 76. Rep. Com. Char. (Cambs.), as above.
  • 77. Gardner, Dir. Cambs. (1851), 568.
  • 78. Archives of Nat. Soc.
  • 79. Schs. Inq. Rep. [3966-XII], H.C. (1867-8), xxviii(10).
  • 80. Archives of Nat. Soc.
  • 81. M. of Ed. File no. 12/69.
  • 82. Kelly, Dir. Cambs. (1900).
  • 83. M. of Ed. File no. 12/68A.
  • 84. Ibid. 12/70.
  • 85. Archives of Nat. Soc.
  • 86. M. of Ed. File no. 12/67.
  • 87. Rep. of Nat. Soc. (privately printed).
  • 88. Rep. Com. Char. (Cambs.) [103], 275 et seq., H.C. (1837-8), xxiv.
  • 89. The cottage had been pulled down 'many years ago'.
  • 90. Gardner, Dir. Cambs. (1851), 568.
  • 91. Ibid. 569.