Wisbech: Officials of the corporation

Pages 259-260

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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The town bailiff, as stated above, first appears as an agent of the Corporation rather than as its presiding member. He received a 'gratuity' of £5 5s. a year, but by 1834 this sum was by established custom awarded to charity. This led the Commissioners to regard the office as 'burdensome without being profitable'. (fn. 1) The early town bailiffs, in this capacity of paid official, were not always members of the Corporation, but by 1800, when they were in fact though not in name mayors of Wisbech, the office was usually taken by the capital burgesses in rotation. In accordance with the terms of the charters, the capital burgesses were elected year by year. Often however they kept their seats for long periods-in the case of a certain Dr. Hardwick (fl. c. 1780-1830), for as much as fifty years. (fn. 2)

A regular town clerk was first employed in 1680; previously 2s. had been paid to a clerk when a lease or bond was drawn up, under the benefaction of William Holmes. Robert Cockson was the first town clerk, but his salary is not recorded. (fn. 3) In 1825 John Wing was appointed to the office at a salary of £35, and a new post of chamberlain was created. (fn. 4) In 1849 the town clerk's salary was £45 a year, and he also drew £15 a year as clerk to the Sub-Commissioners of Pilotage and £25 as clerk to the Charity Trustees. (fn. 5)

A beadle is mentioned in 1621. His wages were 12d. a week, and he also acted as scavenger. (fn. 6) In 1832 he was paid £6 6s. a year with livery. (fn. 7) References to the crier or bellman are numerous. In 1576 his wages were 2s. a quarter, and in 1609 'old father Parker' received a coat in virtue of this office. (fn. 8) The duties were laid down in 1678 as patrolling the streets continually from 9 p.m. to daybreak from October to May Day. Two years later the bellman was provided with a coat and a pair of boots, and a dog 'as cheape as one can bee procured'. (fn. 9) James Peddar, a new bellman, was appointed later in the same year (1680). His duties seem not to have included continuous night watching, for he was given 10s. towards bed and bedding in the church 'that he may lye in the steeple and with more conveniency ring the bell' at 4 a.m. (fn. 10) In 1688 he was paid off and the office abolished, (fn. 11) but it was in existence again in 1775, when the bellman was required to give notice of the arrival of fishing vessels. (fn. 12) In 1849 the salary attached to the combined offices of town crier, beadle, and hall keeper was £43 15s. (fn. 13)

Watchmen were sometimes appointed separately. In 1618 William Woodes, a tailor, was imprisoned for 'a strooke which he gave in the performance of his office, being a watchman, the party stricken being in danger of deathe'. Woodes received 6s. 8d. compensation from the Corporation. (fn. 14) Two watchmen were appointed in 1774 at 6s. weekly, to patrol from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m., ringing their bells and calling the hour, wind, and weather every five minutes at least. (fn. 15) In 1812 a 'noisy and riotous crowd' in the Market Place and the 'inevitable overthrow of all modesty and good morale among both sexes in the lower walks of society' brought caustic remarks on the inefficiency of the town's police and watching system from the Revd. Jeremiah Jackson. (fn. 16) By 1822 the sum paid in wages to watchmen was cut from £92 8s. to £15 for economy's sake. (fn. 17) In 1828 two superintendents of watchmen were appointed, to carry cutlass, pistol, and dark lantern; the equipment of the watchmen was lantern, rattle, and bludgeon. (fn. 18) A local police force of superintendent, sergeant, and 6 constables was established in 1836. (fn. 19) In 1900 the force consisted of a superintendent, 2 sergeants, and 7 constables; the first named officer was also deputy chief constable of the Isle. (fn. 20) It is now merged in the Isle force.

A town inspector was appointed under the Wisbech Improvement Act of 1810 (50 Geo. III c. ccvi), to keep the streets clear of encroachments and to prevent nuisances. In 1832 his salary was £26 a year with livery. (fn. 21) The duties of the town inspector were merged in those of the police in 1849. (fn. 22)


  • 1. Rep. Com. Municipal Corpns., H.C. 116, p. 2553 (1835), xxvi.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. Corp. Rec. iv, 221.
  • 4. Jackson Diary, 18 Nov. 1825 (Wisb. Mus.).
  • 5. Walker and Craddock, Hist. Wisb. 339.
  • 6. Corp. Rec. iv, 28.
  • 7. Rep. Com. Municipal Corpns., H.C. 116, p. 2554 (1835), xxvi.
  • 8. Corp. Rec. ii, 103; iii, 84.
  • 9. Ibid. iv, 217a.
  • 10. Ibid. 219b.
  • 11. Ibid. 240b.
  • 12. Ibid. vi.
  • 13. Walker and Craddock, Hist. Wisb. 340.
  • 14. Corp. Rec. iv, 16b.
  • 15. Ibid. vi.
  • 16. Diary, 13 Sept. 1812 (Wisb. Mus.).
  • 17. Corp. Rec. xi, 9-15. On the 1774scale, the force of six watchmen was to be cut down to one watchman only.
  • 18. There were four watchmen at this date, their hours and wages being 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. in winter for 9s. per week, and to 4 a.m. in summer for 6s. per week (MS. in Wisb. Mus.).
  • 19. Walker and Craddock, Hist. Wisb. 341.
  • 20. Kelly, Dir. Cambs. (1900).
  • 21. Rep. Com. Municipal Corpns., p. 2554.
  • 22. Walker and Craddock, Hist. Wisb. 339.