Wisbech: Charities

Pages 270-271

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 charities of Wisbech are very considerable, as is the case with most boroughs of ancient standing. The following date back beyond the middle of the 19th century; those of Elizabeth Wright, Abraham Jobson, Judith Mayer, and William Watson have already been dealt with. (fn. 1)

John Crane, the apothecary, by his will dated 1651, gave the Black Bull Inn (later the 'Three Tuns' and now the New Inn) with its shops, oil mills, and other appurtenances to the capital burgesses, with proviso that half the rents should go towards augmenting the salary of the Master of the Grammar School, and half towards providing corn and firing for poor persons whom the capital burgesses should nominate. In 1837 the Grammar School master drew £20 from this source. The revenue from this charity was increased in 1666, when, on the inclosure of Wisbech High Fen, 8 acres were allotted in respect of the inn; this piece of land was let at £10 15s. in 1851. In 1802 the Corporation sold the inn for £1,615 to redeem the land tax on their estates in general. The Commissioners of 1837 questioned the validity of this sale, so that after that date the Corporation paid over to Crane's charity the amount of tax redeemed from the income of their general property.

Crane also directed his executors to buy an estate, the rent of which was to go annually in rotation to Cambridge University and to four corporate towns (of which Wisbech was to be one). The towns were to make loans of £20, to a maximum of £200, to young men to enable them to set up in business, and were to apply the remainder to an annual sermon and the relief of various classes of honest poor. The estate so purchased was at Fleet (Lincs.). In 1837 it produced £396, of which £180 was in that year (which was Wisbech's 'turn') lent to 9 persons, £16 given to 18 persons in reduced circumstances through no fault of their own, £50 given in small sums to 281 'poor men and women in want' and the remainder used to pay rates and taxes. The Corporation were said to be anxious to increase the amount paid in larger sums to the more deserving cases; the donor in his will had warned them to beware of 'dissembling hypocritical persons'.

William Holmes, by will dated 1656, gave £300 for investment by the capital burgesses, the interest to be lent to poor tradesmen in sums of £10 for periods of three years free of interest. In 1837 there were eighteen such loans outstanding. (fn. 2)

Thomas Parke in 1628 gave the Bell Inn for the use of the poor. In 1837 the revenue from the lease (£151 including an adjoining house) was used, in about equal amounts, to provide clothing for poor persons and for payment of rates and taxes. In 1842, with the permission of the Court of Chancery, the Corporation sold the property to carry out a street improvement and invested the proceeds in 3½ per cent. annuities, the interest on which was about £49 annually in 1851. Parke also gave 28 acres of land at Elm to augment the salary of the Grammar School master.

Dr. Henry Hawkins, a native of Wisbech who died in London in 1631, gave £300 for building almshouses. Six were built the following year, and were in use up to 1835. By this date they had fallen into decay and were demolished, the site and materials being sold by auction for £644 10s. Six other almshouses, known as King John's, were sold at the same time for £45 and demolished; they stood at the east end of the churchyard. To replace the two sets, the Corporation built six double almshouses for about £900 in King's Walk. These still exist.

A set of four almshouses, called Stermyn's Almshouses, was erected in 1614 with £100 bequeathed by Mrs. Jacomin Stermyn. (fn. 3) They were replaced by a set of six two-room almshouses in 1813. These still exist in Stermyn Street, between Church Terrace and the canal. Five one-story cottages in Love Lane, called Castle Almshouses, were built in 1813 by Joseph Medworth, the purchaser and developer of the castle estate and himself a Wisbech charity boy.

William 1st Viscount Saye and Sele gave £100 in 1656 for clothing for the poor. His family, more generally associated with Oxfordshire, held land in Waldersea in the 17th and 18th centuries. Another 17thcentury bequest to provide clothing for poor persons was the gift (1695) by Bishop Patrick of the revenues derived by the see of Ely from the butchers' Shambles in Wisbech. The Shambles were bought outright by the Corporation in 1811, and the rents in 1837 amounted to £17 10s. Richard Royce gave 16 acres in Wisbech High Fen for the same purpose; the rent in 1837 was £12. Alice Throckmorton's charity, of £25 (1678) for the clothing of the poor, seems to have disappeared by the middle of the 19th century. Later clothing charities included the Dorcas charity, originally established in 1813 by voluntary subscription, and endowed by Dr. Jobson with £50 a year in 1827. In 1846 558 garments and 4,796 yards of various stuffs were sold under this scheme to 557 persons, the charity advancing half the price. George Swaine gave £400 3 per cent. Consols to the churchwardens in 1829 to provide clothing for the poor.

There were several other charities of a more miscellaneous character. The oldest were those of Bartholomew Edwards (£10 in 1583) and John Williamson (£40 in 1589) for the general benefit of the poor. William Skortred in 1603 gave 12 acres of pasture in Sayer's Field, Wisbech St. Mary. In 1837 the rents amounted to £21 10s. and provided a hundredweight of coals and a quartern loaf each to about 300 poor. Secretary Thurloe gave £150 in 1656 for apprenticing and £50 for making a road from the Corn Market to the little sluice. £10 was spent on the former object in 1836. Richmond Girling (1668) gave the Wisbech poor a share in 40s. rent from land at Stradbroke (Suffolk), payable to Wisbech every tenth year. This payment lapsed in 1808 but was recovered, with arrears, in 1833 through the efforts of William Watson, Colonel of Volunteers, brewer and historian. The charity of John Baxter (1793), of all his property in the funds (£1,220 in Navy 5 per cent. stock), was for the benefit of disabled churchgoing poor, and was applied by the Corporation in the 1830's to those who had fallen from good circumstances into unforeseen distress. There were eight recipients in 1837. Loake's charity of £200 (1801) was also mainly for the benefit of the churchgoing poor, and was when the Commissioners reported given to five widows in 20s. clothing vouchers. The munificent Dr. Jobson, whose total gifts to charity amounted to upwards of £4,000, provided for the distribution of bibles, prayer and hymn books, and the 'promotion of psalmody in the chapel of ease', as well as his direct gifts for the benefit of the National and Sunday Schools. The flood of charitable donations was by no means stayed in the middle of the 19th century, for three benefactions were made between 1837 and 1851. Mrs. Elizabeth Stevens gave £500 in 1838 and John Johnson £200 in 1841 for poor widows. Steed Girdlestone gave £100 in 1841 for Christmas dinners for the poor; each family was to have 7 lb. of beef.


  • 1. The sources for this section are the Cambs. Report of the Charity Commissioners (103, H.C. (1837-8), xxiv), of which pp. 275-330 deal with Wisbech, and R. Gardner's Directory of Cambs. for 1851, which contains a useful summary and statements of receipts and payments for the principal charities during 1848-9.
  • 2. See pp. 266, 269.
  • 3. For the history of the other part of Holmes's charity, relating to the Grammar School, see V.C.H. Cambs. ii, 328.
  • 4. She also left £100 for the rebuilding or repair of the market cross, which was accomplished in 1614 (see above, p. 263).