Octavia Hill Wisbech heritage walk, Peckover House, Cambridgeshire
An easy walk around the north and south Brinks area of Wisbech, where Octavia Hill was born, including the Octavia Hill Birthplace House Museum, the National Trust's Peckover House and various other points of interest. Suitable for families with older children.
Enjoy the walk with a digital guide.
A podcast/MP3 file covering some of the route is available for download from Wisbech Walks. (See link at bottom of this page)
Somer's Road car park TL417969
There are various car parks in Wisbech. The nearest for the start of this walk being the Somer's Road car park. Head towards the rear, exiting the car park into Alexandra Road. Turn left and head to the junction with South Brink. Turn right and, turning immediately right into Bridge Street, look out for the Clarkson Memorial directly ahead of you and slightly to the left on an irregular-shaped roundabout at the junction of Bridge Street, and Nene Quay.
Thomas Clarkson was born in Wisbech in 1760, where his father was the local headmaster. He was educated in the local grammar school, then later at Cambridge University, and it was here that he found out about the slave trade. This Victorian monument commemorates his life and the achievements of his campaigns against the trade.
Now head away from South Brink and Bridge Street, along York Row turning left along High Street looking out for the Rose and Crown Hotel on the left at Numbers 23-24. The Rose and Crown is a 15th-century inn with Tudor cellars beneath. The inn became run down and was closed for a time, but after purchase by new owners and extensive refurbishment, has re-opened for business as a hotel. The new owners may offer tours of the cellars, so it's worth asking.
Continuing on along High Street into Market Place, keep bearing right and take the first road on the right (Market Street) and walk down until joining Union Place. Turn right and follow Union Place until reaching the Crescent.
The Crescent and Wisbech Castle
The curving terraces of houses surrounding the Castle gardens form one of Wisbech's architectural highlights, a striking example of Georgian architecture and town planning by a local builder named Joseph Medworth. Medworth developed this site around 1800, creating an elegant circus of fashionable, terraced town houses, with many doorways still retaining their original fan-lights. Today, Wisbech Castle (Medworth's own home - not a true castle as you might expect) is furnished as a living museum. It has beautiful mature gardens.
Turn left at the war memorial and walk around the Crescent. On the way, look out for 'Ghost Passage' on your right, before reaching Museum Square, which houses the Wisbech and Fenland Museum.
Wisbech and Fenland Museum
This free-entry museum, which opened in 1847, was one of the first purpose-built museums in the country. The entrance steps help create the effect of a miniature "Greek Temple to Learning" and were largely funded by Quakers (in particular the Peckover family). Inside, it has a fully preserved Victorian interior with original display cases still in use. Alongside displays of porcelain and bygones you can see the original manuscript of Great Expectations, Napoleon's breakfast service captured at Waterloo and Louis XIV's ivory chess set.
Turning left out of the Museum, walk across the pathway to St Peter and St Paul Church. Go down a few steps and head right around the path until reaching the entrance.
St Peter and St Paul Church
St Peter and St Paul is Norman in origin. Its earliest parts date back to the late 12th-century, and has two naves and two chancels under a single roof. Particularly interesting is part of its boundary being the ancient sea wall, as the town was then on the southern edge of the Wash. Much restoration was undertaken in the early Victorian period, when old galleries and box pews were removed. Notable items inside include Victorian stained-glass windows and various memorials. An annual fund-raising rose fair takes place every July.
Exiting the church and returning to the pathway before Museum Square, turn immediately left down an alleyway leading to Love Lane. After a few yards, turn right into Alexandra Road.
On the right, about 200yds down the road, you can find the Angles Theatre, which is an amalgamation of a 1793 small Georgian theatre at the rear of the building and a Victorian Infants school dating from 1837 in front. It is now a Charitable Trust and provides and promotes a wide variety of modern theatre.
Continuing along the length of Alexandra Road, turn left at the junction on to South Brink. On the left at No. 8 you will find the birthplace of Octavia Hill. Look out for the blue plaque on the wall.
Octavia's Birthplace House
Octavia was born on December 3, 1838 to James and Caroline Hill - social reformers, on which Octavia's life-work was based. Perhaps her greatest achievements were being one of the three founder members of the National Trust, and in the field of housing reform (particularly in inner London areas). The house is Grade II listed, and part is now run as a museum by volunteers of the Octavia Hill Birthplace Museum Trust. It has many enhanced displays and facilities including a children's corner with fun activities in every room.
After leaving the Birthplace House, turn left along South Brink, Cross Somer's Road until reaching Octavia's, an establishment selling pre-loved and reconditioned items with a café on first floor.
The Rococo ceiling in the café is magnificent and has to be seen. On the ground floor, the flooring is the same as in Peckover House. In those days the home-owners on opposite sides of the river tried to keep up with each other. In this instance, it was the Peckovers with whom they were competing. When leaving the building, turn right and go past Octavia Hill's Birthplace, turn left across Town Bridge towards Old Market and North Brink.
Now turn right to the Old Market, stopping to look over the River Nene and visit the old quayside, where there is a small viewing area.
River Nene and quayside area
The Nene rises in Northamptonshire and flows through the counties of Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire before reaching outfall at The Wash. In 1815 a link was made to the canal network and eventually 37 locks were built, enabling much use now to be made by pleasure boats. Over the centuries, the quayside below the Town Bridge was developed for loading and unloading ships. As many as 40 sailing ships could be seen in port at any one time. Warehouses were built along the banks and several survive, notably just downstream of the bridge.
Now continue ahead along Old Market.
Once a cobbled area, Old Market was the trading centre for local farmers, and contained banks, feed and seed merchants. Today it contains many fine Georgian Houses and the odd antique shop.
Turn round and re-trace your footsteps along Old Market. Visit the Old Corn Exchange on the corner adjoining Old Market and North Brink next to Lloyds TSB.
Old Corn Exchange
The Old Corn Exchange was built in 1811 and for many years doubled as Corn Exchange and Town Hall. In 1872, various alterations were made to the building. The Council Chamber upstairs, still in use, is sometimes open to the public. It contains the furniture that was made at the time of the re-building. The building over the years has been put to various uses including roller skating, all-in wrestling, ballroom dancing, and, until quite recently, it was a popular bingo hall. These days it is rarely used, so it's future use is uncertain.
Now continue to walk along North Brink.
The street-scape of North Brink is largely due to the Peckover Family who built and lived in several of the properties along the road. Look out for Wisteria House (No.22-25), and of course Peckover House (13, seen in the next step). North Brink has often been used as a backdrop in period films and TV dramas (e.g. David Copperfield and Micawber) on account of its many Georgian buildings.
Continue along North Brink until you reach Peckover House.
Peckover House, owned since 1943 by the National Trust, is typical of a classic Georgian Merchant's house, lived in by the Peckover Quaker family for 150 years. Well worth the visit, it has a Victorian walled garden, various collections in the house, many events throughout the year and a not-to-be-missed tea-room in a 17th-century thatched barn, serving light lunches, teas and cakes.
After visiting Peckover House, turn right and continue along for a short distance until reaching Friends Meeting House. After visiting Friends Meeting House, it's about a ten-minute walk continuing along North Brink, passing Chapel Road, the Wisbech Grammar School and Barton Road until reaching Elgood's Brewery. After visiting the brewery, this is now the end of the walk. Return along North Brink turning right and crossing Old Market to reach the Somer's Road car park.
Friends Meeting House/Elgood's
Friends Meeting House was built in 1854 by Algernon Peckover. Almost all of the burials in the small graveyard behind the Meeting House are of Peckovers. Their simple memorial stones now line the walls, creating a delightful open, lawn garden for the residents. Elgood's Brewery is a family-run business owned by the 5th generation of the Elgood family. It's open to visitors from April to September and has a stunning four-acre garden as well as a maze and tea-shop/café.
Somer's Road car park TL417969
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