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The history of Peckover

Photograph of Lord Peckover, Alexandrina and Anna Jane, the Marchioness of Crewe and two other people, on front steps of Bank House
Photograph of Lord Peckover and famiy members on the front steps of Bank House | © National Trust / Sue James

Discover the story of the Peckover family, wealthy Quakers with a love of art and travel. Their wealth derived from banking but they were known also for their philanthropy, which extended both locally and internationally. Through this benevolence, the Peckovers contributed greatly to the history of Wisbech. Their Georgian home remains testament to the prosperity of the town in the 18th century.

From small beginnings to banking heavyweight

In 1777 Jonathan Peckover moved to Wisbech and established a small grocer's business. Respected for his strong moral principles, he soon began holding his customers' money for safekeeping. What was informally known as 'Peckover's Bank' had seven accounts in its ledger in 1782, and it became the town’s first official bank, called the Wisbech and Lincolnshire Bank.

It thrived under his family's management until 1893 when direct involvement ceased. In 1896 Peckover's bank was amalgamated with 19 others into Barclays Bank which, not many people know, was originally a Quaker enterprise.

Quakerism and the Peckovers

The Quaker movement began almost 400 years ago. Quakers believe that faith is a personal matter and that everyone possesses their own Inner Light, allowing them direct communication with God.

Their rejection of the role and rituals of the clergy challenged the authority of the Church of England and led to their exclusion from university and certain professions. As a result they tended to enter the trades, most notably (like the Peckovers) banking, alongside shopkeeping and farming.

They became a tight-knit, inter-married community, with a strong moral code and deep religious beliefs which coloured all their dealings. This is most probably why the Peckovers were successful in their banking enterprises, while other provincial banks went under.

Early colour postcard, 1907, of north and south brinks on the River Nene, Wisbech, with Peckover House in view
Early colour postcard, 1907, of north and south brinks on the River Nene | © National Trust / Sue James

The purchase of Peckover House

From the late 18th century through the 19th century, Wisbech was a prosperous merchant town with a busy port exporting wool and grain, and importing coal and timber.

The North and South Brinks, which face each other across the River Nene, developed around mercantile activities. It was on the North Brink, to this day considered one of the finest Georgian brick streets in England, that Jonathan Peckover saw the property then known as Bank House, and later Peckover House.

This handsome residence in the foremost part of town, which Jonathan purchased in the 1790s, would provide him the necessary signs of stability upon which to build his banking career. The business was situated in a purpose-built hall to the south-west of the house until 1879 when the bank moved to spacious new premises in the Old Market, still in use today as Barclays Bank.

Incidentally, National Trust founder Octavia Hill was born in 7 South Brink, almost opposite Peckover House.

The family’s local legacy

Known for their philanthropy, the Peckovers supported various causes and campaigned for the abolition of slavery and improvements in education. Their wealth helped fund many institutions, including the Wisbech and Fenland Museum.

Successive generations of the family were prolific amateur and, in some cases, professional artists. They coupled their love of painting with travel, creating a permanent record of travels around the continent, much as we would take holiday photos today.

Alexander, Lord Peckover (1830–1919) travelled extensively. Tis collections acquired in Egypt were donated to the local museum, where they remain central to their Egyptian collections today.

His daughter, Alexandrina, was an adventurer and sportswoman who climbed the Alps at a time when most Victorian women were not expected to do anything so strenuous.

Black and white photo of a woman in a glasshouse, surrounded by flowering plants and palms
Algerina Peckover in the conservatory at Sibald's Holme, in the collection at Peckover, Cambridgeshire | © National Trust/Sue James

The National Trust

Alexandrina, the last descendant of Jonathan Peckover, gave the house and its 48-acre estate to the National Trust in 1948.

But it came with very few possessions and original contents, which meant having to fill the rooms with 18th-century items found at auctions and in National Trust furniture stores.

This ‘Georgianising’ campaign has more recently been superseded by a desire to make the house more representative of the Peckover family's taste. Significant loans and gifts of indigenous items from the family that Lord Peckover’s eldest daughter married into, and the redecoration of several rooms in their pre-1948 style, have gone some way to making the story of the learned, philanthropic and deeply religious Peckover family more explicit.

Windows of Peckover can been seen through the yellow leaves of the trees

Book your visit

Please note you need to book tickets to Peckover House. You can book for today up until 8am. Every Thursday time slots will be available for the next 14 days.

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