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Wisbech Castle

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Wisbeach; Wisbich

In the civil parish of Wisbech.
In the historic county of Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely.
Modern Authority of Cambridgeshire.
1974 county of Cambridgeshire.
Medieval County of county palatine of the Isle of Ely.

OS Map Grid Reference: TF46180958
Latitude 52.66407° Longitude 0.16072°

Wisbech Castle has been described as a certain Timber Castle, and also as a certain Masonry Castle, and also as a certain Palace.

There are no visible remains.


It seems to be generally agreed that the first castle consisted of no more than a strongpoint constructed of timber and turves. It is quite possible that a structure of this kind existed at this place in Saxon times as a defence against the Danes. However William I erected a 'Castle of stone at Wisbech', the date for which has sometimes been given at 1071, but no mention of a castle here appears in the Domesday Book (1086), so it seems that the castle dates from 1087, the last year of the reign of William I. This was a very considerable building as indicated by its use and the recorded visits of important personages.
Although so little now remains, the pattern of the town centre clearly indicates the shape and extent of the original castle. A well still exists 'in the dungeons' within the garden of the present house. Once dug such a well usually remains, with some relining at intervals, and from its central position within the site it seems probable that the Norman Keep stood here. A 'high, strong wall' enclosed an area of about four acres. This wall was probably rebuilt towards the end of the C15 and part of an ancient wall remains along the passageway from Love Lane to Castle Square. When the Castle Almshouses in Love Lane were demolished and an excavation made in September 1971 for drains, the foundation of a massive wall was exposed adjacent to the pathway. The wall was cleaned out to a stepped base some 4ft 6in below ground level. The wall is 22in thick and is made of bright red bricks measuring 11in by 5.5in by 3in. The lime mortar which appeared to contain micaceous sand and chalk had become so hard that in a small portion of the wall which had to be removed the bricks usually broke rather than the mortar. The walls of the present bungalows, adjacent to the path, stand on this ancient foundation which no doubt dates from the rebuilding by Bishop Morton or his successor, Bishop Alcock towards the end of the C15.
On the town side of the Castle wall there was a deep ditch or moat said to be 40ft wide. Excavations on the site of Tesco's on the Market Place gave proof of the existence of the castle wall and the extensive moat, the gradual filling in of which seems to have extended into the C16. JE Bridger in the Annual Report of the Wisbech Society 1956, records finds made during these excavations and the more interesting specimens are preserved at the Wisbech and Fenland Museum. In a paper read by Alex Peckover on June 8th 1897 at the Castle, we read: "of a chapel, garden and dovehouse within the enclosure and of the moat being cleaned out in 1404. Some years ago a massive wall of large lumps of ragstone was found on the S side of the Crescent, and in the Museum is a Norman capital dug out of the Castle moat and possibly belonging to the Castle Chapel". It can be seen that very little physical evidence of the original Norman Castle remains, but we do have a fair amount of documentary information even if it is short of detail about the actual building. One small clue may be derived from a complaint made in 1577 against the Bishop of Ely (Ric Coxe - Fenland Notes and Queries, 3, 1895 - 1897, L Gaches): "With lettinge Wisbitche Castill utterly to goe to ruinne and pullynge down and selling all the leade and timber of the keepe of the said Castill." To this the Bishop answered "The house of the Castle is not decayed, but ther standeth in the middste of the Castle yarde an olde little rounde towre wch in old tyme had divers lodgings in it after the maner of groce buildinge wch was used in those daies and was sore decayed within, long and many yeres before I cam to this seie in Bishop Weste, Bishop Goodericke and Thirlbie'styme that noe man durst go into it, nether was occupied, as I suppose this hundred yeres. I at ther erneste requestes caused theinner parts to be pulled down wch remayned (for a great part was fallen before) but lefte the Towre stande wholy which in verie deede dothe make as faire a showe of the Castle still as ever was." The 'little rounde towre' referred to was therefore much earlier than Bishop Morton's time and was possibly the keep of the Norman castle and was probably used over a very long period as a jail. Accounts are given of some early prisoners, eg Richard Lambert of Lynn, illegally imprisoned in 1315, who "was so inhumanly gnawed by toads and other venomous vermin that his life was despaired of". There were also many royal visits, by John, Edward I and Edward IV. Weddings etc took place in castle chapel. (Anniss 1977)
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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:19:31

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