An old graveyard to the right and then steps leading up to antique wrought iron lamp posts and a sandy coloured brick building with front porch and pillars.
Wisbech and Fenland Museum © Historic England. Photographed by Pat Payne
Wisbech and Fenland Museum © Historic England. Photographed by Pat Payne

Grant Funding to Save Historic Wisbech and Fenland Museum in Cambridgeshire

Historic England has awarded a grant of £616,000 for the repair of Grade II* listed Wisbech and Fenland Museum in Cambridgeshire, one of the first purpose-built museums in the country.

Original period details

Dating from 1846-7, the museum was designed by architect George Buckler, who used some Classical Greek architectural features in his design, including a symmetrical front elevation with decorative cornices and a central stone portico. As one of the first purpose-built museums designed in the country, this building is of exceptional significance.

Original period details can be seen inside the museum, particularly in its cornices, doors and fireplaces. The original bookcases and display cases all survive and it is thought that the gallery and staircase of the main display hall may also be original. Recent paint layers have peeled off in places, due to leaks, which has revealed historic paintwork and wallpaper. These leaks are also causing some cracking and loss of plaster.

Urgently needed repairs

The poor and declining condition of the building led to it being added to Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register in 2018. Major problems with the roof and drainage, including cracked and slipping tiles and leaks, are damaging the historic interior of the museum.

Historic England has previously grant funded a project development phase for the museum to enable a structural survey, temporary roof repairs to protect the building over winter and a specification for long-term repair work.

The grant of £616,000 from Historic England will enable long-term roof repairs to begin in spring 2021. Historic England is the major funder for this repair project, contributing 90% of total costs.

We’re delighted to support the urgently needed repair of Wisbech and Fenland Museum with this grant. As one of the first purpose-built museum buildings in the country, it is of national significance and also hugely important to its local community. We’re pleased to play our part in repairing this important building and ensuring that it continues to delight visitors with the fascinating collections for which it was created.

Tony Calladine, Regional Director, East of England Historic England

Independently run

The Wisbech and Fenland Museum is run by an independent charity committed to keeping the museum collection in the historic building for which it was designed. They are fundraising for the match funding required to complete the project.

This grant is a dream come true for all of us at the Museum. The condition of the building has been a concern of previous trustees for generations and we are on the brink, at last, of repairing and restoring the external fabric of the building to a condition that might be recognised by the original builders but will not have been seen since Victorian times. We simply could not do this without Historic England and are most grateful to everyone there, for their guidance during the whole process of the last three years and now for the financial support contained in this grant.

David Ball, Vice-Chairman Wisbech and Fenland Trustee Company Ltd

A remarkable collection includes Dickens' original manuscript of Great Expectations

Wisbech and Fenland Museum holds a substantial archive of parish registers, local government records, photographs and maps. Its library comprises 12,000 volumes in two distinct collections.

The Reverend Chauncy Hare Townshend (20 April 1798 – 25 February 1868) donated to the museum a significant collection of over 500 documents of handwriting by the great and good of his day, including British and foreign monarchs, politicians, writers, academics and performers.

He also bequeathed to the museum in 1868 the original manuscript of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. The museum also holds artefacts owned by Thomas Clarkson (28 March 1760 - 26 September 1846) one of the main architects of the anti-slavery movement.