Historic England steps in to save Wisbech museum

Dating from 1846 Wisbech and Fenland Museum is one of the first purpose-built museums in England

One of the country's first ever purpose-built museums has been given a grant of more than £600,000 for vital repairs.

The money from Historic England will fund essential work to make the Wisbech and Fenland Museum watertight and to protect its historic interior.

Dating from 1846 the museum was designed by the architect George Buckler. He used Classical Greek architectural features including an symmetrical front elevation with decorative cornices and a central stone portico. 

The building is of exceptional significance and has been given Grade II* listed status. Inside the original bookcases and display cases all survive and it's 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.

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.

The museum was designed by the architect George Buckler Credit: English Heritage

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 the total costs.

Tony Calladine, Regional Director for Historic England in the East of England said: 

"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.”

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 donated a significant collection of more than 500 documents of handwriting by the great and good of his day, including British and foreign monarchs, politicians, writers, academics and performers.

He further bequeathed to the museum in 1868 the original manuscript of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. The museum also holds artefacts owned by Thomas Clarkson one of the main architects of the anti-slavery movement. 

The museum is run by an independent charity. It is fundraising for the match funding required to complete the project.