History of St Peter St Pauls Church
The first church was built in the early 12th century, building and reconstruction work continued right up to the reformation, when a new tower on the north side and a chapel at the east end (now used as the clergy sacristy) appears to have been completed by the mid 1530’s.
The original church was much smaller than the church we see today. The west end wall is on the site of the first tower, and the east end of the church would have been at the chancel steps, an apse. The Norman arcade can still be seen on the north side of the main aisle. As the town grew so did the need to extend the church. The Town Guilds also grew in importance, and had their own chapels within the church – by the time the Guilds closed in 1547 there were six Guilds in St Peter’s.
Building work began in about 1250 to enlarge the church, as it was impossible to build at the west end of the church, as the moat to the Wisbech Castle was too close, so the east end apse was demolished, and the long chancel built, the church was also enlarged by building aisle on the north and south sides, the Norman arcades were retained, but on the north side it is joined to the chancel by an unusual ‘crank’ arch. The extension on the south side built in the perpendicular style gave the church its double nave. The two naves are spanned with a single roof and ceiling, it is thought to be one of only three in England. The tower at the west end collapsed in about 1530, causing the right hand Norman arcade to be dismantled and rebuilt – the remains of the tower can still be seen in the roof space. A new detached tower was built on the north side of the church, which can be dated from the masonry, which show the arms of Bishop Goodrick (1534-1554) and a monstrance on the east side proclaiming belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.
There has been no major construction work since the mid 1500’s. Changes in style of worship has seen changes come and go – the removal of the Guild chapels, the rood screen, galleries installed to cope with a large congregation, were removed in 1856 – also removed at that time a three tier pulpit.
The church does have some very fine Victorian and early 20th century stain glass windows – in particular one commemorating the men of the parish who lost their lives in the 1914 – 1918 war. There is also a fine memorial dedicated to the men of the Cambridgeshire Regiment who died in the Far East in the 1939 – 1945 war. All the walls of church and many of the windows have fine memorial recording the citizens of Wisbech. These include two very good 17th century memorials in the chancel dedicated to the memory of Thomas Parke and Matthias Taylor and at the west end there are several memorials to the Southwell family, Edward Southwell was the work of Joseph Nollekens (1787). The altar reredos represents the Leonardo da Vinci’s painting the Last Supper in Florentine mosaic with stone and marble surrounds, and is from the workshops of Salviate of Venice.
The churchyard was cleared of most of the grave stones in 1953 and made into the gardens which surround the church, opened to celebrate the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth 11. These gardens are maintained by Fenland District Council, and have received many Anglia in Bloom and Britain in Bloom awards – the Green Flag has been awarded annually for several years.
Further reading: The Parish Church of St Peter and St Paul by Wim Zwalf
Cemeteries, Graveyards and Memorial by Bridget Holmes
Both books are available from the Wisbech and Fenland Museum
or by post from The Wisbech Society – for details Google The Wisbech Society.