Whittlesey, historically known as Whittlesea as the name of the railway station is still spelt, or Witesie, is an ancient Fenland market town around six miles (10 km) east of Peterborough in the county of Cambridgeshire in England. With the neighbouring parishes of Coates, Eastrea and Pondersbridge, it has an approximate population of 15,000.
History and architecture
Whittlesey appears in the Cartularium Saxonicum (973 A.D.) as Witlesig, in the Domesday Book as Witesie, and in the Inquisitio Eliensis (1086 A.D.) as Wittleseia. The meaning is “Wit(t)el’s island”, deriving from either Witil, “the name of a moneyer”, or a diminutive of Witta, a personal name; + “eg”, meaning “'island', also used of a piece of firm land in a fen.”
Before the draining of the fens, Whittlesey was an island of dry ground surrounded by the marshy fens. Excavations of nearby Flag Fen indicate thriving local settlements as far back as 1000 BC. In more recent times Whittlesey was linked to Peterborough in the west and March in the east by the Roman Fen Causeway, probably built in the 1st century AD, and Roman artefacts have been recovered at nearby Eldernell. In 2010, in the nearby village of Eastrea, a Roman skeleton was discovered. Named 'Maximus' by villagers, the 2000 year old skeleton was unearthed during an archaeological dig on the proposed site of the new Eastrea village hall.
The town's two parishes of St Mary's and St Andrew's were controlled by the abbeys in Thorney and Ely respectively until the Dissolution of the Monasteries (c.1540). St Mary's church dates back to the fifteenth century, but the majority of the building is later, and the church now boasts one of the largest buttressed spires in Cambridgeshire. St Andrew's is a mixture of perpendicular and decorated styles and has records back to 1635. The parishes were combined for administrative purposes by the Whittlesey Improvement Act of 1849. Despite the proximity of Peterborough, Whittlesey is in the Diocese of Ely.
Until it was drained in 1851, nearby Whittlesey Mere was a substantial lake surrounded by marsh. According to the traveller Celia Fiennes, who saw it in 1697, the mere was "3 mile broad and six mile long. In the midst is a little island where a great store of Wildfowle breed.... The ground is all wett and marshy but there are severall little Channells runs into it which by boats people go up to this place; when you enter the mouth of the Mer it looks formidable and its often very dangerous by reason of sudden winds that will rise like Hurricanes...." The town is still accessible by water, connected to the river Nene by King's Dyke which forms part of the Nene-Ouse Navigation link. Moorings can be found at Ashline Lock alongside the Manor Leisure Centre's cricket and football pitches.>
Other notable historic features include the market cross, known as the buttercross, dating back to 1680, the old town hall (once also serving as the fire station, and now the town museum) of 1857 and a number of thatched mud walls.
The town has one secondary school, Sir Harry Smith Community College (built on the site of Whittlesey Workhouse), and three primary schools. There is also another primary school in the neighbouring village of Coates.
The Market Place
The Market Place, located in the centre of Whittlesey, is still the site of the town's market. Held every Friday, (as it has been for many years) the market is no longer of great importance to the town. A traditional country auction is now held regularly under the Buttercross too. Below are the most notable buildings located on the Market Square:
Situated in the centre of the Market Place, and dating back to 1680, this was originally a place for people to sell goods at market. In the 1800s, it was considered useless, and orders were given for the building to be demolished. It was only saved when a local businessman donated some slate tiles for the roof. Today, it serves as a bus shelter, and is the town's most famous landmark.
No. 8, Harrington House
Located near to the George Hotel, the original part of this house dates back to Tudor times, and was part of St. Mary's Church monks' kitchen. Dr. Waddelow, who is often incorrectly believed to have lived at No. 11, extended the house in 1900. A sundial, made from the top of the church spire, and which was taken down in the early 20th Century, is located in the garden.
No. 10, The George Hotel
The Grade II listed George Hotel (previously the George and Star), currently owned by national chain Wetherspoons, is the only remaining pub on the Market Square, one of several that are believed to have formerly existed there. The building, which dates back to the late 1700s, used to extend further eastward; a meat shop and archway for horses and carts used to stand there, but were demolished to make way for Station Road. The pub was Grade II Listed in 1974. After being closed since 2004, (and subsequently being boarded up) the building was bought by a Bristol-based company and heavily refurbished in 2006.
Following change of ownership to Wetherspoons in 2007, the building was boarded up, subsequently remaining in a poor state of repair for three years. Until April 2010, no work was done to the building, despite the company's ambitious plans, which were approved by Fenland District Council in 2008. Work (to cost an estimated £2million) was due to start in September the same year. Plans included total restoration of the pub, a beer garden, an extension and a name change, reverting back to the original 'George and Star'.
On 26 June 2009, at around 7pm, arsonists targeted the building, starting several small fires in the bar and lounge area. Thanks to the fire brigade's quick work, damage was limited to the ground floor, with the exterior showing no signs of fire damage.
After being closed for around three years, renovation work finally commenced on 26 April 2010, and the pub reopened on 23 July 2010. By building a large extension to the rear of the property, builders increased the size of the old bar area by around 25%.
No. 11, Mansion House
Number 11, historically called Mansion House but locally referred to as the Old Post Office, has records dating back to 1749. It is a large, Georgian, three-storeyed building, with a large courtyard and a number of outbuildings. The building has been Grade II* listed since July 1970. Before becoming the Post Office in 1913, the building had had many owners, including the Reverend Robert Addison, who moved to Canada after selling the house. Major extensions and renovations were carried out in 1933. The Post Office business moved to High Causeway in 1998 and the building has been vacant since. It was boarded up in around 2005. As of 2010, the buildings and courtyard were in a bad state of repair.
The property is currently owned by Cambridge-based company The Whitfield Group. In 2006 they submitted a planning application which included partial demolition of an extension at the rear of the existing structure (a 1980 addition, of little historical importance), and the erection of seven new dwellings in the old courtyard. These new houses were designed to match old outbuildings, which used to stand on the site until their demolition in the 1980s. The committee requested that the original derelict house be renovated before work begins on the new houses.
However, following concerns that these proposals were 'overdevelopment of the site', the owners submitted a revised, more sympathetic application in February 2009. These plans were approved by Fenland District Council.
Following years of dereliction, restoration of the building finally began in September 2010. The development of the courtyard began in early 2011.
No. 12, Hub's Place
No. 12 Market Place, (Grade II Listed since 1950) is situated in the south-west corner of the Market Place. Whilst the front appears to be Georgian, much of the building was re-modelled in around 1910. In January 2010, a planning application was submitted to turn the building, formerly used as offices, into a restaurant. In March permission was granted with the hope that it would help to regenerate one of Whittlesey's main Conservation Areas. Hub's Restaurant and Wine Bar opened several months later.
No. 13, Sonargaon Tandoori
Situated on the western side of Market Square, no. 13 is currently used as an Indian restaurant, called Sonargaon Tandoori. It is thought that there were once at least six pubs situated on the Market Place, and it is likely that No. 13 housed one of them. Prior to becoming a restaurant in 1996, it was used as offices. It became Grade II listed on 25 July 1974.