Fighting for the future of Wisbech and Fenland Museum - the grim reality of what happens when a council withdraws funding

PUBLISHED: 09:37 05 January 2017 | UPDATED: 10:35 05 January 2017

Fenland Council set to cut funding to Wisbech and Fenland Museum

Fenland Council set to cut funding to Wisbech and Fenland Museum

Archant

The fight is on to save Wisbech and Fenland Museum - one of the first purpose built museums in the world - after Fenland District Council withdrew funding.

The council has dropped its £46,250 a year grant although it will make a final payment of £70,000 in April which they say is a reduced amount to cover the next three years.

After that the grant is slashed to zero.

Museum chairman Richard Barnwell said: “I am determined it will not close.

“It was built especially in 1847 and is one of the first purpose built museums in the world.

CAPTION; Photos of the 300 B.C. Wisbech Scabbard, which has returned to being displayed after a 5 year absence at the Wisbech and Fenland Museum. Pic shows the scabbard with Curator David Wright.; PHOTO; Matthew Usher; COPY; David Blackmore; FOR; EDP NEWS; COPYRIGHT; EDP pics © 2010; TEL; (01603) 772434 CAPTION; Photos of the 300 B.C. Wisbech Scabbard, which has returned to being displayed after a 5 year absence at the Wisbech and Fenland Museum. Pic shows the scabbard with Curator David Wright.; PHOTO; Matthew Usher; COPY; David Blackmore; FOR; EDP NEWS; COPYRIGHT; EDP pics © 2010; TEL; (01603) 772434

“It is a rare gem of the Victorian tradition of cabinets of curios.

“We have the gallery, the original mahogany cabinets; people who come here love it.

“We have fascinating collections on every subject you can imagine with something to interest everybody, no we may not be in the digital age but this is part of the charm.

“We must keep this open for future generations. We want to make people feel it’s their museum, feel a part of its future.

Miriam Margoyles is shown the Great Expectations manuscript by museum curator David Wright pictured by Atelier East Miriam Margoyles is shown the Great Expectations manuscript by museum curator David Wright pictured by Atelier East

“I love this town, I love its rich history, and we cannot allow this museum to close.”

Since the decision to axe funding was touted, Heritage Lottery has agreed to fund a specialist member of staff to join the Wisbech team on a part time basis to look at ways of securing alternative funding to secure its future.

The museum houses an eclectic collection of the bizarre and the intriguing including:

•50,000 objects gathered over the a century and a half

The Guyhirn gibbet is among curios at the museum

Wisbech and Fenland Museum holds the headpiece of an iron gibbet relating to either Thomas Quin or James Culley who were among four Irishmen convicted of murdering William Marriott at Guyhirn, near Wisbech in 1795.

Two of the murderers were sentenced to dissection, the other two to be hung in chains “opposite the house where the murder was committed,” according to the unpublished Diary of John Peck (1818) also kept in the museum.

A note says: “The gibbet was washed down by a great sea flood coming down the Wash, 1831. For some years before, not a vestige of their bones could be seen. My brother, Joseph Peck of Bevis Hall, has the irons that contained one of the poor men’s skulls in his possession.”

The headpiece, known locally as “Paddy’s night cap,” consists of two iron bars joined in the middle and bent around the head to be attached to a hinged collar.

•The original manuscript of Dickens’ Great Expectations bequeathed to the trustees in 1869 by the Rev Chauncy Hare Townshend.

•A dismembered mummified hand presented on a red velvet cushion.

•A full length size picture of Napoleon

•The earliest known photographs of Madagascar taken in the 1850s by William Ellis, a missionary from Wisbech

•Historic items once owned by slave trade abolitionist Thomas Clarkson (1760-1846)

•Anglo Saxon swords

•6,000 Greek, Roman, Celtic and British coins including a Roman coin hoard from Emneth.

•The headpiece of a gibbet used to hang a murderer in Guyhirn.

•A mummified cat.

The museum was founded in 1835 by 31 members of the local community who formed the Museum Society.

They originally collected the local flora and fauna of the area and historical items but it grew as more members added their own personal collections.

In a letter to councillors ahead of their decision to withdraw funding Mr Barnwell warned: “Unless other adequate funding can be secured the museum directors will be forced to close the museum.

“This will mean the contents will be distributed outside Fenland with the loss forever of an outstanding and vital cultural asset.

“It houses collections of national and international importance.

“It is one of the most significant independent museums in the county and is the jewel in the crown of Wisbech culture.”

The museum team say they are fighting for its future which includes looking at ways to encouraging more generous visitor donations - in 2014/5 visitors donated just £1,973 which is £37.95 a week.

Visit the museum’s website for opening hours.

1 comment

  • This is INSANE. The population that Fenland District Council serves is about 98,000 (2011 census). So £46,250 per year is less than 50p per year per person. Are we really saying we can't afford this? Less than a penny a week each?

    Report this comment

    Clive Semmens

    Sunday, January 8, 2017

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