Peckover House

Peckover House

Drawing Room

Drawing Room

Peckover House and Garden is a National Trust property located in North Brink, Wisbech, Cambridgeshire. The exterior of the house gives little idea of the elaborate and elegant interior of fine panelled rooms, Georgian fireplaces with carved over-mantels, and ornate plaster decorations. At the back of the house is a beautiful 0.8 ha (2 acre) Victorian walled garden with interesting and rare trees, delightful summer houses and fruiting orange trees, thought to be 300 years old, roses, herbaceous borders, fernery, croquet lawn and 17th-century reed thatched barn.

This classic Georgian merchant's town house was lived in by the Peckover family for 150 years. Peckover House, built c1722, stands on the North Brink on the banks of the River Nene. The two brinks, which follow the line of the river and face one another across its banks, are revered for their architectural quality, and the dramatic effect produced by the linear development of warehouses, public buildings and houses.

Peckover House, the most distinguished house on the Brinks, breaks the street line by being set back from the terraces to either side. For much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Wisbech was a bustling inland port with a population of c.5,000. Foreign tongues could be heard on the vessels moored along the Nene, the tidal river which flows through the town. Ships ferried produce from the rich fertile fenlands, which the town lies amidst. They sailed to the ports of London, Hull and the continent. On their return voyage they brought back goods of all kinds; coal from the northern ports and silks and spices from London.

In the early eighteenth century the town began to grow spreading along the north bank or brink of the River Nene. Around 1720 labourers began to clear derelict farm buildings and cottages from North Brink in preparation for the construction of what is now Peckover House. Passers-by on the south bank of the river could see the red brick house rising out of the fields on the opposite bank. They would have caught a glimpse of the bricklayers working from their flimsy scaffolding of rope and timber poles. Conceivably the bricks they were laying were fired in kilns across the seas in Holland and brought to Wisbech in the holds of the port's trading vessels.

Following completion of the house a succession of families would live here until 1752 when it was purchased by Henry Southwell, a local dignitary. His family would own the house for the next 40 years. During this time the house would once more become a hive of activity. plasterers created an intricate Rococo ceiling within the staircase hall of the house. Carvers chiselled swags, bows and garlands to create a new chimney piece for the Southwell's Drawing Room.

The house was purchased by Jonathan Peckover after 1794 and the family continued to live there for the next 150 years, making their own alterations and developments. To the east and west of the main block of the house are curving single storey extensions, which house the library wing and the service areas and the remnants of the former bank building. The Norwich architect Edward Boardman designed the wings in 1877-8 for Alexander Peckover as part of his extension and remodelling of the house to accommodate his extensive library and re-use the space vacated by the Peckovers' banking enterprise in 1878. The drawing room was where the Peckover family would have spent many a morning. Click here to take a virtual tour.

The Peckover family's wealth derived from banking. In 1777 Jonathan Peckover moved to Wisbech and established a small grocer's business. Respected for his strong moral principles, honesty and decency, he soon began holding his customers' money for safe-keeping. What was informally known as 'Peckover's Bank' had seven accounts in its ledger in 1782, when Jonathan entered into partnership with the well-established Quaker bankers, Gurneys & Co. of Norwich.

Jonathan's bank, now known as the Wisbech and Lincolnshire Bank, became Wisbech's first official bank. It thrived under his family's management until 1893 when direct family involvement in the bank ceased. In 1896 the Peckover's bank was amalgamated with 19 other private banks into Barclays Bank.

The Peckovers played an important role in the history of Wisbech, and through their wealth, they supported many institutions including the Wisbech and Fenland Museum and the Working Men's Club and Institute. Known for their philanthropy, they were concerned with various causes and campaigned for the abolition of slavery, pacificism and improvements in education.

Jonathan Peckover, purchased Peckover House in the 1790s. The North brink, where Peckover House stands, is one of the great streetscapes of Georgian England - a handsome testament to the prosperity of Wisbech during the 18th-century. Just over 150 years later Peckover House, its garden and estate of 48 acres were given to the National Trust in 1943 by Alexandrina Peckover, the last descendant of Jonathan Peckover.

Through their faith Quakers displayed compassion, generosity and a curiosity about the world and its people. Quakers believe that faith is a personal matter and that everyone possesses their own Inner Light, which allows them direct communication with God through silent contemplation. Their rejection of the role of the clergy and the ritual of the church challenged the established authority of the Church of England and led to their exclusion from university and certain professions.

As a consequence they tended to enter the trades, most notably (like the Peckovers) banking, shop keeping, farming and manufacturing and to favour business deals with fellow Quakers. Barclays Bank, Rowntrees and Cadburys were all originally Quaker enterprises. Quakers also inter-married, for marriage to a non-Quaker meant expulsion from the faith until 1869. They became a tight-knit community, with a strong moral code and deep religious beliefs which coloured all their dealings. This is most probably why the Peckovers were successful in their banking enterprises in Wisbech, while other provincial banks went under. To find out more about Quakersim and the work Quakers are doing today, visit their website

The Wisbech and Lincolnshire Bank was Wisbech's first official bank and thrived under the Peckover family's management throughout the early to mid-19th century. The family's wealth was derived from banking.

In 1777 Jonathan Peckover moved to Wisbech and established a small grocers business. Respected for his probity, he soon begen holding his customers' money for safe keeping. This was not unusual, as most transactions were made in cash and the need for safe repositories apparent. What was informally known as 'Peckover's Bank' had seven accounts in its ledger in 1782, when Jonathan entered into partnership with the well-established Quaker bankers, Gurneys & Co. of Norwich, and John Birbeck and Joseph Taylor of King's Lynn.

Jonathan Peckover recognised that his handsome house on the North Brink in the foremost part of town provided him with the necessary outward signs of stability upon which to build his career in banking. The business was accomodated in a purpose-built banking hall/chamber to the south-west of the house from c.1800. It traded on this site until 1879, when the bank moved to spacious new premises, which are still in use today as Barclays Bank, in the Old Market.

When the Wisbech and Lincolnshire Bank first opened its doors, customers entering the Banking Hall would have found themselves in a large airy room. Ranged in front of them were the clerks, equipped with scales to check the weight of coins to be deposited. A gold coin was literally worth its weight. Behind the scenes the ledgers recording the bank's financial transactions were stored on wooden shelving supported on iron brackets (still in place today).

Banknotes first appeard in this country in the 16th century. The Wisbech and Lincolnshire was one of many country banks, in addition to the Bank of England, to issue their own bank notes. They enabled customers to undertake financial transactions without the need to carry around valuable and heavy coins. The last private bank notes in England and Wales were issued by the Somerset bank of Fox, Fowler & Co. in 1921.

Though the Banking Hall was partially demolished in 1879, sufficient remains above ground to appreciate its former scale and layout. Below ground, the brick vaults that once held gold and silver coinage and the massive doors of the vaults survive little changed and you can find out more in their Banking Wing exhibition.

Successive generations of the Peckover and Penrose family were prolific amateur and, in some cases, professional artists. Lord Peckover travelled extensively, and his collections acquired in Egypt were donated to the Wisbech and Fenland Museum, where they still form the basis of their Egyptian collections today. His daughter, Alexandrina, was an adventurous explorer and sportswoman, who climbed the Alps at a time when most Victorian women were not expected to do anything so strenuous.

Lord Peckover's eldest daughter, Elizabeth Josephine, married James Doyle Penrose, a talented artsit and fellow Quaker. Their son, Roland Penrose, studied art in Paris in the 1920's where he joined the Surrealists. After World War II, Roland co-founded the Institute of Contemprary Arts and was instrumental in intorducing British audiences to the work of his friend, Pablo Picasso. Roland married Lee Miller, a prominant war time photogrpher for Vogue magazine and artist and his children and grandchildren still carry on his legacy today.

During the late 18th and throughout the 19th century, Wisbech was a prosperous merchants town with a busy port exporting wool and grain, and importing coal and timber. The North and South Brinks, which face each other across the tidal River Nene, developed around mercantile activities, and the Peckovers opened a banking business from their home on North Brink - Bank House.

North Brink is considered by many to be the most outstanding freature of Wisbech. In his 'Buildings of England', Nikolaus Pevsner described it as one of the finest Georgian brick streets in England. Octavia Hill, one of the founders of the National Trust, was born in 7 South Brink, nearly opposite the home of the Peckovers on the North Brink.

Alexander Peckover led and extremely rich and rewarding life. In 1907 Alexander was elevated to the peerage in recognition of services to the County of Cambridgeshire as Lord Lieutenant from 1893 - 1906. The title Lord Lieutenant is given to the British monarch's personal representative in a county with varying tasks.

Baron Peckover of Wisbech was the first member of the Society of Friends (Quakers) to become ennobled and this event caused much excitment in the town of Wisbech, and is a reflection of the esteem Alexander was held. Alexander previously, in 1905, had conferred on him by the University of Cambridge the honoury degree of Doctor of Law (LL.D.). Alexander's library at Bank House (now called Peckover House) was renowned for its valuable collection of early bibles, atlases and early printed books - one of which is still housed in the Library today - the Catechesis. He was a keen chess enthusiast, travelled widely in Eurpoe and the Middle East, was a keen horticulturalist and botanist and a great walker.

Cabinets of curiosities, also known as 'Wunderkammer', were small collections of extraordinary objects which, like today's museums, attempted to categorise and tell stories about the wonders and oddities of the natural world. All of the Peckovers were great travellers and many of their journeys are recorded in their diaries and watercolour albums which are held in their archive collection. Alexander's grandson, Roland Penrose, remembers his grandfather looming over him as he surveyed the contents, with his commanding voice booming incessantly - 'keep off dirty paws!' The Cabinet of Curiosities is open for people to view during their 'What's in There?' days - see the NT events page for more details.

** – The Garden – **

The garden, as it is seen today, has a decidedly Victorian character and is justly celebrated as one of the most important town gardens surviving from this period. Laid out by the Peckovers from the early 19th-century onwards, it has evolved over a long period of time in response both to changes in gardening fashion and the family's taste. The Peckovers were keen plantsmen and sought out new varieties and foreign species of plants and trees.

When the Peckover family moved into the Southwell's residence in the early 1790's their garden consisted of an area immediately behind the house. Beyond their immediate garden the family owned an orchard and 17th-century threshing barn. The family also owned farmland close to the house. Over 150-year period the Peckovers would nurture the garden - an extension of their philanthropic nature - acquiring numerous rare foreign plants and trees from plant hunters. In its 19th-century heyday, the garden was supported by 17 gardeners. Under Alexandrina Peckover, this number was reduced to five estate men-cum-gardeners. Fed Wenlock, the head gardener at this time, could not read, but is said to have written the plant and tree labels in beautiful copperplate.

When the National Trust took over the property, the number of gardeners was further reduced to one full-time and one part-time assistant. When George Peeling began work in the garden in 1968, there was much that had been neglected and was in need of rejuvenation. By the time he retired 18 years later, he had successfully brought the garden back from the brink of wilderness.

Many of their roses were planted a long time ago and their original labels have long since been lost. Many rose cultivars are very similar and are complex to identify, even for rose experts. Sadly this means there are a number of beautiful roses growing in the garden that they cannot put a name to, but their Rose map will help you put a name to some of the roses around the garden. Print off the map and key and bring with you next time you Peckover - the best time to see the roses is May - July. Click here for the plan of the borders of Alexa's Rose Garden.

The Greenhouse

The Greenhouse

** – Visiting – **

** – Octavia Hill Wisbech heritage walk – **

An easy walk around the north and south Brinks area of Wisbech, where Octavia Hill was born, including the Octavia Hill Birthplace House Museum, the National Trust's Peckover House and various other points of interest. Visit The Crescent; Wisbech Castle; the Fenland Museum and spend time at the old Quayside area. Suitable for families with older children. The walk is about 2 miles long and should last about one and a half hours.

Start: Somer's Road car park.

  • 1. There are various car parks in Wisbech. The nearest for the start of this walk being the Somer's Road car park. Head towards the rear, exiting the car park into Alexandra Road. Turn left and head to the junction with South Brink. Turn right and, turning immediately right into Bridge Street, look out for the Clarkson Memorial directly ahead of you and slightly to the left on an irregular-shaped roundabout at the junction of Bridge Street, and Nene Quay.
  • Thomas Clarkson was born in Wisbech in 1760, where his father was the local headmaster. He was educated in the local grammar school, then later at Cambridge University, and it was here that he found out about the slave trade. This Victorian monument commemorates his life and the achievements of his campaigns against the trade.
  • 2. Now head away from South Brink and Bridge Street, along York Row turning left along High Street looking out for the Rose and Crown Hotel on the left at Numbers 23-24. The Rose and Crown is a 15th-century inn with Tudor cellars beneath. The inn became run down and was closed for a time, but after purchase by new owners and extensive refurbishment, has re-opened for business as a hotel. The new owners may offer tours of the cellars, so it's worth asking.
  • 3. Continuing on along High Street into Market Place, keep bearing right and take the first road on the right (Market Street) and walk down until joining Union Place. Turn right and follow Union Place until reaching the Crescent.
  • The curving terraces of houses surrounding the Castle gardens form one of Wisbech's architectural highlights, a striking example of Georgian architecture and town planning by a local builder named Joseph Medworth. Medworth developed this site around 1800, creating an elegant circus of fashionable, terraced town houses, with many doorways still retaining their original fan-lights. Today, Wisbech Castle (Medworth's own home - not a true castle as you might expect) is furnished as a living museum. It has beautiful mature gardens.
  • 4. Turn left at the war memorial and walk around the Crescent. On the way, look out for 'Ghost Passage' on your right, before reaching Museum Square, which houses the Wisbech and Fenland Museum.
  • This free-entry museum, which opened in 1847, was one of the first purpose-built museums in the country. The entrance steps help create the effect of a miniature "Greek Temple to Learning" and were largely funded by Quakers (in particular the Peckover family). Inside, it has a fully preserved Victorian interior with original display cases still in use. Alongside displays of porcelain and bygones you can see the original manuscript of Great Expectations, Napoleon's breakfast service captured at Waterloo and Louis XIV's ivory chess set.
  • 5. Turning left out of the Museum, walk across the pathway to St Peter and St Paul Church. Go down a few steps and head right around the path until reaching the entrance.
  • St Peter and St Paul is Norman in origin. Its earliest parts date back to the late 12th-century, and has two naves and two chancels under a single roof. Particularly interesting is part of its boundary being the ancient sea wall, as the town was then on the southern edge of the Wash. Much restoration was undertaken in the early Victorian period, when old galleries and box pews were removed. Notable items inside include Victorian stained-glass windows and various memorials. An annual fund-raising rose fair takes place every July.
  • 6. Exiting the church and returning to the pathway before Museum Square, turn immediately left down an alleyway leading to Love Lane. After a few yards, turn right into Alexandra Road.
  • On the right, about 200yds down the road, you can find the Angles Theatre, which is an amalgamation of a 1793 small Georgian theatre at the rear of the building and a Victorian Infants school dating from 1837 in front. It is now a Charitable Trust and provides and promotes a wide variety of modern theatre.
  • 7. Continuing along the length of Alexandra Road, turn left at the junction on to South Brink. On the left at No. 8 you will find the birthplace of Octavia Hill. Look out for the blue plaque on the wall.
  • Octavia was born on December 3, 1838 to James and Caroline Hill - social reformers, on which Octavia's life-work was based. Perhaps her greatest achievements were being one of the three founder members of the National Trust, and in the field of housing reform (particularly in inner London areas). The house is Grade II listed, and part is now run as a museum by volunteers of the Octavia Hill Birthplace Museum Trust. It has many enhanced displays and facilities including a children's corner with fun activities in every room.
  • 8. After leaving the Birthplace House, turn left along South Brink, Cross Somer's Road until reaching Octavia's, an establishment selling pre-loved and reconditioned items with a café on first floor.
  • The Rococo ceiling in the café is magnificent and has to be seen. On the ground floor, the flooring is the same as in Peckover House. In those days the home-owners on opposite sides of the river tried to keep up with each other. In this instance, it was the Peckovers with whom they were competing. When leaving the building, turn right and go past Octavia Hill's Birthplace, turn left across Town Bridge towards Old Market and North Brink.
  • 9. Now turn right to the Old Market, stopping to look over the River Nene and visit the old quayside, where there is a small viewing area.
  • The Nene rises in Northamptonshire and flows through the counties of Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire before reaching outfall at The Wash. In 1815 a link was made to the canal network and eventually 37 locks were built, enabling much use now to be made by pleasure boats. Over the centuries, the quayside below the Town Bridge was developed for loading and unloading ships. As many as 40 sailing ships could be seen in port at any one time. Warehouses were built along the banks and several survive, notably just downstream of the bridge.
  • 10. Now continue ahead along Old Market.
  • Once a cobbled area, Old Market was the trading centre for local farmers, and contained banks, feed and seed merchants. Today it contains many fine Georgian Houses and the odd antique shop.
  • 11. Turn round and re-trace your footsteps along Old Market. Visit the Old Corn Exchange on the corner adjoining Old Market and North Brink next to Lloyd's Bank.
  • The Old Corn Exchange was built in 1811 and for many years doubled as Corn Exchange and Town Hall. In 1872 various alterations were made to the building, The Council Chamber upstairs, still in use, is sometimes open to the public, and still contains the furniture that was made at the time of the re-building. The building over the years has been put to various uses including roller skating, all-in wrestling, ballroom dancing, and, until quite recently, it was a popular bingo hall. It is maintained by the local council, and is used largely as a music venue.
  • 12. Now continue to walk along North Brink.
  • The street-scape of North Brink is largely due to the Peckover Family who built and lived in several of the properties along the road. Look out for Wisteria House (No.22-25), and of course Peckover House (13, seen in the next step). North Brink has often been used as a backdrop in period films and TV dramas (e.g. David Copperfield and Micawber) on account of its many Georgian buildings.
  • 13. Continue along North Brink until you reach Peckover House.
  • Peckover House, owned since 1943 by the National Trust, is typical of a classic Georgian Merchant's house, lived in by the Peckover Quaker family for 150 years. Well worth the visit, it has a Victorian walled garden, various collections in the house, many events throughout the year and a not-to-be-missed tea-room in a 17th-century thatched barn, serving light lunches, teas and cakes.
  • 14. After visiting Peckover House, turn right and continue along for a short distance until reaching Friends Meeting House. After visiting Friends Meeting House, it's about a ten-minute walk continuing along North Brink, passing Chapel Road, the Wisbech Grammar School and Barton Road until reaching Elgood's Brewery. After visiting the brewery, this is now the end of the walk. Return along North Brink turning right and crossing Old Market to reach the Somer's Road car park.
  • Friends Meeting House was built in 1854 by Algernon Peckover. Almost all of the burials in the small graveyard behind the Meeting House are of Peckovers. Their simple memorial stones now line the walls, creating a delightful open, lawn garden for the residents. Elgood's Brewery is a family-run business owned by the 5th generation of the Elgood family. It's open to visitors from April to September and has a stunning four-acre garden as well as a maze and tea-shop/café.
  • End: Somer's Road car park.
  • General:-

  • • Tea-room and shop in the thatched 17th-century barn.
  • • Parking at Chapel Road, 500 yards. Free (not National Trust).
  • • Toilet.
  • • Tours available, please contact them before you visit.
  • • Groups welcome, please contact them before you visit.
  • • Photography is allowed in the house but no flash please.
  • • Assistance dogs only please.
  • Family:-

  • • Baby-changing facilities.
  • • Hip-carrying infant seats for loan.
  • • Handling collection, including 'Cabinet of Curiosities'.
  • Accessibility:-

  • • Adapted toilet at tea-room.
  • • Five steps to entrance of the house. One wheelchair, booking essential. Ground floor has steps.
  • • Sensory experience.
  • • Virtual tour (see above).
  • • Induction loop.
  • • Loose gravel paths around grounds. Map of accessible route. One single-seater PMV, booking essential.
  • • Blue Badge disabled parking on double yellow lines outside the property.
  • Read the National Trust full access statement (PDF). Assistance dogs are welcome. On open days when it is Tour only for admission to the House (24 Feb - 25 Mar on weekdays), the tours are at 11.45am, 1.15pm and 2.45pm.


    Location : Peckover House, North Brink, Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, PE13 1JR

    Transport: Kings Lynn (National Rail) then bus (X1) OR Peterborough (National Rail) then bus (X1). Bus routes: First Group X1 stops close by or 46 and X46.

    Opening Times : House 12:00 to 16:00; Garden 11:00 to 17:00. Check dates.

    Tickets Whole property: Adults £8.20;  Children £4.10.

    Tickets Garden Only: Adults £5.70;  Children £2.85.

    Tel: 01945 583463