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 www.quaker.org.ukk
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.
** – 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.
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