I'll tell you where to find Fens' capital

PUBLISHED: 09:48 16 February 2007 | UPDATED: 22:34 28 May 2010

I SEE the capital question is breaking news in Getting To Know You. Which town is capital of the Fens? Wisbech or March? Venturing further afield we might also consider Boston, Spalding, even Peterborough sprawled over the Fen perimeter. Ely is a hallowed

I SEE the capital question is breaking news in Getting To Know You.

Which town is capital of the Fens? Wisbech or March?

Venturing further afield we might also consider Boston, Spalding, even Peterborough sprawled over the Fen perimeter.

Ely is a hallowed if aloof city, an immortal link with faith, a city with superior status to any of these.

Whittlesey, Chatteris, Littleport and Soham being much smaller but with interesting and pleasant characteristics of their own, are sensibly inclined to lay no claim to capital status, so it is left to Wisbech and March to battle it out.

If our part of the Fens has to have a capital the question boils down to these two places, by ancient recognition feuding capitals with distinctly different claims.

The two have been at each other's throats since the 16th century when March butchers sallied forth on to Norwoodside and slaughtered the Wisbech men's sheep.

The Bishop of Ely intervened and found the March men seriously lacking in graciousness. He summoned them to a meeting at March's old church and lectured them so vigorously to the end and purpose they would never again dare to upset Wisbech. But they did.

I have always thought of Wisbech as the industrial capital (incidentally, the old borough's claim to capital status is entirely self-styled). It is an attractive place thanks to Georgian and Victorian entrepreneurs seizing advantage of the once-famous inland port and covetous trade brought to the Fens under sail and steam from the Baltic and occasionally America by an army of more than 50 Wisbech-based master mariners.

Industrially, Wisbech always had the edge over March. The latter place suffered for years from a surfeit of over-cautions farmer councillors. They resented development of the rail centre that survived the war and for a time became the largest marshalling yard in Europe.

It hurt Wisbech that the county council chose March as its permanent headquarters after years of hiring premises at various towns. March! Why not Wisbech?

Ah, well, March rail centre was centrally situated and conveniently near the station for county councillors living in the old Isle of Ely. Rubbing salt in the wound, Beeching came along and set about re-organising the railways. Wisbech lost its stations, its prolific port trade and its pride and March smirked in a cloud of Whitemoor steam.

The old rival took on a new life when the railway was reinvented and Wisbech, emerging from the doldrums, puts much faith in the riverside regeneration scheme. Good luck to them.

The two rivers couldn't be more different. Wisbech with its glorious Georgian Brinks and March with its meandering garden-lined waterway likened by visitors to a Thames-side town.

So which town is the capital? Unarguably Wisbech has the industrial muscle but March is catching up.

March, the seat of local government, can justifiably claim the title 'county town', therefore 'capital'. Dictionaries make it clear that towns with the seat of government can be rightly called 'capital'. From March's point of view, that's the question answered.

Or is it?

TREVOR BEVIS

St Peter's Road

March

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