GALLERY: Wisbech celebrates as HRH The Princess Royal visits Octavia Hill’s Birthplace House

THE Princess Royal today visited Wisbech to officially open the education centre and The Harry Simpson Library at Octavia Hill’s Birthplace House.

During her 75-minute visit, The Princess Royal met trustees and volunteers and was given a guided tour of the museum displays and garden.

Various collections that have been assembled at the South Brink house - Octavia’s birthplace house - over the years have been enhanced by the addition of the Harry Simpson Library.

Harry Simpson was the Director of Housing in the London Borough of Lambeth. The library named after him is wholly devoted to housing and ancillary subjects, and has formerly been housed at the University of Westminster.

The library comprises about 12,000 books and many other publications and is now accessible to the public and students.

This is a unique library, and honorary librarian and trustee Christine Pittman is looking forward to combining it with the existing archives and making it accessible to social historians and students from all over the world.

As part of the reunification project for Octavia Hill’s Birthplace House, the new education centre at 7 South Brink has had a successful first season hosting classes, meetings and seminars by various charities and social action groups.

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Regular activities include chess, flower arranging, yoga, choirs, piano lessons and book, art and poetry clubs.

The Wisbech Opera and Drama Club and Wisbech Tourism Group use the education centre regularly.

With the new tea rooms and garden open daily to the public, Octavia Hill’s Birthplace House is becoming a notable addition to the amenities of central Wisbech.

Peter Clayton, chairman of the Octavia Hill Birthplace Museum Trust, said: “It was a privilege to welcome Her Royal Highness for a second visit when she could see the tremendous progress our volunteers have made in enhancing the displays in the birthplace house.”

All five separate buildings which comprise the birthplace house have been joined into one museum, Education Centre, tea room, gift shop, garden and ‘starter’ offices. Cambridge-based Peter Constable was the director of the Heritage Lottery Fund funded project.

Room by room the displays narrate the story of how the Hill family lost the birthplace house in the 1830s by undertaking radical reforming activities in Wisbech and how their daughter, Octavia, continued their work on the national stage to become a founder of social housing management, the first civic society, the Army cadets and The National Trust.

Her work continued after her death in 1912.

About 15 organisations were represented at the Royal visit as a testament to the continued influence of this extraordinary woman and social reformer.

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