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Cabinets at the museum


Butterfly collection


Today we collect, care for and interpret the natural and cultural heritage of Wisbech and the surrounding Fenland.


The Museum's acquisitions policy

Local and social history

market stalls
These collections comprise agricultural implements, drainage tools, hunting and fishing equipment and as such reflect Fenland culture and economy up until mechanisation in the mid 20th century.
In addition, the history of Wisbech as an important market town and port is represented by collections which include examples of the shipping industry and local law enforcement.
Victorian and early 20th century life is illustrated through the Museum's collection of objects relating to domestic life and local trades.


Egyptian Shabti Figure
The Museum houses a remarkable collecion of Ancient Egyptian artefacts which illustrate as much about the Egyptian lives and beliefs as they do about the Victorians who collected them.
One of the icons of the Museum's entire collection is the mummy's hand, a dis-membered mummified hand mounted on a red velvet cushion within a gilt frame!
Other gems include a mummified cat, Canopic jars and several stelae (gravestones). Unusually, the Museum also has an Egyptian handling collection which is very popular with schools groups and other visitors.

Fine and decorative arts

Painted plate
A substantial part of this collection was donated to the Museum by the Reverend Chauncy Hare Townshend in 1868.
It includes paintings, European and Eastern ceramics and other objects d'art. Of particular interest are the Staffordshire figures which were donated from the collections of William Smith and JL Kirk.
These include many rare pieces which make the Museum the envy of many museums in the Potteries.


black and white picture of buildings
The photograph collection includes some of the earliest known photographs of Madagascar taken in the 1850s by William Ellis (1794-1872), a prominent member of the London Missionary Society; 19th century documentary photographs of Wisbech and surrounding area by Samuel Smith; topographical images of East Anglia taken by Herbert Coates in the 1920s and photographs of Wisbech in the 1970s by George Annis.

Thomas Clarkson and the Transatlantic slave trade

Thomas Clarkson's chest
Wisbech is the home town of slavery abolitionist Thomas Clarkson and the Museum holds documents, letters, books and artefacts relating to his work.
The most important of these is his chest which contains examples of 18th century African textiles, seeds and leatherwork.
These were used to illustrate his case for direct trade with Africa. A permanent display explains Clarkson's story and his campaign.


african earings
This small, but significant collection was gathered in the 19th century. In addition to the West African material gathered by slavery abolitionist Thomas Clarkson, there are also artefacts gathered by William Stanger and William Ellis who took part in expeditions to the South Seas, Madagascar and Africa. For example, Tongan war clubs, Tapa bark cloth and a quiver of poisoned arrows from Natal.
There are also artefacts acquired by William Stanger who participated in the ill fated Niger Expedition. Other items of interest were obtained from the expeditions to the South Seas and William Ellis' journey to Madagascar.

Natural history

insects labeled
This vast collection comprises local and international geology (rocks & minerals), paleontology (fossils), conchology (shells), 19th century bird, mammal and fish mounts, lepidoptera (moths and butterflies), coleoptera (beetles) and a herbarium (botanical specimens). Among the stars of the collection are the nest of kingfishers, the ichthyosaurs and a giant eel caught in the River Nene!

Costume and textiles

a large red dress
The Museum possesses a significant costume collection which ranges from important ethnological items from 18th and 19th centuries to representative pieces of British costume from the 17th century to the late 20th century.


an arrowhead
Our comprehensive archaeology collection enables visitors to understand the development of life in the Fens from pre-historic to medieval times. Our Romano- British collection features fine examples of pottery and the skeleton of c.1700 year old woman from Coldham. The jewel of the Museum's Celtic material is the highly decorated Iron Age Wisbech Scabbard (c.300 BC), found locally by Samuel Smith.
Pottery and artefacts discovered in the soils of the extinct Fenland river the Welle Stream give an insight into the life in the Roman and Middle Ages.

Numismatics (coins & tokens)

coins and tokens
This substantial collection comprises over 6,000 Greek, Roman, Celtic and British coins. There are several local hoards, the largest of which is the Emneth hoard of c. 1,500 3rd - 4th century coins.
The Museum also has a fine collection of 17th - 18th century tradesmen's tokens from Wisbech and East Anglia. Of particular note are the fruit pickers' tokens, issued by local farmers in the late 19th and 20th century.


painting of a ship
British and European landscape and portrait paintings. The Museum's collection of oil paintings can now be viewed on the BBC/Public Catalogue Foundation website - Your Paintings.
Letter for identification

Object identification

If you would like to have an object identified, please contact the Museum to find a convenient time to bring it in. In some cases we may not always be able to identify your object on the spot, so it may be necessary for you to leave it with us for a short period.
Please contact the Museum for details of charges (01945 583817 or email us at

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