Whittlesey is situated on the western edge of the Fens, close to the Cathedral City of Peterborough and like many Fen towns was once an island surrounded by marshes. The town centre is an interesting maze of streets with a mix of well preserved architecture spanning several centuries; from timber-framed buildings with thatched roofs, occasional stone buildings and many other built from mellow buff local brick.
The Market Place in the town centre has a late 17th Century Buttercross - an open market house - which is a reminder of the town’s rich trading and agricultural history. More history about Whittlesey can be explored in the Town Museum in Market Street or by following the Town Trail which is available as a leaflet from the Museum and Library.
Whittlesey is a thriving market town with attractive riverside walks, and a good variety of shops, leisure facilities and places to stay. It is also a base for nationally important manufacturing industries such as McCains and Hanson Brick.
The river which meanders through the Manor Fields, south of the town, is part of the 28½ mile long Nene-Ouse Navigation Link which connects the River Nene near Peterborough with the River Great Ouse at Denver. There are free moorings at the Manor Fields close to the town, leisure facilities and pretty riverside walks.
Whittlesey’s most famous native was General Sir Harry Smith, who had a successful military career in the Napoleonic and Sikh wars, when his victory at Aliwal made him a national hero.
Whittlesey’s most spectacular event is the Strawbear Festival. It was one of the last towns in the country to celebrate this old agricultural custom which lay dormant for 70 years until it was revived in 1980.
The ‘Bear’, a man in costume made of straw, is accompanied by his keeper in a procession around the town stopping off for refreshment at pubs along the way.
Over 200 dancers and musicians in colourful costumes follow the Bear performing traditional ‘Molly’, ‘Morris’, ‘Clog’ and sword dances.
The Straw Bear Festival takes place on the Saturday before Plough Sunday which is in early January.