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Life in Lincolnshire Part II Boston

Updated: Nov 30, 2023

Boston in Lincolnshire has a history that has shaped the success of this country with an ancestry which is quite easily as impressive as its American counterpart, Boston in Massachusetts. The connection between the two Boston's is of course strong, with the American city being named after the Lincolnshire town. Walking around the town today there is clear evidence of an affluent past, where the draining of the Fens and a busy, industrious port have brought great wealth and abundance to an otherwise sleepy, agrarian county.

Flat for as far as the eye can see, Boston's surrounding Fens hold long lost secrets whispered upon the winds as they breeze through reeds and fields of wheat and grains. Ancient hedgerows mirrored along flat, empty straight roads with drainage dykes keeping the land perfect for growing all year round, have kept Boston's importance as a food producer at the forefront of British and World agriculture, but this is just the tip of the historical iceberg!

Above Moorhouses, about 7 miles north of Boston

My photographs show the valuable arable land that surrounds Boston, reclaimed from the sea with banks and dykes over the centuries. I have delivered parcels in most of Lincolnshire for years, in all weathers, including snow drifts in the middle of nowhere and being chased by a hurricane down the A17. I have seen Boston bathed in beautiful early morning sunshine, and in the fiercest winter storms. In those remote areas facing the wilds and joys of the weather it is very easy to be transported back to simpler times. Empty roads, tiny hamlets, isolated farms and wide open would be Roman times!

A Very Brief History of Boston

(make a cup of tea, there's a lot to tell you!)

In 60AD it is believed there was a Roman settlement in the form of a fort at the River Witham where it widens into The Wash, a few miles from the present day town. Ships coming to and from the Roman Ninth Legion's fortress upstream at Lincoln needed this supply route protecting. By 122AD the increased Roman population meant beef butchery and the related salt industry, originally from the Iron Age (used to preserve the meat) needed a proper infrastructure and so the land was reclaimed with drainage, canals and roads.

Boston was not named in the Doomsday Book, but a borough of today's Boston near the docks, Skirbeck, was. St Botolph's Town, named after a local missionary saint, was recognised as an important crossing of the Witham by the Normans, and in the1400's the name was eventually shortened to Boston.

Throughout its history Boston's geographic location with its very prosperous sea port and inland access via the River Witham, have been of such importance allowing for locally grown surplus to be sold on and shipped quickly. Boston acquired trading rights and privileges with the royal charter of 1218 giving the town rights to hold markets and fairs, which had begun as early as 1125. Boston's annual fairs were always significantly important, lasting several days with trading in luxurious, sumptuous goods that you wouldn't associate with the simple farming folk of the Fens. Wines, spices, silks and velvet were traded from Europe and beyond, bought into the port via the Northern coasts of Europe. Ships from the Hanseatic League, an important trading alliance of merchant guilds and trading associations from the 12th to the 17th century considered Boston an important port of call, contributing to Boston's incredible affluent past.

Inside The Stump

Medieval Boston was a great place to live and in 1203 to 1204 only London paid more in taxes. England was Europe's main wool supplier, and by 1275 Boston was exporting more wool than London. The wool trade had started in the 10th century when sheep owned by the monasteries grazed on fertile fenlands recently reclaimed for a second time from the sea. The Lincoln Longwool sheep was prized for its high quality, long fleece and fine soft texture, producing the finest wool cloth which was highly sought after, especially in neighbouring France. The famous Lincoln green dye used to colour wool before it is woven was made in the area. Leaves from the woad plant produced a purple dye and then a yellow dye from the mignonette plant would make the distinctive, popular green.

By 1309 Boston started to build what would be the largest parish church in the country, which today is known locally as The Stump. Up until Henry VIII's shake-up of the church there were up to 33 priests from guilds and various religious houses attending the church, Blackfriars Theatre was originally a monastery. Over the generations The Stump has been restored a number of times, sometimes with money gifted from America. During the English Civil War when Cromwell rode into town he used the church to keep his horses in and fired muskets into the walls!

Above The Guildhall

A short walk from The Stump through the Market Place (make sure to look up above the shop fronts!!), flanked with exquisite Georgian and Victorian buildings is the Guildhall, built in 1390.

I loved the dusty oldness of the Guildhall, with the heavy wood and stone of the lower floor, and the classic New England simplicity of the upstairs court room and meeting hall. We were the only people visiting and so it was really easy to envisage past dramas and celebrations. In Medieval Boston the guilds were run by religious houses, where members paid a subscription in exchange for a variety of benefits. When Henry VIII abolished the church he seized all its property, putting a stop to the guilds. By 1545 The Boston Corporation was formed, dealing with civil duties in the town which had once been the responsibility of the disbanded guilds.

Next door to The Guildhall is Fydell House (above), built in around 1700. My photos show the front and the back which was taken from within The Guildhall. Considered to be the UKs finest Queen Anne period house ,it was built from the profits of trade in exotic silks and fabrics. Joseph Kennedy, JFK's father, stayed in Fydell House in 1938!

These two buildings sitting next door to each other though separated by 300 years span some of Boston's biggest history and this period is too great to discuss here.

  • There is the connection to New England with the departure of the Pilgrims.

  • Reverend John Cotton helped guide the Founding Fathers

  • Anne Hutchinson, responsible for the religious-freedom clause in the US's Bill of Rights.

  • Capability Brown '[he] sought an image of heaven' in his landscaped gardens

  • Sir Joseph Banks, botanist for Captain James Cook when discovering Australia

  • Explorer Captain Matthew Flinders, cartographer and navigator during the discovery of Australian

  • George Bass, surgeon to Matthew Flinders during the discovery of Australian

Above A drainage dyke adorned with wild flowers just outside Boston

In around 1760 Boston boomed with the development of the newly invented railways, slowly snaking across the countryside carrying goods from the international trading port, and this prosperous trend continued for the following 100 years. A lot of money came into Boston. By 1826 Boston was the largest town in the country, with improved roads, rail, communications and the port all increasing the amount of goods and grain that could be shipped quickly to consumers.

  • 1784 there were 33 shopkeepers in Boston

  • 1835 there were 910!

I can't help but to stop and think for a moment. Even if you don't know Boston, imagine any old town where every ground floor is a shop. None of this chain store lark, where every town is the same. Boston would have been quite phenomenal with 900 shops selling all manner of wares

  • From Europe and beyond

  • Maybe the aroma of unusual herbs and new spices

  • Perhaps there was the decadence of alternative foods, maybe cooked by Europeans hearing of Boston's success and travelling in by the cargo boats (nowt new there then, ay, hehe!, local joke!)

  • Ladies in rich textiles holding out a pampered hand to a carriage footman for the drive home to one of the many large estates in the area

Above White flower hedgerows and a wheat field basking in the height of summer, Boston

Each shop would have been quite amazing, (I'd like to think!), all glass jars, little wooden drawers or boxes and maybe liveried staff with pinafores or aprons. Obviously there was no plastic at this time but instead little neat parcels crossed with string, or brown folded paper protecting a new purchase. Imagine travelling a few miles into Boston from the deepest of rural countryside to the bustle of such a lively town. The extremities are remarkable, one of the most rural counties having one of the most prosperous, international towns. Amazing, oh to have lived back then, just for a while!

Back to the late 1700's Boston with all it's trading and retail money cha-ching-ing into the town there was a need for financial services and banks and so by 1805 Boston had 6 banks. For such a small town of 7,000 people this was a lot of banks and equal to towns with double the population. Today both buildings for Lloyds (1864) and Barclays (1876) banks in the Market Place, flanking either side of The Stump (very swanky addresses of the time) were both built to be banks and are so still today! As the Market Place was a hub for trade, everybody wanted to have a Market Place address. Boston's 'lanes' were a solution stemming from many towns during medieval times allowing for narrow, skinny plots, with a shop front at one end, residence above and a veg garden and domesticated animals belonging to the family at the other end. These skinny, long plots allowed for a maximum amount of properties with a sought after address around the edge of important, central locations..

The Industrial Revolution began IN Boston during the early 1800's! [WOW, that's really, really big history!], As the countries population grew there was a need to improve the growing, harvesting and transporting of crops. Blacksmiths and ironworks became engineering workshops to maintain and repair the new industrial machinery and even today there are a lot of little, old engineering places operating really old machinery! Here are just a few of the major developments of this time:

  1. In 1820 17 year old William Wade Johnson sold his first seeds at Boston Market. He had grown his best seeds into high quality plants to subsequently collect the high quality seed which he then sold on. Today Johnson's seeds are still fabulous, I have them in my flower garden. His seeds have gone on to turf Wembley Stadium and many other top notch sporting clubs. (I actually saw them cutting the sods for the new Wembley Pitch!)

  2. In 1822 William Webb Tuxford built a machine to clean wheat before it was milled and from this was born the Industrial Revolution. The railways continued to expand, with the whole infrastructure involved with maintaining the engines, tracks and the movement and storage of produce. It created 900 jobs in Boston, but this only compensated for the lack of jobs at the declining port.

  3. In 1826 Timothy Anderson started the first feather processing factory. With the readily available local supply of waterfowl, and later on the chicken factories feathers, it was an area fluffy with feathers. The duvet was invented in Boston in 1960 by Fogarty's, the town's only remaining feather processor with origins stemming back to 1901.

  4. In 1849 John Fisher, a tailor, started to produce his own tags for the clothes he made. Other shops asked him to make them labels too and he went on to be a leader in producing tags, labels and tickets, and his company was a pioneer of adhesive labels. By 1960 his company was the largest single producer of tags in Europe. Boston today still makes food labels. Having delivered thousands of blank rolls of labels to Coveris, (a food label producer), I know all about this industry.

Looking at the four dates above shows just how quickly the Industrial Revolution took hold!

Above Lincolnshire beach, 20 minutes from Boston

I have barely touched on the history of this fabulous town, and knowing now how important it has been, and continues to be, just makes me love it more. Maybe my affection is because I am actually part of today's history, albeit just in the background. My deliveries have helped build supermarkets and homes, I have regularly roamed the docks, driving over Industrial Revolution railway tracks to find a random boat moored up next to a seashell processing plant and maybe delivered the label on your Marks and Spencer's Chicken Kiev to the printing factory. Although Boston's history is really huge it is also really accessible. It is everywhere, in the architecture, the ancient, fertile farmland and the footsteps of the so many famous folk who have stayed in Boston:

  • Henry IV was born at Bolingbroke castle, about 15 miles north of Boston

  • Cromwell trotted through

  • JFK's dad stayed in the town, as mentioned earlier

  • Stevie Wonder played his only ever UK public gig at the Gliderdrome where the Market Place was full of buses from all over the country. People would travel from London on Saturday nights to see the likes of T-Rex, Elton John and Thin Lizzie


NOTE: I have taken most of my facts and figures for this blog from a little book I bought called 'Boston, The small town with a big history'. It was a great read and if you're interested there's a lot of great stuff in it, so it's a highly recommended read.

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2 комментария

Michelle Davies
Michelle Davies
30 нояб. 2023 г.

What an interesting read and beautifully written, thank you for providing so much information on our nearest town, so much rich history.

Cat's Punky Stuff
Cat's Punky Stuff
30 нояб. 2023 г.
Ответ пользователю

Hiya, thank you, it was SUCH an amazing time researching for this blog. Honestly, I was blown away by Boston significance. Grantham is next! x

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