Where is Boston in England?
Where is Boston?
Whenever the name Boston gets mentioned, most people think of the big bustling city in Massachusetts, USA, rather than the sleepy little town sitting at the edge of the Wash on the East coast of England. What a lot of people don't know is that Boston(USA) was given it's name by the Puritans known as the Pilgrim Fathers who set sail from the River Haven in 1630 in order to practice their religion without fear of persecution.
The history of Boston goes way back to medieval times, when a Benedictine monk named Saint Botolph asked the king of the 'South Angles' for a piece of land on which to build a monastery. This monastery was built in Iken in suffolk, but there were more than seventy churches built in his name in the surrounding areas. The original name for the town was 'Saint Botolph's Town' from which the name Boston is derived, as it is common belief that the saint actually came to Boston and sat on a rock overlooking the river on the site where the church is situated.
In the middle ages Boston was a thriving, prosperous town, trading mainly with Europe. The Port of Boston was the second largest in the country and became what was known as a Wool staple town, meaning that all the wool from the county was weighed, marked and sealed here. Each year, wool from the backs of threee million Lincolnshire Longwool sheep was traded for wine from France, iron and copper from Sweden and fish and furs from the Baltic.
The town began falling into decline with the onset of trade with the rest of the world. The East coast sea ports were no longer needed as Western ports became the obvious choice. A lot of the Europeans ceased to trade with Boston as one of their merchants had been murdered here, which put a strain on relations between them. Also the town had suffered some of its worst flooding, and the river bed had become blocked with silt, making it impassable for the larger vessels.
Trade in the town remained poor up until the 18th centrury, when work began on draining the fens. The Grand Sluice was constructed, separating the tidal River Haven from the River Witham. This helped to flush all the silt from the river bed, enabling ships to once again reach the port. The fenlands are some of the most productive and fertile in the whole country and farmers began cultivating corn and other grain on the reclaimed land. Soon, warshouses and a granary were built along the quayside and once again Boston began to prosper.
A STROLL AROUND TOWN
The Dominican friars first came to England after the death of Saint Dominic in 1221. They had dedicated their lives to reformation and teaching and were guided by the Bishop of Lincoln, who eventually sent them to Boston. The Blackfriars - or Shodfriars as they were also known (who aquired their name because they were the only friars to wear sandals), had their original house burnt down in a riot in 1288, but it was re-built a few years later. After the dissolution of the monasteries during the reign of King Henry 8th all the land and property owned by the friars was taken over by the newly formed Boston Corporation, and some of the materials from these buildings were used to strengthen the sea banks. All that remained were the cloisters and over the years these fell into a state of disrepair and became derelict.
In 1935 the building was bought by the Boston Preservation Trust and the friary remains were painstakingly re-assembled and converted into what is now Blackfiars Theatre and Arts Centre. The theatre stands on Spain Lane, previously spelled Spayne Lane and named after a wealthy merchant, William de Spayne who was an alderman of the Corpus Christi guild and sherrif of Lincolnshire in 1378. There were many cellars in the lane, some were rented by the abbeys and some were used to store wine from Bordeaux. Today Blackfriars theatre sits proudly in the lane, offering live entertainment in the form of plays, musicals- performed by the local operatic society, drama workshops and it even has a mini cinema and a bar. I wonder what the old friars would make of it!
Just around the corner from Spain Lane is the Guildhall, which was built in the 15th century. Originally it was a religious meeting place built by the wealthy guild of Saint Mary, where God-fearing people came to repent of their sins and pay pennance for their wrong-doings. When the guild came to an end in 1546 it became the the Corporation town hall. the medieval banqueting hall was used to entertian dignitaries and influential visitors from out of town. The Guildhall is now a museum where you can go and see-and actually go inside the cells where the Pilgrim Fathers were imprisoned before they sailed to America.
Taking a slow wander round this fascinating building fills you with a spirit of a bygone age. It's essence creeps into your soul as you are transported back down the centuries to a long-forgotten time. From the medieval banquetting hall, to the courtroom, where the original wooden spiral staircase opens into the dock. Many people were sentenced to death in this dock, where they went on be hanged at the gallows in Lincoln. The kitchen is still in it's original form and there is an array of pots and pans standing on what at the time would have been a sophisticated cooking range. It certainly makes you thankful for today's technology!
THE MAUD FOSTER WINDMILL AND DRAIN
At the other side of town (approximately a ten minute walk), standing proudly on the bank of the Maud Foster drain - which is a man-made waterway, used for the transportation of grain and other goods - is the windmill. Both the drain and the mill take their name from a wealthy landowner through whose land the drain was cut in 1568. The windmill was built in 1819 and is still a working flour mill. There is a little shop in the base where organic flour can be bought, along with an array of home-made preserves. I have to say, I've made some lovely bread with Maud Foster flour!
THE MARKET PLACE
The market has always played a big part in the economy of the town and still to this day markets are held on Wednesday and Saturday every week. In the middle ages it was mainly sheep that were being marketed, these days there's an array of stalls selling everything imaginable. People come from miles away for a day out and to have a browse in the hope of bagging a bargain.
The coastal area of Boston is marshland and is a protected nature reserve and bird sanctuary, where one can go to get away from the bustle and noise of the town. It is a totally unspoilt haven where not a sound can be heard except for the song of the birds. When the tide is out it is possible to walk across the marsh but the creeks are deep and potentially hazardous. - I know because I once fell in one and struggled to get out! there are lovely little pools of sea water left behind by the turning tide, where if you wanted you could have a dip. It's a lovely place to go for a picnic too.
There are many fascinating sights to see in and around Boston and over the years the locals have paid homage to their ancestors by naming streets and buildings after them. Almost everywhere you go there is a reference to some important person from the past and none more evident than Saint Botolph himself. The parish church in an architectural masterpiece and stands in the centre of town on the bank of the River Haven. Building began in 1309 and took one hundred and fifty years to complete. Its famous tower stands at an impressive two hundred and sevent-two feet, and is affectionately known by the locals as 'The Stump'. If you are fit enough, you can climb the three hundred and sixty-five steps (one for each day of the year) and enjoy the breathtaking views over the town and surrounding area. With a good pair of binoculars you can even see Lincoln cathedral some thirty-five miles away.
So if you are ever in the area come and have a look around this quaint little town with it's amazing history. The locals will welcome you and make you smile at their quirky dialect while they tell you a tale or two. One thing is for sure - you will certainly go away carrying a tiny bit of it's essence in your heart.