Boston, Lincolnshire

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This article is about Boston, Lincolnshire. For other uses of the term Boston, please see Boston (disambiguation).

Boston is a market town and port in Lincolnshire, on the east coast of England.

Boston received its charter in 1545. It is the main town in the local government district and borough of Boston. Its primary landmark is the tower of the parish church of St Botolph, known locally as the Stump (the highest parish-church tower in England, visible for miles. Residents of Boston are known as "Bostonians". Emigrants sailing from Boston named several other settlements after the town, most notably Boston, Massachusetts, Massachusetts, USA.



The name 'Boston' is said to be a contraction of 'St Botolph's Town' or of 'St Botolph's stone'. However, fewer people now believe the story, still current, that a settlement in Boston dates from AD 654, when a Saxon monk named Botolph established a monastery on the banks of the River Witham. One reason for doubting this is that in 654, the Witham did not flow near the site of Boston. (The early medieval geography of The Fens was much more fluid than it is today.) Botolph's establishment is most likely to have been in Suffolk. However, he was a popular missionary, to whom many churches between Yorkshire and Sussex, including that of Boston, are dedicated. Nevertheless, the asteroid 741 Botolphia was named in the early 20th century in Boston's honour based on St Botolph's story.

The Domesday Book of 1086, does not mention Boston by name. However, the settlement of Skirbeck is covered as part of the very wealthy manor of Drayton. Skirbeck had two churches and one is likely to have been that dedicated to St Botolph, in what was consequently Botolph's town. Skirbeck is now considered part of Boston, but the name remains as a church parish and as an electoral ward.

The order of importance was the other way round when the Boston quarter of Skirbeck developed at the head of the Haven which lies under the present Market Place. At that stage, The Haven was the tidal part of the stream, now represented by the Stone Bridge Drain, which carried the water from the East and West Fens. The line of the road through Wide Bargate to the A52 and the A16 is likely to have developed on its marine silt levees. It led as it does now, to the relatively high ground at Sibsey, thence to Lindsey.

The reason for the original development of the town, away from the centre of Skirbeck was that Boston lay on the point where navigable tidal water was alongside the land route, which used the Devensian terminal moraine ridge at Sibsey, between the upland of East Lindsey and the three routes to the south of Boston:

  • The coastal route, on the marine silts, crossed the mouth of Bicker Haven towards Spalding.
  • The Sleaford route into Kesteven passed via Swinesheadn thence following the old course of the River Slea, on its marine silt levee.
  • The Salters’ Way, route into Kesteven left Holland from Donington. This route was much more thoroughly developed in the later Medieval period, by Bridge End Priory.

The River Witham seems to have joined The Haven after the flood of September, 1014, having abandoned the port of Drayton on what subsequently became known as Bicker Haven. The predecessor of Ralph the Staller owned most of both Skirbeck and Drayton so it was a relatively simple task to transfer his business from Drayton but Domesday Book, of 1086 still records his source of income in Boston under the heading of Drayton, so Boston’s name is famously not mentioned. The Town Bridge still maintains the pre-flood route along the old Haven bank.


After the Norman Conquest, Ralph the Staller’s property was taken over by Count Alana. It subsequently came to be attached to the Earldom of Richmond, Yorkshire and known as the Richmond Fee. It lay on the left bank of The Haven.

During the 11th and 12th centuries, Boston grew into a notable town and port. The quinzieme was a duty raised on the fifteenth part (6.667%) of the value of merchants' moveable goods at the various trading towns of England. In 1204 when the merchants of London paid £836, those of Boston paid £780b.

Thus by the opening of the 13th century, it was already significant in trade with the continent of Europe and ranked as a port of the Hanseatic League. It was one of the official "staple towns" of England, authorized to carry on the import and export trade. Much of Boston's trade at this time was in wool, and Boston is said by the locals to have been built on it. Apart from wool, Boston also exported salt, produced locally on the Holland coast, grain, produced up-river and lead, produced in Derbyshire and brought via Lincoln, up-river. The wool export trade began to decline in the 15th century as the industry shifted to the value-adding business of weaving, which was conducted in other parts of the country, the Hansa merchants quit the town, and Boston's wealth declined.

In the 13th and 14th centuries four orders of friars arrived in Boston: Dominicans, Franciscans, Carmelites, and Augustinians. As the English Reformation progressed, their friaries were closed by King Henry VIII. The refectory of the Dominican friary was eventually converted into a theatre in 1965, and now houses the Blackfriars Arts Centre.

The town received its charter from Henry VIII in 1545, and Boston had two Members of Parliament from 1552 but with The Haven silted, the town was then, rather living on memories.

17th and 18th centuries

In 1607 a group of pilgrims from Nottinghamshire led by William Brewster and William Bradford attempted to escape pressure to conform with the teaching of the English church by going to The Netherlands from Boston. At that time unsanctioned emigration was illegal, and they were brought before the court in the Guildhall. Most of the pilgrims were released fairly soon and the following year, set sail for The Netherlands, settling in Leiden. In 1620, several of these were among the group who moved to New England in the Mayflower.

Boston remained a hotbed of religious dissent. In 1612 John Cotton became the Vicar of St Botolph's and, although viewed askance by the Church of England for his non-conformist preaching, became responsible for a large increase in Church attendance. He encouraged those who disliked the lack of religious freedom in England to join the Massachusetts Bay Company, and later helped to found the city of Boston, Massachusetts, Massachusetts (1630) which he was instrumental in naming. Unable to tolerate the religious situation any longer he eventually emigrated himself in 1633.

At the same time, work on draining the fens to the west of Boston was begun, a scheme which displeased many whose livelihoods were at risk. This and the religious friction put Boston into the parliamentarian camp in the Civil War which in England, began in 1642. (One of the sources of livelihood obtained from the fen was fowling. The feathery aspect of this is still reflected in the bedding manufacturers, now in Skirbeck.) The chief backer of the drainage locally, Lord Lindsey, was shot in the first battle and the fens returned to their accustomed dampness until after 1750.

The later 18th century saw a revival when the Fens began to be effectively drained. The Act of Parliament permitting the embanking and straightening of the fenland Witham was dated 1762. Its sluice was designed to help scour out The Haven. The land proved to be fertile, and Boston began exporting cereals to London. In 1774 the first financial bank was opened, and in 1776 an Act of Parliament allowed watchmen to begin patrolling the streets at night.

19th century to the present day

In the 19th century, the names, first of Howden, near the Grand Sluice and later, of Tuxford, near the Maud Foster Sluice, were respected among engineers for their steam road locomotives, thrashing engines and the like. Howden developed his business from making steam engines for river boats while Tuxford began as a miller and millwright. His mill was once prominent near Skirbeck Church, just to the east of the Maud Foster Drain.

The railway reached the town in 1848 and briefly, it was on the main line from London to the North. The area between the Black Sluice and the railway station was mainly railway yard and the railway company's main depôt. The latter facility moved to Doncaster when the modern main line was opened. Boston remained something of a local railway hub well into the 20th century, moving the produce of the district and the trade of the dock, plus the excursion trade to Skegness and similar places. But it was much quieter by the time of the Beeching cuts of the 1960s.

Boston once again became a significant port in trade and fishing when, in 1884, the new dock with its associated wharves on The Haven were constructed. It continued as a working port, exporting grain, fertilizer, and importing timber although much of the fishing trade was moved out in the inter-war period. The first cinema opened in 1910, and the town was used by film makers during the Second World War to represent The Netherlands when the real thing was not able to cooperate. In 1913 a new Town Bridge was constructed. Central Park was purchased in 1919, and is now one of the focal points of the town. Electricity came to Boston during the early part of the century, and electrical street lighting was available from 1924.

The Haven Bridge, which now carries the two trunk roads over the river was opened in 1953 and the new road built in the early 1970s rather separated Skirbeck from Boston but the town largely avoided the development boom of the 1960s. More recently, the new shopping centre named the Pescod Centre opened in 2004, bringing many new shops into the town. Further development is planned.

The town is experiencing something of a boom at present. By the standards of recent decades, it has seen a large increase in immigration recently, most notably from Eastern Europe and Portugal. This has led to some social tension, which came to a head during the 2004 European Football Championship, when something akin to rioting occurred briefly. After the loss to Portugal in the 2006 World Cup, trouble once again flared, with clashes between riot police and supporters.

However, as a sea port and holder of trade fairs, the town was long accustomed to seamen from the Baltic, Hansa merchants and so on. After the surrounding land was drained, there were influxes of seasonal labourers from other parts of England, from Ireland or other parts of Europe. People occasionally became excited then too - the Hansa merchants finally left after one had been in a fight. But the fights are noticed because of their rarity.

Sites of interest

Some of the most interesting things to be seen in Boston lie not in the usual list of tourist features but in the area of civil engineering. However, there are remarkable sights of the more usual sort.

  • The medieval parish church, (dedicated to St Botolph) with its high tower, is known locally as "The (Boston) Stump". It can be seen for many miles around the town. Building on the current church began early in the 14th century, The building of the tower began around 1450 by excavation of a deep, wide hole. Archaeological records indicate that a wooden Norman church had existed on the site of the south aisle. The internal space of the building is impressive but the added interest of the ceiling, windows reredos, choir stalls with their misericords, the optional climb up the tower steps and numerous other details make the place worth a trip. The pulpit, made in 1612 indicates the importance accorded to preaching in the time of the pilgrims. The furnishings of most English parish churches were destroyed or neglected in the 17th and 18th centuries so it is not surprising to find that was so here, in the town of John Cotton but the end of the 19th and the early 20th century were a high point in craftsmanship and it shows here. There is interest outside as well, look at the buttress on the south-west corner of the tower for a record of flooding.
  • While you are there, look up-river to the Grand Sluice. It is disguised by a railway bridge and a road bridge but it is there, twice a day keeping the tide out of the Fens and twice a day allowing the water from the upland to scour The Haven.
  • Not far away in the opposite direction, was the boyhood home of John Foxe, the author of Foxe's Book of Martyrs.
  • The Town Bridge maintains the line of the road to Lindsey and from its western end, looking at the river side of the Exchange Building to the right, it is possible to see how the two ends of the building, founded on the natural levees of The Haven have stood firm while the middle has sunk into the infill of the former river.
  • The prison used to stand in the Market Place, by the church (see the photograph caption). The lawyers' quarter is still in use, just to the north of the church.
  • On the site of the prison is a statue of the founder of the Illustrated London News, Herbert Ingram.
  • The market, held on Saturdays and Wednesdays in the Market Place and also on Wide Bargate on Wednesday, is a worthwhile experience.
  • The Maud Foster Mill, completed in 1819, is the largest operating windmill in England following extensive restoration during the 1980s and early 1990s and is now a working museum. It is unusual in having an odd number (five) of sails.
  • The Guildhall in which the Pilgrim Fathers were tried, on the first floor, by the magistrates, was converted into a museum in 1929. The American Room was opened by the U.S. Ambassador, Joseph Kennedy, in 1938. The cells in which the pilgrims are said to have been held at the time of their trial are on the ground floor. In 2005 it is closed for repair and refurbishment.
  • In Skirbeck Quarter, on the right bank of The Haven, is the Black Sluice, the outfall of the South Forty-Foot Drain.
  • The Prime Meridian passes through Boston, marked by the fairly modern, suburban, Meridian Road (Template:Mmukpc) which straddles the line. The road was named after the line.
  • The Boston May Fair has been held in the town every year since at least 1125. This fair is held during the first week of May, and is one of the largest outdoor fairs in the country. By tradition, the fair is officially opened by the incumbent mayor at 11:00, on the May Day bank holiday.
  • The Pilgrim Fathers Memorial is located on the north bank of The Haven a few miles outside the town. It was here at Scotia Creek, that the pilgrims made their first attempt to leave for Holland in [607.
  • Freiston Shore is a nature reserve, and lies on The Wash coast north of the mouth of The Haven.

Sport in the town

  • The town boasts a professional football team, Boston United, nickname The Pilgrims, who play in the Football League Two. The stadium is currently located on York Street in the centre of the town and has an approximate capacity of 6,200. The town also has another football team called Boston Town F.C., nickname The Poachers, who play in the United Counties League. Home games are played at their stadium on Tattershall Road, on the outskirts of Boston. The two traditionally play each other at the beginning of each season. The most recent game ended in a 2-0 win for The Pilgrims.
  • The Princess Royal Arena is located on The Boardsides, just outside Boston. This stadium is unique owing to its attention given to the disabled.
  • Boston Rugby Club is also located at the Princess Royal Arena. The team play in blue shirts with narrow white stripes.
  • Boston Rowing Club, near Carlton Road, hosts the annual Boston Rowing Marathon each year in mid-September. Crews from all over the UK compete, starting at Brayford Pool in Lincoln, finishing in times from three to six hours.

Local economy

There is a Tesco on New Hammond Beck Road, near Swineshead Road (A52) to the west of the town. There is an Asda on Sleaford Road (A52) close to the railway station. There are Co-ops on Argyle Street (A1137), on West Street and on Eastwood Road, heading east out of the town. Wetherspoons have a pub, the Moon Under Water, close to the bridge over the river on the High Street. Bingo is played at The Gliderdrome Bingo Hall, Boston's original bingo. The Gliderdrome was famous in the 1960s for attracting top Mowtown acts as well as various other artists including in the 1970s Marc Bolan & T-Rex. Elton John lyricist Bernie Taupin wrote the words for "Saturday Nights Alright For Fighting" based on his nights out at the Gliderdrome and Elton John himself has also appeared here. It is one of the very few English venues that soul legend Otis Redding performed at. It still holds dances a few time each year. A new shopping park has recently opened on Horncastle Road. This new development has brought several large companies to the town for the first time. TK Maxx, The Bath Store, Netto, and Gala Bingo which opened in January 2007 .


Boston Grammar School, an all male selective school, is on South End, near the John Adams Way (A52/A16), Geoff Moulder Leisure Centre and River Witham. Its female analogue, Boston High School is on Spilsby Road (A16), in the north of the town next to the Pilgrim Hospital. These two are the only schools in the town to have sixth-forms. Haven High Technology College is on Marian Road to the north of the town. Boston College is on Skirbeck Road.

Kitwood Boys' School and Kitwood Girls' School were both examples of the post war secondary modern system. The boys' school located in Mill Road was closed in 1993 and now forms part of Boston College. The former girls' school has now become Haven High Technology College.



According to the 2001 census, there were 35,124 people residing in Boston town, of whom 48.2% were male and 51.8% were female. Children under five accounted for approximately 5% of the population. 23% of the resident population in Boston were of retirement age. According to a Department of Health report published in October 2006, the population of Boston has the highest rate of obesity in England, with almost one in three residents clinically obese.


80% of the population are Christians, the next highest religious minority were Muslims making up 0.4%. There are also small Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish and Sikh communities. 11% of the population claim no religion.


Boston is in the East Midlands European Parliament constituency, which elects six members. Boston and Skegness parliament constituency of which the current member is Mark Simmonds.

The town is the main settlement in the Boston local government district of Lincolnshire which includes the town of Boston and eighteen other civil parishes.

The town electoral wards for Boston Borough

They are:


  • Note a: Morris, J. (Domesday Book for Lincolnshire: Landowner 12 entry 67).
  • Note b: Thompson,P. Division VIII.

See also