Boston is a town and small port in Lincolnshire, on the east coast of England. It is the largest town of the wider Borough of Boston local government district. The borough had a total population of 64,637 at the 2011 census, whilst the town itself had a population of 35,124 at the 2001 census. It is due north of Greenwich on the Prime Meridian.
Boston's most notable landmark is St Botolph's Church (The Stump), the largest parish church in England, with one of the highest towers in England visible in the flat lands of Lincolnshire for miles. Residents of Boston are known as Bostonians. Emigrants from Boston named several other settlements after the town, most notably Boston, Massachusetts, in the United States.
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.
The Domesday Book of 1086, does not mention Boston by name. However, nearby settlements, the tenant-of-chief of which was Count Alan Rufus of Brittany, are covered; an example is Skirbeck, part of the very wealthy manor of Drayton, which before 1066 had been owned by Ralph the Staller, Edward the Confessor's Earl of East Anglia. 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 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 A52 and A16, is likely to have developed on its marine silt levees . It led, as it does now, to the relatively high ground at Sibsey, and 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 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 the 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, North Yorkshire, and known as the Richmond Fee. It lay on the left bank of The Haven.
During the eleventh and twelfth 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 thirteenth 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 fifteenth 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 thirteenth and fourteenth 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
The staple trade made Boston a centre of intellectual influence from the Continent, including the teachings of John Calvin that became known as Calvinism. This, in turn, revolutionised the Christian beliefs and practices of many Bostonians and residents of the neighbouring shires of England. 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 (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. (One of the sources of livelihood obtained from the fen was fowling, supplying ducks and geese for meat and in addition the processing of their feathers and down for use in mattresses and pillows. The feathery aspect of this is still reflected in the presence of the bedding company named Fogarty, located nearby in Fishtoft.) This and the religious friction put Boston into the parliamentarian camp in the Civil War which in England began in 1642. 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 eighteenth 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. A sluice, called for in the Act, 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.
In the nineteenth century, the names of Howden, a firm located near the Grand Sluice and Tuxford, near the Maud Foster Sluice, were respected among engineers for their steam road locomotives, threshing 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 twentieth 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. During the First World War many of the town's trawlermen, together with those from Grimsby, were taken prisoner after their ships were sunk by German raiders in the North Sea. Their families did not know what had happened to them till late September 1914. The men were taken to Sennelager camp then on to Ruhleben POW camp where most remained till repatriated in 1918. There is a full report of their homecoming in the Lincolnshire Standard newspaper, January 1918.
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 available for filming. 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 provided from 1924.
The Haven Bridge, which now carries the two trunk roads over the river, was opened in 1966, 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. A shopping centre, named the Pescod Centre, opened in 2004, bringing many new shops into the town. Further development is planned as of 2012.
The town experienced a decline in the early years of the 21st century, both economically and in terms of its reputation. Exacerbated by the decline of farming, the town's traditional role as a service centre for the surrounding agricultural region was eroded. Many retail businesses in the town struggled in this period, and several closed.
There had been widespread disillusionment with what was perceived as the somewhat apathetic and incompetent running of the local council. In the Local Elections of 2007 this contributed to the overwhelming victory of a small bypass pressure group, over the traditional political parties. Describing their victory, the new council leader Richard Austin said: "We knew that the mood of the people of Boston was very black and they really do want something to happen to Boston that isn't happening at the moment. "It's only a reflection of this black mood of the people of Boston." The town's economic decline around this time and subsequently was felt more sharply because of a spate of bad news which tarnished the reputation of Boston. Boston United football club was demoted following on from several years of debt and fraud. In a 2006 survey the people of Boston were labelled as being the fattest in the country. Another report, cited in "The Sun" in 2008, highlighted the fact that Boston has the highest number of immigrants per capita of any town in Britain (an estimated 1/4 of the population are immigrants).
Most immigrants have come from East 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 with windows being smashed and shops looted, police cars overturned and set alight. Trouble once again erupted in the town, when England were knocked out of the 2006 world cup by Portugal, and there were clashes between riot police and fans from England and Portugal. Some pubs and bars in the area were vandalised with windows being smashed and tables, chairs and glasses being thrown at rival fans, riot police and shops and bars. The local Portuguese bar called 'The Volunteer', since closed down, was attacked by native youths, who threw missiles, smashed windows and were in possession of petrol bombs. The youths surrounded the bar and trapped the Portuguese supporters inside. Riot police broke the situation up soon after.
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.