Boston is open for Christmas business

Words by:
Glynis Fox
Featured in:
December 2011

This popular Lincolnshire port town is undergoing a multi-million pound upheaval – but no-one’s going to let a little thing like that stop them from having a cracker of a Christmas!
As you read this, the town’s lights will have just been switched on and the festive season will be starting to gather pace.

Visitors and shoppers are being encouraged to make the most of everything that this historic town offers, by browsing and shopping with its great mix of independent and family run stores, as well as nationally recognised outlets.

There’s entertainment on the Christmas Calendar too, with a not-to-be-missed pantomime at the Blackfriars Theatre and Arts Centre.

And when it comes to dining out, Boston’s the place to find Tate’s, one of the longest-established fish and chip shops in the country. Alternatively, you may want to be a little more adventurous and opt for a different type of cuisine.

If so, you will find yourself spoilt for choice, because this is a destination which boasts an amazingly diverse population, which has brought with it a demand for all sorts of European and other dishes.

So what’s the latest news from this growing town, whose claims to fame include the mighty Parish Church of St Botolph, the Guildhall and its links to The Pilgrim Fathers?

Well, it has to be admitted that everyone is looking forward to a little light relief following a tough year, which has seen a lot of comings and goings alongside the ongoing major revamp of the town centre.

Throughout it all Boston BID (Business Improvement District) has been working creatively to brighten the townscape and help to make it more inviting to visitors. But this has proved challenging.

Of course, you can’t please all of the people all of the time, as they say, but efforts are under way to make sure Boston doesn’t get left behind while the upgrading of the Market Place is underway.

BID Manager Niall Armstrong said: “There has been an understandable increase in the number of vacant premises in the town because of the £2 million revamp and the changes which are being made to the Market Place.

“Businesses have reported a drop in footfall and I am sympathetic to their frustrations. Perhaps it might have helped if this project had been started three months earlier.

“Christmas is an important time and for many businesses it is when they make their profit so if the market place looks like a construction site, it may deter people from coming into the town.

“However, statistics show that wherever there has been investment in public realm works, those places do tend to do better, it is just that everyone has to put up with the pain in the interim,” said Mr Armstrong.

“What is positive is that this work is creating an opportunity for us to revamp signage within the town and we now have six new information boards which are packed with useful information, which we are putting up around the centre of Boston.

“What is even better is that they all have interchangeable panels, so they can be continually updated to highlight festivals, promote different ventures or highlight specific events which are coming up.”

Signage is also to be updated in Wormgate, where the BID is hoping to install cabinets where businesses can display information about themselves and what they offer.

The BID has also invested in handy new town centre maps, which are the perfect size for shoppers and visitors to carry in their purse, pocket or a handbag.

“We have already sent 5,000 to the Tourist Information Centre and others are going to The Stump, hotels and businesses. These small maps are packed with information and, importantly, will be easy to update if we need to do a reprint,” said Mr Armstrong.

For anyone not already in the know, Boston has lots of long-standing, well-known businesses, which offer a wealth of choice and individual service too.

And, while the streetscene may be changing around them, they have been investing in upgrading their premises and introducing new brands too.

Names which immediately spring to mind include Oldrid’s in Wide Bargate and the fashion store Coney’s – which also has a branch in Lincoln. Coney’s managing director Scott Crowson said the store’s shopfront has been revamped, new brands introduced and a further facelift is on the cards for the ladies’ fashions floor in January.

Another well-known business is also based in this part of town: Cammacks, the long-standing, multi-faceted furnishings store.

All are preparing to pull out the stops to offer shoppers an extra-warm welcome over the Christmas period, and of course there is the Christmas Market (with some extra surprises) to be enjoyed too.

“Because the Market Place is being improved this year, the Christmas Market is being moved into Wide Bargate and there will also be a Craft Market on the Green Car Park,” said Mr Armstrong.

“The dates to note are 10th and 11th December. Part of the Market Place will be finished and available for use and Lincolnshire County Council has agreed to the spending of £2,000, as part of the season’s festivities.

“This means we can lay on some extra attractions, such as street entertainment. We are also considering organising a treasure hunt, where people will have to explore the town to find the answers, with the winner claiming a prize,” added Mr Armstrong.

Boston is an interesting town to wander around at any time of year and it boasts some fine buildings.

The town’s most visible landmark has to be ‘The Stump’, or St Botolph’s Church, which is the largest parish church in England, with one of the highest towers in the county.

It has always been a landmark to both seafarers and people travelling across the flat fenland that surrounds the town and it is renowned for its lantern interior and fifty-two misericords.

With some minor exceptions, the outside has stayed much as it would have been at the time of the Reformation and its interior largely reflects two significant periods of restoration, in the mid-nineteenth century and in the second decade of the twentieth century.

Over its 700 years, the church has played its part in both national and international history. It linked through the Puritan emigrants who, in 1630, followed in the wake of the Pilgrim Fathers and founded a new Boston in the United States of America.

Another significant landmark is the seven-storey Maud Foster Tower Windmill, which is said to be the tallest operating windmill in England following extensive restoration during the 1980s and early 1990s.

Completed in 1819, by millwrights Norman and Smithson of Kingston upon Hull, for Isaac and Thomas Reckitt, it is unusual because of its odd number (five) of sails. The brick tower of the mill is sixty-four feet (19.5m) tall and the height of the mill to the finial on top of the cap is just over eighty feet (24.4m). It is now a working museum.

Community retailer Lincolnshire Co-operative is creating fourteen new jobs in the town with a new foodstore, which is part of a £1.1 million complex being developed by the Society.

Work on the Skirbeck Road site started in February this year and the neighbourhood shopping centre includes a convenience store which is now open and three retail units.

At a preview for invited guests, the Society presented £1,250 worth of community grants to local projects – including the redecoration of a skate park and restoration of the fifteenth century Hussey Tower, connected to Henry VIII.

Fourteen new jobs have been created with the opening of the new store, including two full-time roles and twelve part-time positions. Employment will also be generated by businesses letting neighbouring retail units.

There are about 8,400 Lincolnshire Co-operative members in the Boston area who will be able to use their dividend card in store.

Lincoln based Lindum Construction developed the Skirbeck Road complex.

There are three shop units alongside the Society foodstore in Boston. Lincoln based Banks Long & Co has let one to Dominos Pizza and said that the remaining units are under offer to a local charity and a local fish retailer.

Boston area residents, business owners and shoppers discussed tidal flood barrier plans for the town with Environment Agency officers at drop-in sessions – at the New England Hotel and the Black Sluice Lock Cottages in November.

Environment Agency staff were on hand to answer questions from the public as well as advise on how the local community’s views can feed into the early stages of the design process.

Communications business partner for the Environment Agency, Alison Hirst said: “Residents were very interested in how the barrier will improve recreation and tourism within the town, as well as reducing the risk of tidal flooding.

“They were keen to give their ideas on how the area around the barrier could be landscaped and were pleased that we were planning facilities such as moorings as part of the scheme.”

It is now known that the preferred location for the new multi-million pound barrier is downstream of Black Sluice Lock – picked from a shortlist of three. This was chosen after months of consultation with the local community, in addition to the essential technical assessments.

“The drop-ins were very informal with display material and a time-lapse video showing what water levels could be like after the barrier is constructed,” added Alison.

Six staff were present each day – from the Environment Agency, Lincolnshire County Council and Boston Borough Council – to answer any questions. We handed out factsheets outlining our proposals and asked visitors to the drop-in to provide us with feedback on what they would like to see as part of the scheme. We will continue to talk to residents and local organisations and listen to their views as we move forwards with the scheme.”

The Boston Barrier, along with improvement works to existing flood defences through the town, will increase the standard of protection to 0.33 per cent probability (one in 300 chance) of flooding from a tidal surge in any one year.

This will reduce the current flood risk as the standard protection today only provides a two per cent probability (one in fifty chance) of flooding from a tidal event in any year.

The Environment Agency northern area manager, Andy Baxendale said: “The tidal barrier is part of the Environment Agency’s long-term commitment to reduce flood risk to the people of Boston and to manage water levels through the town to allow safer navigation.

“The barrier will also provide opportunities to regenerate Boston’s waterways and will help achieve a significant milestone for the Fens Waterways Link vision to connect the cathedral cities of Lincoln, Ely and Peterborough,” he added.

It is estimated that construction will commence in 2016, with completion in 2018.

Blackfriars Theatre and Arts Centre in Boston undoubtedly plays a very important role as a venue for entertainment and the arts.

And the curtain is about to go up on the fantastic pantomime, ‘Peter Pan’, which runs from 9th December to 3rd January 2012, in association with Polka Dot Productions.

The story takes its audience on a spectacular, swashbuckling journey into the magical world of Neverland. With Peter, Wendy and the Lost Boys, people can throw themselves into the excitement of getting rid of the hated Captain Hook.

Watch with awe as Peter, Wendy, Michael and John take to the air and fly above the stage, thanks to the training and overseeing of a professional flying company.

Theatre director Mike Raymond is very excited about the forthcoming performances:

“This is the premier Christmas show. It has got the full package of magic, excitement, laughter and spectacular effects.”

Mr Raymond is also delighted because this is the first time the pantomime has attracted a star name, Bruce Jones, aka Les Battersby, who will be playing the dastardly Captain Hook.

“The performances are also a worthwhile cause as upon his death J M Barrie – the author of ‘Peter Pan’ – left the rights to the work to Great Ormond Street Hospital which continues to benefit from these to this day,” he said.

To get everyone in the mood for music and laugher, 1st and 2nd December are taken over by the Theatre Club Kids with their performance of ‘Hollywood to Broadway’ – music filled performances of films which made it to the stage.

The youngsters, who are also in the chorus of ‘Peter Pan’ and two of whom are playing Michael and John, are joined by four professional performers, all West End accredited.

December is definitely the time to visit Blackfriars and start the Christmas season off with laughter and music.

Boston’s Fydell House, which is in the heart of the town’s cultural quarter, is playing host to a series of special lectures over the next three months.

Built in 1726 by the prosperous wine merchant William Fydell, the venue is hosting the fifth series of Pilgrim College lectures in the Green Room on four Saturday afternoons in December, February and March.

The first, entitled ‘On Coming Late to Liszt’, is scheduled for 3rd December and will be given by tutor Brenda Lane, who has tackled many musical subjects over the years. She decided to question and revise her lifelong avoidance of the composer and has come to understand more about nineteenth-century music making and concert going. Liszt gave a concert in Boston on 14th September, 1840.

The other three lectures deal with Dylan Thomas, the seasons and Pearl Harbour.

Fydell House was originally built for widow Mrs Lennox Jackson but was later passed down to grandson Samuel Jackson, who put it up for sale; it was bought by Joseph Fydell.

It is a fine example of domestic architecture of the period with many of the original features. Joseph Kennedy opened the American room in 1938 in his role as Ambassador of the USA and recently the gardens have been restored to their original state.

Fydell House’s neighbour, the Guildhall, is another of Boston’s buildings with a long and varied history, from its beginnings as a religious guildhall, then as a town hall, a museum and also as a British restaurant during World War II. The Pilgrim Fathers were also tried and held in the prison cells.

Dating back to 1390, it is one of the oldest and most significant religious guildhalls in the country and one of the first ever built.

The building consists of a chapel, banqueting hall, court room, council chamber, buttery, kitchen and cell area and it is also home to Boston’s Tourist Information Centre

It has 600 years of secrets to tell and has a history of hauntings, including a grey lady who walks in the cells and creepy goings-on in the council chamber.

Members of the 13 Paranormal group, which investigates haunted buildings, recently checked out the Guildhall and are in the process of analysing their findings.

The Guildhall features exhibitions, events and activities and it is also available for private hire as well as being licensed for weddings.

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