Boston’s memorial to lost fishermen – from little acorns…

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December 2019

On a warm September day, a tribute in carved wood to Boston’s lost fishermen was unveiled on a patch of grass close to the pedestrian bridge over the River Witham within full sight of The Stump.
Fishing has always been dangerous and more so in wartime. In the first month of World War One, ten Boston trawlers were captured or sunk and their crews imprisoned in Germany.

Twenty-two Boston trawlers were eventually lost to enemy action and 91 crew taken prisoner, four dying there. Overall, 80 Boston fishermen died during the war years and another 28 local men were killed working from other ports. The tribute is to them and all others lost in whatever circumstances.

The idea started with a Tree – Peter Tree to be precise, a woodworker (and specialist chairmaker, as it happens) who was sponsored by community organisation Transported and the Arts Council to start a woodcarving group. He soon had a handful of complete novices carving in the woods on the edge of Boston. Among them was Jane Kay.

“I’d never tried woodcarving – I am an artist working mostly in paint and ceramics – but I thought I’d give it a go. We first met in the spring of 2016, just four initially – Colin Briggs, Ian Braid, Dereck Harvey and me, with Peter as our mentor.

“Transported funded some oak and we created signs for Witham Way Country Park. And then we carved a model of the Stump which raised a lot of interest. It’s still there near the woods beside the river.”

Colin takes up the story.

“But winter forced us out of the woods. We wanted to stick together but had nowhere to go, nor enough money, people or anything.”

So they decided to gain some formality in order to apply for funding.

“We became The Boston and South Holland Woodcarvers, with Dereck as chairman, Jane treasurer and me secretary.

“And that was the start of it, I wrote to council leader, Peter Bedford, seeking workspace and the Council’s support for the idea of a ‘Tribute’. For publicity we carved little wooden mice and hid them in the Stump, which drew press attention, and led to an offer of space for a twice-weekly ‘Community Workshop’ there – in the middle of the nave.”

By then they were eight, sometimes more. Stump visitors started buying the mice as mementos; many have gone to far parts of the world.

And then the acorn of the memorial idea started to grow – although again, it came down to money.

“But the Worth Waynflete Foundation contacted us and funded the wood,” says Jane. ”We bought five panels and six of us worked on them – Dan Hold, Sandrae Dickson, Iain Braid, Dereck Harvey who had to drop out for a while and handed over to Peter Henson, and myself.

“But we had still needed trestles, tools and lights, and so we approached Boston Big Local. They had already helped tidy the patch of land where the memorial now stands and the memorial became the icing on the cake. It’s now a really pleasant riverside place to be.”

The panels were mounted onto a steel frame.

“One of our members, John Goodwin, who’s a good fundraiser for us, would be talking to people in the nave about what we were doing, and over a year, he got about £1,000 in contributions. That paid for the frame.”

It was made by DS Engineering and now on site the whole assembly stands on a concrete plinth, inlaid with ceramic scallop shells and starfish. Both plinth inlays and panel motifs are modelled on designs by Jane. The shells and starfish were made with help from her husband David Biggadyke, Dan Hold and Judi Kay.

The ceremony, organised with The Fishermen’s Mission and attended by over a hundred people including the Mayor, Councillor Anton Dani, was led by lay pastor Billy Mackenzie. Prayers were offered, hymns were sung to the accompaniment of the Swineshead Silver Band and wreaths were laid. Refreshments were served afterwards in the Municipal Buildings.

The woodcarvers have now had to leave The Stump because of renovation works and they presently use an upstairs room at Shodfriars Hall.

But they are planning to move to Willoughby Road allotments where there is a polytunnel and a community building.

“It’s fantastic up there,” says Jane. “An open community space where we plan to work outside as much as possible.”

And what will they be working on?

Well, in the 1620s Boston was of course a setting-off point for religious refugees heading to Massachusetts where they would establish another Boston – another piece of the town’s story which needs a memorial. And with a bit of marketing across the pond, there could be an even bigger crowd at that unveiling.

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