Waters turn the tide

Words by:
Melanie Burton
Featured in:
July 2013

It is difficult to look at Lincolnshire’s east coast town of Boston and imagine it as a major international port but that is exactly what it was back in the twelfth century, when Scandinavian timber, fish and even spices found their way to Britain’s shores.
By the thirteenth century wool exports from Boston were booming and the town paid more tax than any other except London. Salt, grain and lead were also exported but the main import was wine which, at the time, was the drink of the upper classes.

It wasn’t until the fifteenth century that the popularity of Boston port began to decline, when the wool industry shifted away from the East Midlands to other parts of England and the River Witham began to silt up, hindering shipping.

However, even in the sixteenth century the main trade from Boston was coastal trade and this continued through the nineteenth century – when new docks were built down river of the town, boosting business – into the twentieth century when timber, grain, fertiliser and animal feed were imported and wheat, potatoes and beet sugar were exported.

It is an often-forgotten fact that Boston is a ‘costal town’ and its rivers and waterways have had a big impact on the social-economic development of the area throughout history. But that is now being addressed through the Coastal Boston project which has been launched with initial funding from local Community Interest Company, TaylorITEX.

The ‘Coastal Boston: Its Rivers and Waterways’ project will hopefully see the Black Sluice Lock Cottages, just off London Road on the banks of the South Forty Foot Drain, transformed into a new heritage centre dedicated to Boston’s waterways and displaying artefacts and memorabilia as well as becoming a community information point, signposting users to local services, businesses and events.

The Black Sluice itself will form the first stage of the 240km Fens Waterway Link, Europe’s largest waterways project, and the Partnership eventually hopes to create a new circular route for recreation, tourism and the environment.

Heritage Officer for the project, Caroline Wallis said: “This project would be of great benefit to Boston, increasing training and employment opportunities for local people and supporting local businesses by bringing more visitors to the town.”

So far the partnership has gained support from Boston Borough Council, Endeavour Radio and the Boston District Angling Association as well as many other organisations and much is being done behind the scenes to attract more visitors to the area.

Travellers are now being pointed in the direction of the town through new brown tourist signs which have been erected on the outskirts. The nationally-recognised official brown signs highlight five main visitor attractions: Boston Stump, the Guildhall Museum, Maud Foster Mill, Fydell House and Blackfriars Theatre.

They have been erected east and west of Boston on the A52, north and south on the A16 and on the A1121 and have been paid for under the Boston Market Place regeneration scheme, which was part of an overall project to make Boston a better place to visit.

Boston Borough Council Leader, Councillor Peter Bedford, said: “They will encourage people to drive into Boston to see what we have to offer rather than drive around. We have plenty to offer in the town centre and are showing support for businesses in Boston.”

Boston is now a popular market town with an abundance of independent traders and long-established family businesses. Cherries Ladies Fashions, in Pen Street, has been established for nearly twenty-nine years and is a one-stop shop for a complete outfit. A family-run business, it sells ladies designer fashions such as Gerry Weber, Olsen, Joseph Ribkoff, Frank Lyman and Steilmann, from sizes 8 to 22, and a large range of shoes and bags.

Owner Cheryl Tree, whose mother founded the shop in 1984, said: “We are unique to Boston and we have customers travelling from all over the country. Our independent retailers are getting rather few in numbers, so people flock to us from miles around. There are new makes coming in for autumn and that stock will be coming in daily from this month.”

Miss Tree said that, because most of the businesses in Pen Street are independents, it is an elite independent shopping area.

Neighbouring shop Timothy Guy is also a ladies dress shop and has been established for thirty years, although its current owner, Jenny Brewster has only been at the helm for the past eight years.

“I was a customer for many years and it always had a reputation for being something different. When it went up for sale, I didn’t want to lose it so I bought it,” said Mrs Brewster.

Also an independent retailer, Mrs Brewster and her staff strive to make customers feel comfortable on their visit to the shop.

“We want them to enjoy shopping with us and try and offer a very personal one-to-one service. We get customers coming from Birmingham and Manchester and even have one that flies in from Menorca.”

Mrs Brewster echoes Miss Tree’s thoughts about Pen Street. “There are three independent traders in a row. We all get on well together and though we are all fashion shops, our stock is different and we all give a very friendly service,” she added.

Other well-established shopkeepers in the town include furniture retailer Cammacks, which was established in 1919 but which has been based in the Wide Bargate area of Boston, in a store purpose-built for the Cammack family in the mid 1930s. Another is the Sack Store Emporium on the Redstone Industrial Estate, Redstone Road, which stocks everything from woodburners to stoves, paints, wallpaper, Italian, Turkish and Spanish wall and floor tiles to furniture. It even has an onsite café and restaurant.

Safeguarding businesses is paramount to the success of any town and there are plans for Boston’s CCTV system to undergo a major upgrade. Recognised as one of the best in the county, it is operated by Boston Borough Council and was state-of-the-art when it was installed in 1996. It has only had one small tweak since then, in 2005, when recording switched from video to digital. Now it is to take a giant leap forward with an invest-to-save project which will cost £229,000, but repay in operating and maintenance savings in just three years.

Fibre optics are to be replaced with a wireless system reducing the cost of new cameras, together with their associated installation, running and maintenance costs, from £25,000 each to just £2,000. Operators based in the CCTV suite at Municipal Buildings in Boston monitor eighty-one cameras providing 365-day round-the-clock security.

The new cameras will be much less obtrusive but will provide better optical clarity, delivering high-definition images. The system will be much more flexible, with a capacity to triple in size, and the reduced cost will make it more attractive for private businesses to join it and improve their security.

There are also plans to create a bright and welcoming gateway into the town through a new footbridge spanning the River Witham and overlooking Boston Stump. Construction work will begin in August on a new £750,000 bridge to replace the existing St Botolph’s Bridge. The new structure will be wider than the current one and will include a non-slip surface and improved access for disabled people, as well as an information board about the Boston Stump and decorative lighting. It should be completed by early November.

Richard Waters, principal engineer at Lincolnshire County Council, said: “St Botolph’s footbridge will be a new landmark for Boston.”

Boston’s St Botolph’s Church is a Lincolnshire icon and the largest parish church in the country.

More commonly known as the Boston Stump because of its tower, which is the tallest of its type in the world, it is a unique building with a history few other churches can match. It is befitting then that the Princess Royal, Princess Anne, is a staunch supporter who visits it on a regular basis in her role as patron.

Now the famous Stump is busy preparing for her next visit on 24th July, when the Royal will view completed restoration work on the north face of the tower and look at the next major works – the restoration of the Cotton Chapel. The Princess Royal will also be attending a Service of Dedication to Boston’s newest tourist attraction, the Puritan Path which consists of thirteen stone memorials either side of the footpath to the south of Boston Stump. It is a memorial to the twelve puritan men and women who left England for the New World in the 1630s and who eventually founded Boston, Massachusetts. The memorial stones, the only ones of their type in the country, will each have the name of the person who sailed and the date on which they left. The thirteenth stone is for the Reverend John Cotton who led the puritans.

The church has recently invested more than £250,000 to improve its welcome, creating a new shop café and installing toilets at the western end of the church. But a building of this size needs thousands of pounds spent on it every year in order to keep it in good condition and as such the church has to constantly raise money to keep this work going.

Fundraising ideas are always needed and this summer it is continuing to offer its ‘Sponsor a Stone’ initiative, whereby people can have one of the replacement stones carved with a message by the church masons before it is set into the building. The gift is acknowledged by a certificate and a picture of the stone.

Fundraising manager at Boston Stump, Peter Coleman said: “We also have pieces of stone for sale, many carved and hundreds of years old, so if you want to own a part of history please contact us.”

The church is also holding a major fundraising concert on 28th September, when singer and television presenter, Aled Jones will be the guest.

“This will be Aled’s only appearance in Lincolnshire during 2013 so we are looking forward to a memorable evening,” said Peter.

Tickets are currently on sale in the Stump Shop and through the church website.

“St Botolph’s has a busy summer and welcomes all, whether they are worshippers, visitors, or people attending concerts. It is a Lincolnshire icon and we want the public to help us keep it so for future generations,” added Peter.

A medieval knot garden, planted in the grounds of Boston Stump, could help to boost the town’s bid for glory in this year’s Britain in Bloom competition.

Planted mainly with box hedging and lavender, the formal garden is being developed by volunteers from South Lincolnshire Horticultural Society. The idea for it came through the feedback from last year’s in-bloom judges, who suggested that a period garden would be a good addition to the area. It will complement the new Puritan Path project nearby.

Boston Borough Council’s parks and gardens staff stripped the turf to make way for the new garden and volunteer gardeners from Fydell House took it away – ceremoniously pushing it in wheelbarrows through the Market Place and along South Street to Fydell House, where it has been used to create a new memorial garden.

Fydell House head gardener, Robin Bateman said: “A new lawned area was being laid at Fydell House garden in memory of volunteer worker, John Harrison who died recently. The free turf came along just at the right time for us, also saving the problem of disposing of it.”

Boston’s Haven Gallery, which has been closed for three years due to funding cuts, has finally had its dust sheets removed and its doors thrown open to the public again.

It is the venue for the Summer Festival of Art, consisting of two free exhibitions. The first featured around 100 works of art by college students from Boston College including drawings, paintings, photographs, sculptures, fashion and architecture. The second, which runs from 1st–6th July, is a Boston Art Group exhibition of paintings in all mediums and across a range of subjects. Boston Art Group has continued without break since 1941 and currently has forty-one members. More than twenty will be exhibiting showing up to six paintings each.

Councillor Mike Gilbert, Boston Borough Council’s portfolio holder for property, said: “I am delighted that we have taken The Haven out of mothballs and that it can be used for the purpose it was designed for. It’s also a great opportunity for people to see inside. The Haven was an award-winning construction when it was first developed.”

The Haven Gallery was named after the river that runs through the community close to the gallery and it is located in Boston’s cultural quarter, which is set to the south of the Market Place, South Street and South Square along with St Mary’s Guildhall, which dates back to the late fourteenth century and is the oldest brick building in the region, and one of the oldest in the country.

Originally built as a Guildhall, this historically significant building has had a number of roles over the centuries including warehouse, council chambers, court room and jail, banqueting hall and was also a British Restaurant in the Second World War. Today St Mary’s Guildhall is probably best known for being the place where the detention and arraignment trial of the Pilgrim Fathers took place.

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