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The History of Boston

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When a Saxon Monk named Botolph chose a site on the banks of the River Witham to establish a monastery in AD 654, he established what would grow to become Boston, in the county of Lincolnshire. At least, this is how one version of events goes. The name Boston is considered by those subscribing to this version of events as a contraction of ‘Botolph’s town’, although there is no mention of it by name in the Domesday Book of 1086. There is, however, mention of a settlement in the region that must refer to what is now Boston but was then listed as simply part of another, larger estate. The town is famous for the church named after St Botolph, but called The Boston Stump . The church, or perhaps more accurately its tower, has been nicknamed The Stump for so long that no one is really sure where the name derived from.

It was during the first two hundred years after the Norman Conquest that the town began to grow and establish itself as an important port on England’s strategic east coast. Significant trade with Europe was enjoyed by Boston and by the 13th century the town was an official ‘staple town’ of England, authorised to carry out the lucrative import and export trade. Wool was the principal export, to the point that a common saying in the area is: ‘Boston is built on wool’. Salt, produced on the nearby Holland coast of Lincolnshire, was also exported. A cut, or canal, known as the Fossdyke existed to enable larger boats to navigate from Boston up river to Lincoln on even further inland to join on to the River Trent . Grain, produced locally or even further inland, and lead from Derbyshire flowed out of Boston.

By the middle of the 15th century the trade in wool through Boston was in steep decline. In 1545 the town received its charter from King Henry VIII but with the harbour, the Haven, had by then largely silted up and the town was a shadow of its former self. The wetlands around Boston provided many locals with a living. Fowling, or the hunting of ducks and geese for meat, was popular employment. Their feathers were also valuable for bedding and this connection is still retained in the shape of the local bedding company Fogarty. Work to drain the fenlands around Boston was accelerating at this time, although it was unpopular not just with the the ducks and geese, but also with the fowlers who were losing their valuable hunting stocks.

The drainage of The Fens was delayed by the civil war , partly by military activity and the loss of working men to the war effort. But delay also came with the death of Lord Lindsey, who had previously been the main financier of the drainage project. Lindsey was shot in the opening battle of the war, which began in 1642 . Work was only started again after 1750. By 1762 Acts of Parliament had been passed to allow embanking and straightening of the fenland stretch of the River Witham. At this time work was started to dredge the Haven again and the port began to flourish once more. The land reclaimed by the drainage of the fens proved to be fertile agricultural land and so the port soon began to deal with the export of cereals from these newly created fields.

During the Industrial Revolution some heavy industry began to spring up around Boston, particularly businesses related to either the shipping or agriculture. Marine engines were made there with firms like Howden and Tuxford also becoming well established for their threshing engines, traction engines and similar engineering products. Trade through the port continued to increase with the movement of fertiliser, timber and fish through Boston growing during the 19th and 20th century. Today the town is less dependent on the port but Boston still plays a key role in Lincolnshire’s agriculture.

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Cities, like cats, will reveal themselves at night. - Rupert Brooke
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On this day:
The Second Battle of Lincoln - 1217, Shakespeare’s Sonnets Published - 1609, Battle of Wakefield - 1643, The Great Bexhill Waterspout and Tornado - 1729, The Last English Duel - 1845
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