Boston (St. Botolph)

BOSTON (St. Botolph), a borough, port, market-town, and parish, and the head of a union, in the wapentake of Skirbeck, parts of Holland, county of Lincoln, 34 miles (S. E.) from Lincoln, and 116 (N.) from London; containing 12,942, and, with certain extra-parochial grounds, 13,507 inhabitants. This place derived its name from St. Botolph, a Saxon, who founded a monastery here about the year 650; from which circumstance it was called Botolph's Town, since contracted to Boston. The monastery, which was erected on the north side of the present church, was destroyed by the Danes in 870, and its remains have been converted into a dwellinghouse, styled Botolph's Priory. From the discovery of the foundations of several buildings, urns, and other relics of antiquity, in 1716, the place is supposed to have been of Roman origin; and according to Dr. Stukeley, the Romans built a fort at the entrance of the river Witham, over which they had a ferry, at a short distance to the south of the town. In the reign of Edward I., Robert Chamberlayne, having assembled some associates disguised as ecclesiastics, secretly set fire to the town, and, while the inhabitants were endeavouring to extinguish the flames, plundered the booths of the rich merchandise exposed for sale at the fair, and burnt such goods as they were not able to carry away. So rich is the town represented to have been at the time of this fire, that veins of melted gold and silver are said to have run in one common current, down the streets. In 1285, Boston suffered greatly from an inundation of the river; and the mercantile ardour of the inhabitants having been checked by the plunder of the fair and the conflagration of the town, its prosperity began to decline. In the early part of the reign of Edward II., however, it was made a staple port for wool, leather, tin, lead, and other commodities, which soon gave a new impulse to the spirit of commercial enterprise; and the settlement in England of the Hanseatic merchants, who established a guild here, tended so powerfully to revive the former prosperity of the town, that, in the reign of Edward III., it sent deputies to three grand councils held at Westminster, and contributed 17 ships and 261 men towards the armament for the invasion of Brittany.

The town is situated on the banks of the river Witham, which divides it into two wards, east and west, connected by a handsome iron bridge of one arch, erected by the corporation in 1807, at an expense of £22,000, under the superintendence of Mr. Rennie. The streets are well paved, and lighted with gas, under acts passed in the 16th and 46th of George III. for the general improvement of the town; and many handsome buildings have been erected. The inhabitants were till recently scantily supplied with water, which the more opulent collected from rain, in cisterns attached to their houses, and the poorer brought from the river, or from pits in the neighbourhood. Frequent attempts to procure a better supply, by boring, failed; and in Feb. 1829, after expending £1800, the last undertaking was relinquished. An act, however, was passed in 1846, by which this inconvenience has been remedied. There are two subscription libraries; a handsome suite of assembly rooms, built by the corporation in 1820; a commodious theatre, erected in 1806; and a theatre of arts, exhibiting views of various cities, with appropriate moving figures, which is open every Wednesday evening. About half a mile from the town are Vauxhall Gardens, which, during the season, are brilliantly illuminated, and numerously attended; they were designed by Mr. Charles Cave in 1813, and comprise about two acres of ground: in the centre is an elegant saloon sixty-two feet wide.

The trade of the port, from an accumulation of silt in the river, which impeded its navigation, had begun to decline about the middle of the last century, but was revived by forming a canal, deepening the river, and enlarging the harbour. The exports consist chiefly of the agricultural produce of the county; the imports include timber, hemp, tar, and iron from the Baltic: a considerable coasting-trade is carried on, which of late years has rapidly increased. Since the fens adjoining the town have been drained and cultivated, a tract of rich land, of nearly 70,000 acres, has been obtained, which, besides producing grain, feeds a number of sheep and oxen, remarkable for their size and fatness: oats in great quantity are shipped to various parts of the coast, and wool to the manufacturing districts in Yorkshire, whence coal and other articles are brought in return. The quay, which is conveniently adapted to the loading of vessels, is accessible to ships of 100 tons' burthen. The custom-house, a commodious building, was erected at the public expense: the pilot-office was built in 1811; the establishment consists of a master, twelve pilots, and a few supernumeraries. The Witham is navigable to Lincoln, from which place, by means of canals communicating with the Trent, there is an inland navigation to almost every part of the kingdom. A loop or diverging line of the London and York railway will pass by the town: an act was passed in 1846 for a railway to Grantham, Nottingham, and Ambergate; and another act, also passed in 1846, authorises the formation of a railway to Louth and Grimsby. About 40 boats are employed in the fishery, and shrimps of superior quality, soles, smelts, and herrings are taken in profusion: in 1772, the corporation erected a fish-market, which was taken down, and a new one upon a larger scale erected, in 1816. The market is on Wednesday and Saturday, and is abundantly supplied with poultry, a large quantity of which is sent to London every week; also with vegetables and fruit. The fairs are on May 4th for sheep, and the day following for cattle; Aug. 11th, which is called the Town fair; Nov. 30th and the three following days, for horses and horned-cattle; and Dec. 11th, for horned-cattle only.

Boston is a borough by prescription. According to a charter bestowed by Henry VIII., and confirmed and extended by Elizabeth and other sovereigns, the government was vested in a mayor (who was also clerk of the market and admiral of the port), a recorder, deputy-recorder, 12 aldermen, 18 common-councilmen, a judge and marshal of the admiralty court, and other officers. The court of admiralty granted by Elizabeth, and which had a jurisdiction extending over the whole of the adjacent coast, was abolished by the act of the 5th and 6th of William IV., c. 76; and under this act the corporation now consists of a mayor, six aldermen, and eighteen councillors. There are nine borough magistrates, but the magistrates for the division exercise a concurrent jurisdiction. A court of record, for the recovery of debts to any amount, is held before the mayor, the alderman who is a magistrate, and the town-clerk, who is likewise registrar of the court. The petty-sessions for the wapentakes of Skirbeck and Kirton are held weekly at the public office in Bridge-street; the general quarter-sessions for the parts of Holland are held here and at Spalding. The powers of the county debt-court of Boston, established in 1847, extend over the registration-district of Boston. The elective franchise was conferred in the reign of Edward VI., since which time the borough has returned two representatives to parliament. The right of election was formerly vested in the members of the corporation, the sons of aldermen, and eldest sons of common-councilmen, residing as householders within the borough, and in the resident freemen generally; but by the act of the 2nd of William IV., cap. 45, it was extended to the £10 householders of the borough, the limits of which, comprising 4574a. 2r. 8p., were enlarged by the act of the 2nd and 3rd of the same reign, cap. 64, and now include 4614 acres. The mayor is returning officer. The guildhall is an ancient building, in the council-chamber of which is a fine portrait of Sir Joseph Bankes, presented by him when recorder. The gaol is a handsome building, at the south end of the town, erected in 1811.

The living is a vicarage, valued in the king's books at £33. 6. 8., and in the gift of the Corporation: the net income is £360, the greater part of which is paid out of the proceeds of certain lands granted by Philip and Mary; and out of the same fund £200 are received by a lecturer, the vicar and lecturer standing in the place of two presbyters named in that grant. The tithes for the eastern division of the parish were commuted for land and a money payment in 1810. The church is a magnificent structure in the decorated English style, erected in 1309, with a lofty square tower surmounted by an octagonal lantern turret, in the later English style; the tower, which is 300 feet high, and was formerly illuminated during the night, forms a conspicuous landmark for mariners traversing the North Sea. An additional church was erected some years since, by subscription: the living is a perpetual curacy, endowed with £100 per annum by the Corporation, who are the patrons. There are places of worship for General and Particular Baptists, the Society of Friends, Independents, Methodists, Unitarians, and Roman Catholics. The free grammar school, founded and endowed in 1554, under the above grant of Philip and Mary, is subject to the control of the trustees for charitable purposes appointed under the act of the 5th and 6th of William IV.: the schoolroom was built in 1567, and a convenient house for the master in 1826. A school was founded in 1707, by Mr. Laughton, who endowed it with lands in Skirbeck, producing about £50 per annum, since augmented by other benefactors; and a Blue-coat school, founded in 1713, for clothing and instructing boys and girls, and two national and Lancasterian schools, established in 1815, are supported by subscription. A general dispensary was instituted in 1795. The poor law union of Boston comprises 27 parishes or places, and contains a population of 34,680. Of the numerous monastic establishments which formerly existed in the town and its vicinity, there remain only some slight vestiges of the Black or Dominican friary, established in the year 1288. The ancient church of St. John, formerly the parish church, has been totally removed, but the cemetery is still used as a burying-ground. Fox, the martyrologist, was a native of the town. Boston confers the title of Viscount on the Irby family.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, 7th edition, published in 1848.