Boston’s Maud Foster Drain runs in an almost straight line from Cowbridge to its outfall into the Witham to the east of the dock entrance. It dates from 1568 and is the oldest of Boston’s main drains. It is named after Maud Foster, an early 16th century Boston woman, whose entrepreneurial achievements are as impressive as the drain that bears her name.
Maud was born circa 1520 and she married Richard Foster from Skirbeck in about 1539. He was a mariner and was the co-owner of the boat Mary-Anne, a collier. This was probably an English ‘hoy’, a single-masted sailing vessel with a pair of oars at the stern that could carry about 20 tons in its hold and had a canvas structure for the crew on its deck. Records show that Robert worked the Mary-Anne mainly between October and March. The cargo taken north was probably stone from the monasteries that were being demolished at the time. The vessel returned south with a cargo of coal for use in houses, bake-houses and the like. Because coal was a very dirty cargo, the Mary-Anne used Boston’s Holm Quay, near Holm Point where the Witham turned to the south-east as it made its way to the sea.
Richard died in 1568 leaving his share in the Mary-Anne to Maud. Under her direction the business continued to prosper, supplying coal to regular clients which included the parish of Skirbeck and the Corporation, which made it available to the poor at reduced prices. Maud also developed other interests, including two shops which may have been close to the town centre.
Her astuteness as a business woman was evident when in 1568, the year of her husband’s death, the Corporation proposed to reduce the risk of flooding by digging a new cut along the line of the Scire Bec as far as Cowbridge. Tradition says it was named after Maud Foster who owned the land involved and ‘for which she gave consent to its passage on very favourable conditions’. Coincidentally at that time the Corporation agreed that Maud could have the two cellars, a cottage and three acres of pasture in the Holms, sometimes called Dock Pastures, at a rent fixed for her lifetime. Her business acumen was also demonstrated in her agreement with another land owner in 1574, when she used coal as surety.
At her death in November 1581, Maud’s estate was worth in the region of £300, more than half-a-million pounds today. Her will, drawn up by Alderman Thorold, a future mayor of Boston, bequeathed a bushel of coal to 20 poor widows next time the Mary-Anne docked, £5 to “Mrs Worship”, the vicar’s wife, lambs to a number of friends and her best dress, trimmed with fur to her god-daughter. The Mary-Anne passed to Gregory Foster, and her relatives in the Hill family took over her coal store and the tenancy of the land she had rented from the Corporation some thirteen years earlier.