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Boston - The Small Town With A Big Story


Neil Wright

Local government in Boston is nearly 500 years old. Boston Corporation, which preceded the present Boston Borough Council, was created by a charter issued by King Henry VIII in 1545. Before then some functions, such as the market and bridge maintenance, were the responsibility of the Lord of the Manor of Hallgarth. Others were organised by the parish. The suggestion that Boston’s leading burgesses should ask the King for a charter came from Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, a powerful nobleman in Lincolnshire who owned Tattershall Castle and Grimsthorpe Castle.

Boston Borough regalia with the mace and ceremonial oars

Boston Borough regalia with the mace and ceremonial oars. (Andrew Lamming)

Former mayor of Boston, Councillor Richard Austin

Borough Mayor Councillor Richard Austin BEM, one of more than 300 councillors who have served the town as Mayor of Boston since 1545.

By the 1540s the King had acquired a large amount of property in Boston from closed monasteries, the Order of Knights of St John, three of the four friaries in the town and from Lord Hussey who had been executed for failing to put down the Lincolnshire Rising. The Duke of Richmond had just died and the Honour of Richmond with all its rights and property as owner of the Manor of Hallgarth in Boston, had reverted to Henry VIII.

The King could have appointed officials to manage his rights and property in the town, but an alternative suggested by Brandon was for the local elite to ask the King to create a Municipal Corporation with themselves as its members.

The town’s heraldic shield and charter affixed to a window

The town’s heraldic shield and charter: The three coronets represent the Dukes of Richmond, Suffolk and Brittany, the major land owners in Boston at the time of Henry VIII.

The Seal of the Mayor as Admiral of the Wash

The Seal of the Mayor as Admiral of the Wash. (AM Cook, 1934).

The Corporation would take on all the property and rights held by the King and could also elect two members of Parliament.

On 14th May 1545 the King granted the Charter and in return Boston paid the King £1,646 15s 4d. The Corporation consisted of a Mayor, 12 Aldermen and 18 Common Councilmen; its first members being named in the Charter. As members died or resigned the remaining members of the Corporation appointed people to fill the vacancies. The Corporation now replaced the Guilds as the main organisation in the town.

Nicholas Robertson, the first Mayor, had formerly been Alderman of St Mary’s Guild, and leaders of the other Guilds also joined the Corporation. The Guilds then dissolved themselves and gave their buildings, money and other property and responsibilities to the Corporation.

Since 1546 there have been two major changes in Boston’s local government. From December 1835 Councillors have been elected by eligible townspeople, and in 1974 the Corporation and the Boston Rural District Council (which from 1894 governed the surrounding area) were replaced by the Borough of Boston.

Today the Mayor has a non-political role, acting as the symbolic head and first citizen of the Borough of Boston. But this has not always been the case. The Borough Mayor also has the naval rank of Admiral of the Wash. It is now ceremonial but it was once a position with real powers. When England was threatened with invasion and her ships were attacked, Queen Elizabeth I called upon her major ports to provide ships for the nation’s defence. She gave the mayor of Boston the naval rank of Admiral of the Wash and the responsibility of defending the port and the Wash.

Among the town’s regalia are two ceremonial oar-maces, a pair of halberds and the Seal of the Admiral of the Wash bearing a merchant ship with its sail decorated with three coronets.