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Boston - The Small Town With A Big Story


Ian Middleton

The crowning of Charles 1 in 1625 proved to be a traumatic turning point for Boston. No other town in the country was more committed to Parliamentarianism or Puritanism. A series of events in the 1630s only strengthened Boston’s resolve against their king. This included the enforcement of liturgical forms of worship opposed by the Puritans and the imposition of a controversial tax called Ship-Money in 1635. Although the town clerk, Thomas Coney, successfully petitioned the Privy Council for a reduction, little tax was collected. Charles also tried to raise troops from Boston’s trained men to help put down the Scottish rebellion, but the town resisted all attempts as they were in sympathy with Scotland’s opposition to the King.

Front page a of propaganda pamphlet carried news of the capture of ten Royalists at Skegness 1642

This front page a of propaganda pamphlet carried news of the capture of ten Royalists at Skegness by men from Boston.

Portrait of Sir Anthony Irby

Parliamentation Sir Anthony Irby, Boston's MP, raised a company of dragoons that fought at the Battle of Edgehill, 1642. (AM Cook, 1948)

When the King’s continued overbearing demands finally edged the country into civil war, Boston was already a Parliamentarian stronghold. In August 1642 its forces arrested a group of royalist officers who had landed at Skegness from the Netherlands. Infuriated, Charles issued warrants forbidding other Lincolnshire towns to assist them but Lord Lindsey, the King’s general, hesitated to attack the town as he knew it could raise 4,000 men within six hours.

In December Sir Anthony Irby, Boston’s MP, rode north with his dragoons to join Parliament’s army that was trying to stop the Earl of Newcastle’s Royalist forces advancing south. They failed and eventually Newcastle captured the town of Newark, and several important Lincolnshire towns. Boston was now virtually surrounded so Newcastle had Boston in his sights. His forces had taken Tattershall Castle and he fortified Bolingbroke Castle and Wainfleet. Spalding had been captured by troops from Crowland and reports reached the town saying the Royalists had reached Swineshead.

Boston Cannons on display in the Guildhall Museum Boston

These cannons on display in the Guildhall Museum were purchased from King's Lynn for the defense of the town.

Musket or pistol ball damage in St Botolph's church

Damage purported to be caused by Parliamentarians firing their weapons during their occupation of the stump. (Chris Sidebottom)

The Corporation purchased cannon for the town’s defence and earth banks were probably built along the Barditch. In June 1643 Parliament sent 400 muskets to reinforce the town. Oliver Cromwell, who commanded the cavalry in the town, stayed at the Three Tuns in the Market Place. His cavalry horses were tethered to the pillars in the Stump. His troops did a lot of damage to the inside of the church. The marks left by firing muskets at the walls can still be seen.

To Boston’s surprise, Newcastle did not attack but left to lay siege to Hull. On 9th October 1643 the Parliamentarian Eastern Association Army led by the Earl of Manchester marched out of the town to start retaking Lincolnshire. While engaged in laying siege to Bolingbroke Castle news of an approaching Royalist force meant that Oliver Cromwell and his cavalry immediately raced off towards Winceby. The next morning, 11 October 1643, the Royalists were taken by surprise and overwhelmed within half an hour when Cromwell attacked them at Winceby. The Civil War continued to ebb and flow but Boston held firm; an important Parliamentarian town to the end.