Propriety and Pleasure
Boston, from around 1760 to about 1860, was in an economic boom. By 1826 it was one of the three leading corn markets in the country and by 1837 it was the largest town in the county. The improvement to its financial status was in part due to the successful drainage of the fens that released huge tracts of highly fertile land, and to improvement in communications which opened up new markets for the crops grown. Roads that had been tracks became turnpikes, and in 1848 the first railway line reached Boston. The port was busy shipping huge quantities of crops to London and beyond
The 1840s and 1850s saw a diversification from agrarian occupations into engineering and manufacturing. Engineering firms such as Tuxfords, exploited their farming knowledge to develop steam-driven farm machinery. Ship building, flour milling and featherbed manufacture became important. The extra wealth led to many public and private projects. Among them was the Corporation Buildings, a fish market with dwellings above, built between 1769 and 1772 in the Market Place. William Marrat wrote in 1814 that it was a fine building ‘but the stench which it sends forth in summer time, is extremely disagreeable’. The Assembly Rooms replaced the unfashionable Butter Cross and by 1842 the town also had a new Sessions House (court).
Leisure activities in Boston included balls, theatre productions by the Robertson Theatre Company from Lincoln’s Theatre Royal during January and February, and the prevailing trend of ‘bathing’. Boston had its own bathing-house and Skirbeck, two. One opened in 1820 and the more sophisticated one in South End opened in 1834. This offered hot, cold and tepid options. Sea bathing was also popular from around 1800. Freiston Shore, Boston’s coastal playground, had two hotels, Plummer’s Hotel that still exists today, and the Anchor Inn.
The town also had its own pleasure garden, ‘The People’s Park’, modelled on London’s famous Vauxhall Gardens. The Stamford Mercury described a Gala held there on 12 June 1816 as being ‘illuminated with 3,000 lamps.’ The entertainment included ‘dancing, fire-balloons, and pyrotechnic exhibitions, all of which went off with the greatest éclat’.
With all this prosperity, shopping fast became a leisure pursuit. Shops not only sold everyday essentials but all manner of luxury items. In 1781, J. Noble was offering wallpaper ‘in the French style’ with a 25% discount. The Corporation built the UKs first shopping parade in the Market Place in 1820, with access to the flats above the shops located at the rear. In 1822 the Pygot & Co’s trade directory shows there were 393 shops in Boston, however, its 1835 directory lists 910 shops. That’s a lot of shopping! John Oldrid opened his drapery store in Straight Bargate in 1804. Still occupying its original site, Oldrid’s became Boston’s largest department store until it closed in 2020. Today the store is managed by Rebos.