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Boston - The Small Town With A Big Story

 The Railway Town 

Neil Wright

The coming of the railways had a big impact on Victorian Boston. In late 1843 interest rose throughout Lincolnshire in bringing railways into the county as part of a national spate of railway plans. The building of a railway needed the forming of a limited liability company with powers of compulsory purchase which would require an Act of Parliament. Such was the railway mania of the times that there were around a dozen schemes involving Boston put before Parliament.

Aerial view of Boston Station

Aerial view of Boston Station. (courtesy of Richard Starbuck)

People boarding the train at Boston for Skegness, 2019

Boarding the train at Boston for Skegness, 2019. (David Radford)

The proposals that were successful were the lines to Peterborough and Lincoln as part of the Great Northern Railway (GNR) Lincolnshire loop line and the East Lincolnshire Railway’s line to Grimsby, also operated by GNR. These Lincolnshire lines were opened before the GNR’s mainline from London to Yorkshire and GNR located its engineering department in Broadfield Lane, where locomotives, carriages and wagons were designed.

In 1853 GNR’s engineering department was moved to Doncaster on the mainline but Boston remained the headquarters of the GNR lines in Lincolnshire. As well as the Passenger Station and the Goods Yard, Boston had a civil engineer’s department maintaining and repairing the track. There was also the railway locomotive depot, where many engines were based, as well as a Sacking Store which cleaned and managed sacks used in the movement of farm produce.

Steam train leaving Boston train station

Steam Engine (Neil Watson Collection)

Steam train passing over the Sluice bridge

Train and sluice bridge. (Neil Watson Collection)

GNR even had its own gasworks producing gas for illuminating its carriages and a creosoting works that treated timber from the Baltic, imported through Boston port to produce sleepers for the railway track.

When the railway arrived it was built mainly through fields west of the town to avoid the expense of buying and demolishing houses. New streets were built between the town and the railway and many houses were occupied by railway workers. Some street names reflect the railway connection such as Station Street and Locomotive Street; James Street and Duke Street were named after Sir James Duke the director of early railways connected with Boston. West Street grew in importance as the main route to the Passenger Station.

The GNR became the largest business in Boston with about 900 employees. However that only partially compensated for taking over the traffic of the port and destroying what had been the basis of Boston prosperity for the previous eighty years. The population of Boston stagnated until the 1880s when Boston Dock was opened and the new straight channel was cut from Boston to the Wash. Boston then started to revive, though it never regained the prosperity it had enjoyed in Georgian times.

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Turnpike Roads

In the middle of the 18th century Turnpike Trusts took over the maintenance and improvement of the main roads leading to the town and created a transport revolution.

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Boston Industrialised

Boston became industrialised in the early 19th Century, with business linked to shipping and agriculture benefitting from the technological advancements.

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The Timber Trade

Boston has a long history of importing timber and trading it throughout the UK. Most of this trade was, and still is, with the Baltic countries which have always had strong trading links with the town.

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Port of Boston

For most of Boston’s thousand years the port was on the banks of the river Witham where it passed through the town centre. Several features of this riverside port still remain.

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