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Boston - The Small Town With A Big Story


Neil Wright

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. The sea-port was downstream of the town’s bridge as sea-going vessels with their tall masts could not pass underneath it. Boats using the river for navigation to Lincoln would use the churchyard of St Botolph’s as a quay, but after the Grand Sluice was completed in 1766 river craft used the wharf above the Sluice.

House quay, as seen along the sidewalk of the the wash

Custom House Quay, formerly known as Packhouse Quay, was until 1884 the centre of Boston’s busy port.

aerial image of the modern Boston docks

Ariel view of the modern docks opened in 1884 looking toward the Wash. (Jaimaneul Freire)

For most of history the river banks sloped down to the water with vessels being loaded and unloaded at wooden wharfs and jetties. We know little about the medieval buildings of the port. One of the few that survived until the 19th century was Gysors Hall at the north end of South Square. That was demolished in 1810 by Thomas Fydell but some stones were re-used in a new warehouse on the site, now converted into apartments.

Boston docks in 1970 with ships moored to the docks

Boston Docks, 1970

Dock and lock gates, 1914

Dock and lock gates, 1914 (Boston Official Guide, 1970)

The second great period of activity for the port of Boston was in the Georgian era with several warehouses surviving from that time. These include the second warehouse in South Square and the Sam Newsom Music Centre of Boston College. Along the north side of Spain Lane is a former seed crushing mill, and between Sibsey Lane and Craythorne Lane are two more warehouses that now form a nightclub.

Harbour improvements in 1815 included a brick and stone wall that runs from the Assembly Rooms to Packhouse Quay, and a similar wall on the west bank at Doughty Quay. Both quays had public warehouses; and the tall narrow one on Doughty Quay still survives as a private house.

By the late 19th century ships could not safely rest on mud at low tide, so in the 1880s Boston Corporation built the wet Dock that is still in use today. This was built at the same time as the river from there to the Wash was straightened with a new curving channel out into the Wash. The Dock’s facilities were developed to include granaries, a coal chute, ice store for fish, ship repair slipway along with offices and workshops. All of the original buildings have gone. They have been replaced by modern warehousing that is required for the storage and handling of the one million tonnes of cargo that is shipped in and out each year.

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St Botolph's Church

Rising above the Fens, St. Botolph's is an impressive historic landmark for Boston.

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The Wash and its Wildlife

The Wash is a 150,000 acre square-sided estuary which forms a large indentation on the east coast of England. Characterised by vast saltmarshes and mudflats, it is internationally recognised for its important wildfowl and wading birds.

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The Georgian Era

The Georgian period saw Britain establish itself as an international power at the centre of an expanding empire. And accelerating change from the 1770s onwards made it the world’s first industrialised nation.

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Feeding the Nation

To meet the food crisis created by the Second World War, local farms, canning factories and wholesale merchants came together to ‘feed the nation’.

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Frampton Marsh

Frampton Marsh is part of the most mature saltmarsh in the Wash and is exceptionally rich in plants, birds and invertebrates.

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