The growth of Boston over the centuries is largely the result of immigration. People have come when there has been the need for workers, or as refugees from persecution and wars. About eight hundred years ago it was the salt extraction that attracted new settlers. Since then there have been major drainage and engineering projects requiring large numbers of workers and more recently the big increase in the demand for prepacked foods and large scale vegetable cropping has stimulated an influx of workers from Eastern Europe. While population changes have sometimes caused tension, the majority making their home in Boston have added to the richness and diversity of the town’s heritage and culture.
It was Count Alan from Brittany and the Norman immigrants who began making Boston a viable trading centre. However, they were not the first to set up home in the area. There is evidence of Roman occupation followed by the Saxons who established some of the early villages and the salt-making industry. The Vikings who came next gave the area the name of Skirbeck.
By the 14th century Boston boasted of one of the largest ports in England thanks in part to merchants from Germany. Naturally this encouraged further immigration to support the expanding economy. Surviving tax returns from 1442-43 record they were working as weavers, shoemakers, tailors, butchers, barbers, agricultural workers and brewers. They came with their families and spoke German, French, Dutch and languages of the Baltic. The next major influx of immigrants came during the reign of Elizabeth I with the arrival of religious refugees such as the Huguenots.
During the 19th century many men came from Ireland to cut the new drains. Over time they were joined by their families or married local girls. The area of Horncastle Road, North Street and Hartley Street became known as ‘Irishtown’. These people eventually became integrated into the community and no longer caused disquiet among the established families who had voiced their concerns about their livelihoods being taken away by ‘foreigners’. The ensuing increase in agricultural land that followed called for migrant seasonal workers. During WW1 and WW2 prisoners-of-war were sent to assist on the farms. Many of these men made Boston their home after the war, as the Italian names in the local cemetery bear witness.
The enlargement of the European Union and the decision to allow free movement of people between member countries led to an influx of migrant workers firstly from Portugal, then from Poland and other Baltic States. Between 2001 and 2011 the population increased by 9,000, a rise of 15.9% which made it the highest rise in the country. Despite social tensions, protests and the overwhelming 2016 Referendum vote to leave the EU, the town’s prosperity seems to have increased with many of the immigrants setting up shops and helping to bring new life into the Borough.