SHODFRIARS HALL AND OLD MOTHER RILEY
The name Shodfriars is derived from the order of friars who lived nearby and who wore shoes (shod friars) as distinct from others who went barefoot or wore sandals (discalced friars). Shodfriars Hall is, in fact, two conjoined buildings of differing architectural styles. The first is the magnificent black and white jettied timber framed building which dominates South Street. The other is an equally impressive red brick building, whose main façade is almost hidden from view in Shodfriars Lane. While not much is known about the history of the timber-framed structure it possibly dates from the end the 14th century and was known as the ‘Golden Hows’. One of its other names was the ‘Old Flemish House’. Some of the earliest rental book evidence suggests is was used by Boston’s Corpus Christi Guild.
Between 1873 and 1875 the building was given a Victorian face-lift by John Oldrid Scott, son of George Gilbert Scott, the famous architect. This work, commissioned by the Conservative Club included the building to the rear. Assisted by his brother George, and built in the Gothic Revival style, often used by their father, it included a stage and entertainment space. After the Conservative Club moved to new premises this became the Shodfriars Theatre. The last performance there took place in 1929, after which the building has had various other uses: a nightclub, a restaurant and snooker hall.
Among the famous acts that trod the boards at Shodfriars during its heyday was Old Mother Riley, played by Arthur Lucan. Born Arthur Towle in Sibsey in 1885, Arthur had moved to Boston when he was five. Later as an eight-year-old he earned pocket money at Shodfriars Theatre sweeping floors and selling programmes. Having gained a taste for theatre, Arthur ran away from home when he was 14 and joined the ‘Musical Cliftons’. During a trip to Dublin he secured the part of the Grandmother in the pantomime ‘Little Red Riding Hood’.
In 1913, after a whirlwind romance Arthur, then aged 28, married the pantomime lead, 16 year old Kitty McShane. He became ‘Arthur Lucan’ and toured with his wife as Old Mother Riley, an Irish washerwoman, and her teenage daughter, Lily. Success led to theatre tours as far afield as New Zealand, a Royal Command performance in 1934, and the release of their first film in 1937. In recent years the special comedy genre he pioneered has continued in TV’s acclaimed ‘Mrs Browns Boys’ series starring Brendan O’Carroll as Mrs Brown with his wife, Jenny Gigney, who plays his daughter Cathy.