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Boston - The Small Town With A Big Story


Robert Barclay

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.

A black and white photograph of Shodfriars Hall in the year 1900. It has a wooden frame with ornate details in the eaves. Each of the upper two floors overhang the street below. The windows are large made up of individual leaded smaller panes. The bottom of the building is panelled in dark wood.

Shodfriars Hall, 1900. (courtesy of Richard Starbuck)

A coloured of Shodfriars Hall in the Year 2018 showing the original features. The wooden frame remains, as well as the windows and roof decorations. The wooden panels at the base of the building as well as the frame are stained black, and the daub between the wooden frames is white.

Shodfriars Hall, 2018.

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’.

A coloured photograph of the rear of Shodfriars Hall. It is a large red brick building with tall and slender arched windows and a steep roof. The widows are framed in a stepped design. There are several very tall chimneys.

John Oldrid Scott redesigned Shodfriars Hall and created a Gothic style extension to the rear as part of an ambitious rebuild for the Boston Conservative Club.

A black and white photo of the production of Mother Riley. A male actor is dressed as a washerwoman, pointing at a female actress, his wife, playing the young daughter. The actress wears a floor length dressed with a frilled hem and large frilled sleeves. The male actor is wearing a long skirt and jacket, as well as shawl, wig and cap. The photograph is signed by both actors with a message which is illegible.

Old Mother Riley double act: Arthur Lucan and his wife Kitty McShane. (Neil Watson Collection)

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.

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John Oldrid Scott

John Oldrid Scott, the second son of (Sir) George Gilbert Scott was born in 1841 and was educated at Bradfield before being articled to his father in 1860.

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Maps of Medieval and Victorian & Edwardian Boston

Visualize the historic changes to Boston over the centuries.

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Old Mother Riley

Old Mother Riley is a fictional character portrayed from about 1934 to 1954 by Arthur Lucan and from 1954 to the 1980s by Roy Rolland as part of a British music hall act.

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Sir George Gilbert Scott

The internationally famous Victorian architect George Gilbert Scott called Boston his 'third home'. He married his Boston cousin Caroline Oldrid in St Botolph's in 1838 and from that moment stayed in the town for part of every year.

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Prosperity 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.

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