skip to content

Boston - The Small Town With A Big Story

 The Maud Foster Mill 

James Waterfield

“Friday last, as the workmen were employed in fixing the sails to the mill just erected on the side of Maud Foster’s Drain, near Bargate bridge, Skirbeck, one of them fell from the scaffolding, and would have been precipitated to the ground, had he not caught hold of a rope, of which he was enabled to keep his grip for full three minutes, till rescued from his perilous situation by being drawn into the mill through one of the windows”. So reported the local press in September 1819 as Boston’s newest mill neared completion. The last of the town’s 15 windmills, the sails of the Maud Foster Mill still turn today.

Milling machinery in Maud Foster Mill, Boston

Milling machinery, Maud Foster Mill, Boston. (Bryan S. Graves)

Flour being produced and collected in sacks

The flour produced is collected in sacks ready for distribution. (Bryan S. Graves)

Maud Foster Mill, sometimes known as Reckitt’s Mill, was built in 1819 for Quaker brothers Thomas and Isaac Reckitt of Wainfleet by a local firm, Pacey and Watmough. The work was overseen by Messrs. Norman and Smithson of Hull, who had a reputation for constructing the most up-to-date windmills. The machinery was probably made in a Hull foundry and sailed down the coast to Boston. The wood used in its construction would have been selected at Boston’s quayside from timber imported from Archangel, Russia.

Maud Foster Mill, Willoughby Road, Boston

Maud Foster Mill, Willoughby Road, Boston. (Bryan S. Graves)

When the business failed it was sold and as a consequence of their insolvency the brothers were excluded from the Society of Friends in 1837. Mrs Reckitt, their mother, told a meeting of the Quakers that if other members had been more helpful, they should not have ended up as they did. The family moved to Hull where they cleared their debts and had their Quaker membership restored. Trading first as Reckitt’s then Reckitt and Colman, it is today Reckitt Benckiser, producing Dettol, Calgon, Strepsils and other well-known household brands.

In 1837 the mill entered a period of new ownership starting with Jonathan Dent and including Cookes of Digby, the Jessop family and finally the Ostler family. A steam engine from Tuxford’s of Boston was added to drive a bone mill and another for grinding cement clinker, but these proved unprofitable and the engines were altered to grind flour. Tuxford’s own eight-sail windmill stood at Mount Bridge.

Gallows Mills before they were demolished to make way for Boston's dock.

The Gallows Mills shown here were demolished to make way for Boston's Dock. (Boston Society Magazine 1900)

In 1916 new regulations stopped the production of white flour, leaving the mill to produce animal feed only. After WW2 it became difficult to find the material to carry out repairs to the rotten sails and in 1948 milling ceased. A limited restoration to celebrate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II was paid for by the Reckitt family in 1953 but by 1987 the mill was in a very poor state.

Having been purchased by the Waterfield family, the present owners, the Maud Foster Mill was restored to full working order and reopened in 1988. It is now one of a handful of working windmills in the UK where visitors can watch the mill at work and purchase flour and other products.