1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Boston (England)

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BOSTON, a municipal and parliamentary borough and seaport of Lincolnshire, England, on the river Witham, 4 m. from its mouth in the Wash, 107 m. N. of London by the Great Northern railway. Pop. (1901) 15,667. It lies in a flat agricultural fen district, drained by numerous cuts, some of which are navigable. The church of St Botolph is a superb Decorated building, one of the largest and finest parish churches in the kingdom. A Decorated chapel in it, formerly desecrated, was restored to sacred use by citizens of Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A., in 1857, in memory of the connexion of that city with the English town. The western tower, commonly known as Boston Stump, forms a landmark for 40 m. Its foundations were the first to be laid of the present church (which is on the site of an earlier one), but the construction was arrested until the Perpendicular period, of the work of which it is a magnificent example. It somewhat resembles the completed tower of Antwerp cathedral, and is crowned by a graceful octagonal lantern, the whole being nearly 290 ft. in height. The church of Skirbeck, 1 m. south-east, though extensively restored, retains good Early English details. Other buildings of interest are the guildhall, a 15th-century structure of brick; Shodfriars Hall, a half-timbered house adjacent to slight remains of a Dominican priory; the free grammar school, founded in 1554, with a fine gateway of wrought iron of the 17th century brought from St Botolph's church; and the Hussey Tower of brick, part of a mansion of the 16th century. Public institutions include a people's park and large municipal buildings (1904).

As a port Boston was of ancient importance, but in the 18th century the river had silted up so far as to exclude vessels exceeding about 50 tons. In 1882–1884 a dock some 7 acres in extent was constructed, with an entrance lock giving access to the quay sides for vessels of 3000 tons. The bed of the river was deepened to 27 ft. for 3 m. below the town, and a new cut of 3 m. was made from the mouth into deep water. An iron swing-bridge connects the dock with the Great Northern railway. There is a repairing slipway accommodating vessels of 800 tons. Imports, principally timber, grain, cotton and linseed, increased owing to these improvements from £116,179 in 1881 to £816,698 in 1899; and exports (coal, machinery and manufactured goods) from £83,000 in 1883 to £261,873 in 1899. The deep-sea and coastal fisheries are important. Engineering, oil-cake, tobacco, sail and rope works are the principal industries in the town. Boston returns one member to parliament. The parliamentary borough falls within the Holland or Spalding division of the county. The municipal borough is under a mayor, 6 aldermen and 18 councillors. Area, 2727 acres.

Boston (Icanhoe, St Botolph or Botolph's Town) derives its name from St Botolph, who in 654 founded a monastery here, which was destroyed by the Danes, 870. Although not mentioned in Domesday, Boston was probably granted as part of Skirbeck to Alan, earl of Brittany. The excellent commercial position of the town at the mouth of the Witham explains its speedy rise into importance. King John by charter of 1204 granted the bailiff of Boston sole jurisdiction in the town. By the 13th century it was a great commercial centre second only to London in paying £780 for two years to the fifteenth levied in 1205, and Edward III. made it a staple port for wool in 1369. The Hanseatic and Flemish merchants largely increased its prosperity, but on the withdrawal of the Hanseatic League about 1470 and the break-up of the gild system Boston's prosperity began to wane, and for some centuries it remained almost without trade. Nevertheless it was raised to the rank of a free borough by Henry VIII.'s charter of 1546, confirmed by Edward VI. in 1547, by Mary in 1553, by Elizabeth (who granted a court of admiralty) in 1558 and 1573, and by James I. in 1608. Boston sent members to the great councils in 1337, 1352 and 1353; and from 1552 to 1885 two members were returned to each parliament. The Redistribution Act 1885 reduced the representation to one member. In 1257 a market was granted to the abbot of Crowland and in 1308 to John, earl of Brittany. The great annual mart was held before 1218 and attended by many German and other merchants. Two annual fairs and two weekly markets were granted by Henry VIII.'s charter, and are still held. The Great Mart survives only in the Beast Mart held on the 11th of December.

See Pishey Thompson, History and Antiquities of Boston and the Hundred of Skirbeck (Boston, 1856); George Jebb, Guide to the Church of St Botolph, with Notes on the History of Boston; Victoria County History: Lincolnshire.