Last edited 30 Jul 2023

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Institute of Historic Building Conservation Institute / association Website

Boston's pubs

The Inns on the Edge project recorded almost 100 historic pub sites in Boston, Lincolnshire, many demolished or converted, and fewer than a third still trading.

Boston market place.jpg
Boston Market Place and St Botolph’s Church.

Pubs are among the most familiar and recognisable buildings in towns and villages throughout England. Yet this class of building is disappearing from our landscape at an alarming rate. The last few years have been particularly tough on pubs, following the impact of the pandemic and the cost of living crisis. Currently around 30 pubs are closing each month and last year almost 400 closed for good.

Despite the worrying rate of closures, pubs are increasingly seen as an essential part of our shared identity, helping to tell the country’s story. For this reason, Historic England has launched a series of initiatives to help understand the historic development of pubs in order to better protect them. Inns on the Edge, one such project, looked at the heritage of historic pubs along the Lincolnshire coast. The project has recently concluded, having surveyed the status and condition of over 300 pub sites (past and present) along 50 miles of coastline between Grimsby and Boston.

The port town of Boston has a long history of drinking establishments stretching back hundreds of years. Among some of its earliest known inns were the Red Lion, the Crown, the Ram, the Bell, the White Horse, the Ship and the Hanging Sword, which were all in operation by the Elizabethan era. Most of these buildings have been demolished, with only the Quayside Hotel (formerly the Ship) and the Stump and Candle (formerly the Bell) still in operation.

The Stump and Candle is Boston’s most famous pub as the birthplace of the noted Tudor historian John Foxe, the author of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. The original inn was believed to have been demolished in about 1820, but much more likely, the building was underbuilt to create a flush new facade in keeping with this side of the marketplace, which was updated at the time. Several other pubs in Boston also show signs of underbuilding, namely the Golden Lion and the Robin Hood, which were both on the renewal of licences list in 1784 but are likely to be much older.

Boston also has a number of Georgian inns, notable examples including the Britannia, the Carpenters Arms and the King’s Arms, all still in service today. The town’s coaching inns were not so lucky: the Red Lion and White Horse (substantially rebuilt during the Georgian era) were demolished for shops in the 1960s, as was the Peacock and Royal, overlooking the marketplace.

Pubs built in the Victorian era were once a familiar sight along Boston streets, as many took advantage of the Beerhouse Act of 1830, enabling any ratepayer to brew and sell beer. Nearly all of these establishments in the town have ceased trading, with several houses demolished, such as the Victorian Inn, the Blue Lion, the Brewer’s Arms and the Flying Dutchman, the latter doubling as a common lodging house when the practice of sleeping on a line at one penny a night was still in use. Other examples, such as the Wellington and the Volunteer Arms, were converted to multiple dwellings in the early noughties.

The beginning of the 20th century saw the birth of the ‘improved’ or ‘reformed’ pub. Across England, many of these were built in a neo-Tudor style, also known as ‘Brewer’s Tudor’, in an attempt to evoke notions of old ‘Merrie England’, with half-timbering and other building tropes, such as mock jetting. The New Inn, Boston, a good example of this type of architecture, replaced an earlier pub on the same site and is still in operation today.

Some of the town’s oldest pubs began to be pulled down during the Victoria era, including the Green Dragon and the Three Tuns, the latter host to Oliver Cromwell and his advisors before the battle of Winceby. The 20th century was the most destructive period for pub buildings in Boston. On Rosegarth Street, for example, four pubs were cleared, the last of which was the Victoria Inn in 1961. Several pubs were also pulled down to make way for Boston’s inner relief road, John Adams Way. Among those closed were the Royal Oak and the Whale Inn (which featured its own private museum and was demolished in 1974 despite vocal public opposition).

In recent times, Boston pubs have continued to be knocked down. The Lord Nelson, a postwar estate pub, was demolished to make way for a convenience store in 2016, and the Duke of York, a Victorian public house, was reduced to rubble for apartments in 2020. At the time of writing, two more pubs are under threat of demolition to make way for new housing, the Axe and Cleaver and the New Castle Inn.

Almost 100 historic pub sites were recorded for the town of Boston for the Inns on the Edge project. Fewer than a third of these trade today, with the rest either demolished or converted to commercial or residential premises.

This article originally appeared as ‘Boston’s Inns on the Edge’ in the Institute of Historic Building Conservation’s (IHBC’s) Context 175, published in March 2023. It was written by Marc Knighton, the Inns on the Edge project officer with Lincolnshire County Council.

--Institute of Historic Building Conservation

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