Monday, 18 March 2013

Some old industries in Boston.

Boston was a hive of industrial activity throughout the 1800's. It made, among other things, hats and caps, mattresses, chairs, rope, boots and shoes, pipes and cigars. It also grew woad and tanned leather. Around the 1850's there were at least three makers of clay pipes, and the industry thrived for many years, their little factories were sited in Pinfold Lane, West Street and Pipe Office Lane.

Pipe Office Lane, off West Street.

It wasn't surprising therefore that it attracted people bent on the idea of filling them at a profit. The first possibly (in 1842) was a George Hartley of Silver Street who was described as a tobacco manufacturer and cigar maker. By the 1890's there were at least two or three cigar makers. There was Thorns cigar factory which ran to a staff of about 200, Whittle and Cope's in Norfolk Street and another was in Bond Street whose premises were later to become the Boston Steam Laundry.

Inside Whittle and Cope's cigar factory, Norfolk Street.

Hat and cap making was also a flourishing trade, and it appears to have been highly competitive too, for records reveal that a certain Mr. Waterfield used to make them while his wife and daughter sold them on the local markets. It is said that they walked as far as Spalding every week to take up their pitch. One of the last local survivors in the trade was a Mr. Jay of Wormgate.
One of the oldest crafts, rope-making and twine-spinning, was carried on in several parts of the town and there were at least eight still in existence as late as the 1890's, one of them was sited opposite the Central Park where Tawney Street and Hartley Street now are. Rope of all thicknesses were produced, mainly for agriculture and fishing.
We also had a "whiting" industry, this was ground chalk that could be purchased at any grocer's or chandler's shop and was much in demand for hearths, outside steps, silver cleaning and other domestic purposes. Mr. Walter Whyers, a local historian, said in 1934, "As a boy I would go to watch the old horse going round and round as he turned the mill that ground great lumps of chalk to powder, It made me feel giddy to watch the movements of the horse, and I thought it cruelty to the poor animal until they showed me the blinkers that it wore which, they said, prevented the horse from realising that its journey was limited to the ambit of the mill shaft." Among those who made this commodity were Matthew Booker of Wide Bargate, Isaac Trolley, and Mr. Bentley.
Woad growing, for dyeing cloth, once a profitable crop, was an important agricultural sideline and was discontinued only because it was superseded by synthetic dyes.
Boston also made some furniture and in the 1870's there were six chairmakers  and 18 cabinet makers, of whom one was described as a bed pole turner.
The leather producing trade was centred in White Horse Lane, where the washing and tanning was carried out. Curing and dressing also took place at a tannery in Bargate End.
The very old craft of boot and shoe making which was once widely practised in the town was slow to die because even as late as 1850 there were no fewer than 50 manufacturers.
Boston in those days was virtually self sufficient and the men of Boston produced almost all the goods required.


  1. I remembered that tobacco was once grown in Skirbeck. I don't know where I originally came across that information but a quick Google came up with this mention in a New Zealand newspaper of 1887 (

    "Mr John Graves, of Skirbeck, Boston, Lincolnshire, has grown one acre of tobacco this year, and, being a novelty in the district, it has been visited by large numbers of people. The field was planted from June 10 to 15. Considering that it had only one good rain, it made very rapid growth, and was 4ft high when topped on August 1. Gathering for curing began on August 15. Competent foreign tobacco growers who have seen it state that it is a magnificent crop of tobacco."

  2. There was also Pipe Makers Lane off Stanbow leading to Mountains old ramshackle slaughterhouse.

  3. I suspect from the amount of clay pipe bits I found as a child, there may also have been a clay pipe manufacturers somewhere in Archers Lane vicinity. I do remember Bycrofts the butchers slaughterhouse down the end of the lane and remember watching the pigs arriving for their final fate. That would have been early 1970's.
    Great website by the way.

  4. wonder if we could find the names of any old employee from 1900s era

  5. My ancestor Edward Molyneux lived in Liverpool but was invited by an old school friend in 1871 to come and work at Thorn's cigar factory in Boston, where he was a manager,as a foreman.By 1901 his daughter Kitty worked there too.Kitty Molyneux is my great grandmother.Her son, Edward Mitchell worked as a railway inspector in Boston after serving in World War 1.

  6. Could you let me knowvthe source for the record about a Mr. Waterfield.

    My great-great Grandfather, Alfred Waterfield, was a hatter and I believe it must be him the blog entry refers to with his wife Lucy and daughter Lucy Ann.

    Alfred died in Lincoln Hospital aged 29 after a hat mould fell on his foot in 1865. As yet, I’ve not been able to find any newspaper announcements about this.