The Pilgrim Fathers landed in North America in 1620. They crossed the Atlantic
not just for the fun of it, but because they were the victims of religious
persecution in an age when faith in Western Europe was a deadly serious
business for everyone – and having the wrong faith could spell imprisonment,
torture and death.
Before they left the old world aboard the Mayflower, the
pilgrims had already had a number of adventures. In the early years, most of
these had been focused on the small town of Boston on the east coast of
England. Most of the Pilgrim Fathers came from the east midlands of England –
places like Boston, Nottingham and Leicester. Boston in particular was a
stronghold of the established church, and the group had been imprisoned there
during their first, failed, attempt to leave the country.
Its strange then, that many years later the descendants of the
Pilgrim Fathers should memorialize the town that had persecuted their
grandparents by naming the capital of their Massachusetts colony after it.
Boston, England, redefines the word ‘sleepy’ nowadays. It’s
also, officially, the most remote town in England – by virtue of being a whole
sixteen miles from the next town in this small, crowded country. Little
happens, though there’s a great deal to see, and every year hundreds of US
tourists visit the town looking for their roots.
There are a lot of roots to find. Boston may be quiet, but
there’s an awful lot of history going on. One of the first things that you’ll
notice as you enter the town is the church of St. Botolph, known to the locals
as ‘the Stump’. The immense structure – 262 feet high – is the largest church
in the UK that isn’t a cathedral. The land surrounding the town is almost
completely flat, and ever since it was completed in the fourteenth century the
Stump has dominated the surrounding landscape. Before the surrounding marshland
was drained, beacons used to be lit at the top of the huge beacon tower to
guide travelers through the treacherous quicksands on the approach to the town.
The Stump’s interior is worth exploring, and there’s a small
museum and gift shop where you can buy souvenirs and find out a little about
the history of the town. Outside you can sit by the river soaking up some
sunshine, or explore the town’s marketplace, where all kinds of fresh
produce are available.
One of the most charming aspects of Boston are the many small
lanes and alleys, some of them still lined with medieval and Tudor shops and
houses. Dolphin Lane – on the opposite side of the marketplace from the stump –
is particularly attractive.
Eating in Boston is a real treat. If you feel like some
traditional English fish and chips, take a left from the marketplace down
Strait Bargate and stop off at Tate’s Fish Shop, tucked away on the left-hand
side. Alternatively, go around the back of the stump and locate the Wormgate
pub, which lies on the street of the same name. Some fantastic food and beer is
available here: if you want an authentic taste of the town you should sample
Batemans beer and some local Lincolnshire sausages. The town is full of great
pubs. Although there have been some problems in recent years, as a result of
conflict between locals and incoming foreign agricultural workers, most are
completely safe. If you’re after a great British pub atmosphere, try the
Britannia in the marketplace, or the Magnet Tavern a few hundred yards away on
When your lunch has digested you can go back to looking for
those roots. Probably the best place to do it is the town’s medieval Guildhall.
This is where local trade associations would meet and do business is medieval
times – later on it was the town’s courthouse. Today, the Guildhall is a
museum. The real treat for US visitors lies in the basement, however. It’s here
that you’ll find the cells where the Pilgrim Fathers were imprisoned. They’re
tiny! There’s an extensive permanent exhibit dedicated to Boston’s ties with
Boston, MA – the town has strong links with its US namesake, and in recent
years many Bostonians from both sides of the Atlantic have been making the
journey between the two cities.
Boston is a great place to visit if you’re an American
interested in the very origins of your country. Even if you’re not, it’s a
taste of the real England – something that you don’t really get from London and
the other big cities, and which movies set in England distort terribly. It’s
easy to feel a thrill run down your spine as you walk through the sleepy
streets of Boston and think to yourself; this is where it all started.