Historian highlights Boston’s Hanseatic past


An historian has outlined Boston’s rich history as part of the Hanseatic League as councillors get set to discuss plans to join the modern version.

Boston Borough Council’s cabinet will meet on January 21 where they will discuss recommendations from overview and scrutiny to apply to join the league - where members embrace cultural, business and tourist links.

According to the town’s local history group’s research, led by Dr Pamela Cawthorne, the Hansa, or Hanse, is a major part of Boston’s history as the town enjoyed connections to the Baltic throughout the 13th and 15th centuries.

Although English towns were never members of the original league as such, Boston was known as a Minor Hanse kontore - a warehouse facility - and it was joined by King’s Lynn, Newcastle, Hull, Yarmouth and Ipswich.

The town’s strength lay in the fact it was a coastal port, on a river, with access to the midlands - it also included the St Botolph’s Fair.

Boston became a major port between 1279 and 1288, exporting 37 per cent of the wool from England.

Hanseatic merchants began dominating the ‘alien cloth trade’ in Boston by the 1380s, accounting for 89 per cent of cloth exports through Boston and Lynn.

Other significant trades included wax, dried fish and fish oil, furs and goatskins.

According to Dr Cawthorne’s research the old Custom’s House, in Boston, was called the Stylard’s House and she also notes the presence of a Hanseatic steelyard near to the later site of Boston General Hospital.

A map in this week’s Standard shows a general location near to South End, although Mrs Cawthorne notes all trace of the site has now vanished. It is hoped an archeological dig might be carried out to see if any of the site might be found.

Dr Cawthorne’s research points to a decline in cloth trade in Boston following the Treaty of Utrecht in 1474, leading to the Hanse building in 1481 being described as ‘dilapidated and the steelyard being said to be ‘little or nothing ‘occupied’.

Many traces of the town’s involvement with the Hanseatic League have disappeared over time, however, it’s still possible to take in Boston’s medieval history.

Dr Cawthorne said: “Those looking for signs of all this [Hanse] along the river banks in today’s Boston will be frustrated by the fact that much of Boston’s medieval architecture has been lost and there has been little archaeological work.”

She, however, points to existing examples including Pescod Hall, The Guildhall and Shodfriars Hall. Blackfriars Theatre and a shop next to the former custom house occupy the site of a Dominican Friary, with stonework remains in the theatre.

For those wishing to picture the locations of the Hanseatic League sites, it is said to be best to walk along either South Terrace or head down High Street to the Black Sluice and look back towards the docks.