Historic building in shadow of the Stump to be given new lease of life

Church Keys exterior
Church Keys exterior

The former cottage in the shadow of Boston Stump is to get a new lease of life as a bridal shop and cafe.

The white-rendered former cottage in the shadow of Boston Stump, known latterly as Spooky’s, is to become a business catering for brides-to-be and those looking for refreshments.

Church Keys inside

Church Keys inside

Entrepreneur Jason Brackenbury has a vision for Church Keys in Church Street which will capitalise on its position next to The Stump and at the foot of a planned new bridge over The Haven.

Mr Brackenbury, of Tattershall Road, Boston, has a team of top-quality craftsmen at work on the building, parts of which date back to the 15th Century, and aims to have it open at the same time as the new St Botolph’s footbridge opens next year.

Church Keys had been disused for around five years – last used as flats – when Mr Brackenbury’s interest in it was ignited by Boston Borough Councillor Carol Taylor. Fresh from success supporting independent traders in Wormgate, Cllr Taylor whetted Mr Brackenbury’s interest in Church Keys and then arranged a meeting with Matt Clark, new owner of the Assembly Rooms, with a view to kicking off rejuvenation of Church Street.

An initial look inside convinced Mr Brackenbury, who owns Kitchens at Cammacks a member of the Guild of Master Craftsmen) and Scent Boston Ltd in Dolphin Lane, of its potential, and the potential of its location with stunning views of The Stump and river.

Such a unique building, with all the constraints its architectural and historical heritage place on refurbishment and modernisation, doesn’t come without a multitude of problems, but Mr Brackenbury says he is not phased.

“We have to retain so much of the original structure and fittings – from the internal rendering to such things as window latches. But I have the very best architect in Terry Sykes, and the very best team of joiners, electricians and plumbers. We all aim for top quality in all we do, so we are very excited by the challenge this represents and what we know we will accomplish in the end.”

Church Keys was originally a modest 15th Century structure added to over the years to become an interesting jumble of connecting rooms upstairs and downstairs. So far work has uncovered a previously unknown arched window which had been embedded within a wall and no less than five separate mains water feed pipes. Like the Assembly Rooms at the other end of Church Street, and also built on the banks of the river, Church Keys has a very definite lean – in more than one direction – but is structurally sound. One upstairs floor has had to be renewed but retains its historic bias.

The exterior has had five coats of a specialist lime wash brought all the way from Buxton in Derbyshire, and has to have two more coats.

There are several unique views of the magnificent Stump, framed from within by the windows, and Mr Brackenbury aims to make the best of this with an area with a view to die for though a glass roof.

There will also be an outdoor, heated seating area to the side of the building alongside the river between the Church Keys and the church. A wine bar, coffee bar, restaurant and areas to catch passing trade with takeaway refreshments, including ice creams and milk shakes in the summer, are all at the planning stage.

Mr Brackenbury said: “I am not in a hurry with this project. I want to get it right. I think the location is spectacular and the new footbridge will add to that. I want to create something special for the people of Boston and something which will draw others in from further afield.”

He was born in Mufulira in Africa, but his parents are well-known Boston business people. He decided to go it alone after 20 years as buyer for Oldrids

Church Keys was once owned by Victorian George Edward Hackford who, from his photographic studio there probably did as much as any to record over his lifetime the real Boston at work, rest and play.

His interest in the town ran deeper than that. For while he spent his time busily recording the living, breathing Boston of his day he was also interested in laying bare his discoveries of bygone Boston.

He carried on the family photographic business from Church Key Photography Studio, making his living from portraits of elegant Boston families. But for his own enjoyment, and out of a pride and love for his home town, he recorded every aspect of life – from the mundane to the magnificent - providing a detailed record of the day-to-day movements of a modernising town.

George’s interests extended into his photographic studio, which was also entitled “…and Curio Shop”. And on display he had historical items and curiosities which he had collected.

In 1926 he gifted many of these items to the borough and was instrumental, along with four others in initiating repairs to the Guildhall and the installation of show cases in 1929 in readiness for the development of a museum.

His gifts to the museum included the tobacco pot made from the remains of the gibbet from which murderer Ralph Smith’s hanged body was placed to rot near the scene of his crime near Ralph’s Lane in Frampton, and a large quantity of medieval tiles and Roman pottery.

He was an active member of Boston’s cultural scene and, like his father and grandfather before him, was parish clerk at the Stump, a position he held for 50 years.