Boston links

Samantha Mayling explores Boston in Lincolnshire, one of the destinations in the Pilgrim Roots region, and part of the Mayflower 400 UK initiative.

Having visited Boston in Massachusetts several years ago, I was keen to explore the original Boston in Lincolnshire, ahead of the 400thanniversary of the Mayflower sailing in 2020.

With growing international interest in the Mayflower Pilgrims, it’s timely to see how the Fenland town is marketing itself and developing trails for tourists – especially Americans.

The market town is part of the Mayflower Trail, established by the Mayflower 400 UK initiative to highlight historic sites associated with the Pilgrims, both in the UK and overseas.

Boston features on the trail because it is the site of the Pilgrims’ first attempt to escape to a new life in 1607 – and where they were betrayed and imprisoned.

The town is a key part of the Pilgrim Roots Partnership which promotes the region in Nottinghamshire, South Yorkshire and Lincolnshire where the Pilgrims – known as Separatists – formed their ideas and plans for new lives.

I started at Boston’s Guildhall Museum to see the court where they were tried, and the cramped cells below, where they were held for a month.

A plaque tells visitors how the leaders – William Bradford and William Brewster – were imprisoned with others from the Scrooby congregation in small cells “after attempting to escape to religious freedom”.

Other displays tell how they tried to flee but were thwarted, then later managed to reach Holland, and eventually sailed to America aboard the Mayflower in 1620.

Pilgrims’ experience

Luke Skerritt, Boston Borough Council’s principal museum, arts and heritage officer, told me how visitors from the US particularly appreciate the tangible nature of the cells and court room, as they can get a vivid sense of the Pilgrims’ experience.

He said there is plenty for American visitors to explore, especially as a second wave of immigrants left Boston between 1630-1634 and established the town’s namesake in Massachusetts.

The historic town centre includes the Boston Stump (pictured) – the remarkably tall tower of St Botolph’s church, where visitors can see the Puritan Path, a series of memorials to those pioneers who left Boston in the 1630s.

New information panels around the town help guide visitors around the key historic sites, telling the stories of Boston’s wealthy wool trade, its port, markets and fairs, as well as the Pilgrims.

Just a short drive away is a memorial to the Pilgrim Fathers Memorial which marks the area of Scotia Creek where they made their first, ill-fated escape attempt.

Hopes dashed

It’s not exactly a monumental monument but the location is rather atmospheric, and you can imagine the Separatists walking to the creek in the hope of a new life, but having their hopes dashed at the last moment.

The town is also taking part in the annual Illuminate festivals which mark Thanksgiving – the key American celebration of the Mayflower Pilgrims.

The events feature light-based artworks, local choirs and parades which reflect themes of freedom and liberty.

It’s a fascinating place to start a Mayflower Pilgrimage and explore further in the Pilgrim Roots region around Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and South Yorkshire. 

Where to stay

Visitors wanting to stay in Boston itself can choose the White Hart Hotel, a former coaching inn with views over the river Witham and the Boston Stump.

As I was exploring the Pilgrim Roots region, I stayed at Ye Olde Bell Inn, another coaching inn, at Barnby Moor, near Retford, on the Great North Road.

It made an ideal base from which to visit other sites and churches associated with the Pilgrims’ story.

Making the Connections

2020 will be the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower ship from England to the New World.

There are an estimated 35 million descendants of the 112 passengers and crew who sailed on this voyage.

This anniversary provides a significant opportunity to generate visits to the UK from Mayflower  descendants who want to ‘follow in the footsteps of their Pilgrim Ancestors’ – and the 12% of the general US population who see the anniversary as a reason to visit England and are seeking holidays that offer Mayflower content as part of a wider trip.

A group of 11 destinations across England has been working together as part of the international Mayflower Compact that spans four nations of England, the US, the Native American people and the Netherlands.

Five of the 11 destinations are based in the East Midlands region and are working together as the ‘Pilgrim Roots’ locations, which play a significant role in the early part of the story.