A late-C14 hall of the Guild of St Mary, now a museum; refurbished in the C18.
Reasons for Designation
* Intactness: It is a rare example of a late C14 Guildhall that survives substantially intact, including its crown post roof. Its west gable end to the street with C15 window is also intact.
* Interior: The interior contains detail that illustrates craftsmanship of the highest quality from the medieval period to the C18.
* Historical Interest: It is possibly the earliest brick building in Lincolnshire, with internal features that illustrate Boston's social, economic and political history over at least 400 years.
Despite some fluctuation in its fortunes Boston remained a prosperous port and market town from the middle ages into the C19, its social, economic and political history reflected in its town plan and buildings. From the C12 to the C15 it was one of the busiest ports in England, its wealth based principally on the trade in wool, cloth and luxury goods. Boston's market was first recorded between 1125 and 1135, and the annual fair was one of the great trade fairs of Europe. The medieval town grew around streets on either side of the River Witham, now the High Street to the west and South Street to the east. The latter opens to a wide market place to the north, from which narrow medieval lanes travel east and north to Church Street, St Botolph's Church and Wormgate.
The medieval period is represented by fragments of the Dominican friary surviving as the Blackfriars Arts Centre (Grade II*) on Spain Lane, the only visible evidence of the four friaries established in the town in the C12 and C13. Evidence of the town's thriving C14 and C15 engagement in the North Sea wool trade survives in the Guildhall (Grade I) of the Guild of St Mary, one of several religious guilds in the town at this period. Following the incorporation of Boston as a borough in 1545 and the dissolution of the religious guilds two years later, the assets of the Guild of St Mary, including the Guildhall, were transferred to the Corporation. Later C18 fen drainage and the construction of the Grand Sluice realised the value of the Corporation's estate; the increase in income funding significant building projects in the town, including the Exchange Buildings of 1770-1772 (formerly the Corporation Buildings) to the west of the Market Place (Grade II*). This renewed prosperity continued into the first half of the C19, when agricultural enclosure generated new wealth from a now highly productive rural hinterland. The corporation invested in further public building, notably the Assembly Rooms, completed in 1822 (Grade II*) to the north of the Exchange Buildings. The Grade II listed buildings that form an irregular terrace, 42-50 Market Place, also date to the first half of the C19, as do eight Grade II listed warehouses. Between the mid-C18 and mid-C19 the town's suburbs grew to the north-west and east of the Market Place, with limited development to the west of the river.
Boston continued to thrive economically until the construction of the railway in 1848; this brought a station and growth to the west of the town, but withdrew outgoing goods from the port. A new dock constructed by the corporation to the south of the town in 1884 renewed seaborne trade and brought development to an area of previously agricultural land. By the late C19 the town had reached almost its present extent. Although there was new building within the town in the C20, notably the construction of the inner ring road, John Adams Way, much historic fabric has been retained; this is reflected in the comprehensive coverage of Boston in the National Heritage List for England.
Two dating methods applied to samples of the timber framing and brickwork of the Hall of the Guild of St Mary (dendrochronology for timber and and luminescence dating for brick) are broadly in agreement, the latter confirming the dating of the timbers to 1390-1395, making this possibly the earliest brick building in Lincolnshire. The chapel seems to have been housed at the west end of the ground floor, with services at the east end, and also in ancillary buildings beyond the north elevation, now demolished. The transfer of the Guild of St Mary's assets to Boston Corporation was confirmed in 1555, but by then the kitchens below and chambers above had already been prepared for use as a prison, and in 1583 an inner chamber was made suitable for use as a council chamber. By the mid C17 the Town Hall was being used to entertain and dine members of the corporation and their guests, and in the early C18 alterations were made to the kitchens in order to improve the banqueting facilities, first with the addition of a chimney and, slightly later, with the installation of 'boilers, dressers and other convenient things for the kitchen'. Sash windows were added to the south side in 1722 and to the north side in 1730, and were part of a renovation programme that included the front staircase. The music loft was added to the screen in the council chamber by 1736, when cupboards or small rooms (closets) were made below. The creation of the elegant first-floor room to the east seems to date to the second half of the C18. There is a tradition (now questioned) that the group of dissenters later known as the Pilgrim Fathers were imprisoned and tried in the Guildhall following their arrest in 1607 for attempting to leave the country unlawfully. During the First and Second World Wars the hall was used, respectively, as a National Soup Kitchen and a British Restaurant. The building is now a museum. A programme of restoration was undertaken between 2006 and 2007 and the museum reopened in 2008.
MATERIALS: Red brick with ashlar dressings and ashlar coped raised gable. The roof is covered with plain tiles.
PLAN: A long narrow rectangular plan, of two storeys, with a pitched roof with lateral chimney stacks.
EXTERIOR: The west gable end to South Street has a central pointed doorway within a moulded ashlar arch flanked by single three-light segmental arched windows with chamfered mullions. There is a continuous hoodmould over both doors and windows. Above a moulded first-floor band is a five-light window with a pointed arch and C15 tracery, over which is a hoodmould with label stops. The gable has moulded coping and large, now decayed finials.
The south front has twelve irregular bays with, from the west, a small single-light window with deeply chamfered surround and moulded hood. Beyond is a triangular headed doorway, followed by four wooden cross casements with leaded lights and segmental arches, then a small casement, followed by four more cross casements. To the first floor there are eight irregularly spaced eighteen-paned unhorned sashes. The north front is a patchwork of different coloured brick, and has a sill band broken by eighteen-paned unhorned sash windows.
INTERIOR: To the west end of the ground floor, transverse beams are supported on five rows of slender wooden Doric columns, three to each beam, one at each end and one slightly north of centre. At the end of this hall and to the south is the arched opening to the stairs. Beyond the enclosed staircase the upper-floor joists are visible, and the transverse beams are supported to the south on braces arched against uprights resting on stone corbels. To the north are two raised cells with iron barred doors, and beyond these is a winder stair. This forms a discrete central section. A wide opening marks the beginning of the kitchens where there are three massive fireplaces, two to the north and one to the east wall.
To the east of the north fireplaces is a stair to the first floor. The roof structure is completely visible at this end only. This is a common rafter roof with crown post trusses to each bay, where a tie beam, braced to posts, carries a crown post braced to a crown plate, with down braces to the tie beam. The crown plate supports close-set collars connecting each pair of rafters, and there are raking struts above the collars from collar to rafters. This space contains no furnishings. A door to the south of a partition wall opens onto the polite room created in the C18. This has been ceiled over and has a dentilled cornice and four-panelled doors with moulded surrounds and open pediments mirroring each other at either end of the room, one cupboard and one entrance to each end. In the north wall a fireplace with brackets, egg and dart, and foliated ornament has an overmantle with an open pediment. Fielded panelling around the room opens to the west to reveal a pair of fine linen-fold panelled doors to a muniment cupboard.
The next room (the court-room) contains a tie beam, brace and upright delicately painted with a foliate decoration. The walls are panelled to shoulder height and an area around the small winder stair is surrounded on two and a half sides by a balustrade with turned posts. This stair gives direct access from the ground-floor cells. Between this room and the large west chamber is the landing for the main stair, a wide, single flight, closed-string staircase with a moulded, ramped handrail and turned balusters. The balustrade continues beside the landing up to the entrance to the west chamber. This is entered through double panelled doors and a panelled arch beneath the minstrels gallery, reached by stairs in the north-east corner of the landing area. The minstrels gallery has a balustrade with turned balusters, below which is the wide central door flanked by two sliding doors to closets. The doors have six fielded panels and are set below segmental arches and flanked by pilasters. The roof is open to the crown plate, the braces to the three tie beams apparently supported on corbels elaborately carved with the heads of people and beasts, although these are in fact wrapped around the ends of the braces and the small stone corbels on which they rest. The wooden corbels came from St Botolph's Church, removed from there during the restoration of the roof and tower in c1929. At the west end is the pointed arched window with stained glass in the upper tracery. The walls have high dado panelling with fielded panels and fitted benches, and there are two bolection moulded fireplaces.
SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: Attached to the south of the west gable end is an early-C18 style gate with a decorative overthrow.