St. Botolph's Church is a parish church in the Church of England in Boston, Lincolnshire. It is famous for its extraordinarily tall tower, known as the Boston Stump.Background
The church is one of the largest parish churches in England, and it has the fourteenth highest church tower in England. The tower is approximately 272 feet (83 m) high. It can be seen for miles around, its prominence accentuated by the flat surrounding countryside known as The Fens. On a clear day, it can be seen from East Anglia on the other side of The Wash. The nickname, The Stump or Boston Stump, is often used affectionately as a reference to the whole church building or for the parish community housed by it. Their formal names are Saint Botolph's Parochial Church of Boston, of course is used where appropriate.
The name "Boston" evolved from "Botolph's Town".Earlier buildings
Early English legends have created the belief that the church was built on the site of a monastery founded by Botolph in 654, but with the main source of this being the Anglo Saxon Chronicle, this is heavily disputed. Modern historians believe it much more likely that Botolph's monastery was located at Iken in Suffolk.
What is beyond doubt is that the Boston Stump is not the first church to have been built on the site. Archaeological records indicate that a smaller wooden and stone Norman church had existed on the location of the south aisle of the present building. Excavations during the mid 19th century revealed a Norman stone pillar and a number of coffins from the period. Stukeley, the eighteenth-century antiquary, mentions large stone remains to the south of the church.
The size of such a small church was however inadequate for a booming town with trading revenues to rival London and a theological centre with no fewer than four monasteries, so work would begin at the start of the 14th century on a much grander building, more fitting for a prosperous town.
Historically, the transformation from a small church to the equivalent of a mainland European cathedral was begun in 1309 under Sir John Truesdale, Vicar of St. Botolph's at a time of historical change and upheaval across the continent and England following the arrests of the Templar's by Phillippe the Fair of France on Friday 13 October 1307. England became a home of refuge for many individuals with ties on both sides of the channel and a surge in building construction across England. For approximately the next 20 years, theological determination was disputed between the crown, nobility and clergy in England. Political turmoil from these events led to the Hundred Years War and the eventual formation of the Church of England as we understand it today.Foundation and architecture
The existing church was begun in 1309, in the usual way, at the east end. With the chancel built, work reached the south aisle and moved on through the nave until its completion around 1390. Foundation trouble thanks to the close proximity to the river then held progress up while the chancel was extended to prop the building up and create a greater level of structural stability, as the nave piers were leaning dangerously to the east. This work was successful to the extent that today the tower leans by less than half a centimetre despite its great height.
The tower was not begun until 1450, by excavation of a deep, wide hole. Indicating the architectural skill employed by the builders at the time, the tower remains structurally solid and has not required any restoration work to realign it despite the River Haven being only 33 feet (10 m) away and the original foundations built under water level.
It was completed between 1510 and 1520 in the perpendicular style that had become popular during much of the 15th century and features a walkway roughly at two thirds of the height of the tower that encircles the edges giving great views from the Wash in the east towards Lincoln in the west. Reached by 209 steps, this also provides access to the tower level with the bells.
The tower is topped with a highly decorated octagonal lantern ringed with pinnacles, one of fewer than half a dozen medieval examples surviving in England. Others, including the Abbey Church of Bury St Edmunds, are now ruined. Up until the 19th century, the Boston Stump had the tallest roof of any building, religious or secular, in the world.
The nave is 242 feet (74 m) long and 104 feet (32 m) wide, making the internal space of the building impressive by sheer size. It terminates in the vaulted chancel containing the high altar at the extreme eastern end of the church. The church was vaulted in wood in the eighteenth century, but the nave vaults were removed in the twentieth century.
The relatively short period of construction for such a large church is fairly unusual in England and an indication of the wealth of Boston. Most similarly sized churches, largely cathedrals, took hundreds of years to build due to constant fund shortages, giving them a variety of different styles as exhibited by other East Anglian churches such as Ely or Peterborough. The Stump, however, was built in less than 150 years, giving it a rare sense of architectural coherence and unity.
Some local historians suggest that the building was to have a spire built on the top of the lantern after the planned construction of more adjoining chapels were completed, but further extension work was made impossible by political changes that were starting to occur in England.
If you look closely at the east and west sides of the tower, you will notice something odd about one of the two large windows in the centre. The window on the nave side of the tower appears to have been 'cut off' as there isn't enough room for it to fit completely and the tip of the window comes to a stop as it reaches the edge. The large window on its own at the bottom of the tower also has a similar imperfection. On one side are two 'panels' or rows of stone. On the other is only one. You would have thought the window would have been centred, but it isn't. Finally, there's one more aspect of the tower that looks unusual under close inspection. The octagonal lantern tower at the top, when looked at from the east or west side, appears to be further over to the nave side of the tower than the other, which looks rather odd when viewed from the right angle.Misericords
St Botolph's has a stunning array of sixty two misericords dating from 1390. Subject matter includes mythology, heraldry, and some everyday scenes - NB-02, for instance "Master seated birching a boy who is trying to protect himself with a book. Three other boys are looking on," and NB-03 "Two jesters, each squeezing a cat under its arm and biting its tail".Dimensions and statistics
St Botolph's Church is the widest parish church in England, the tallest to roof, and also one of the largest by floor area, although contrary to common belief, that title is held by the Holy Trinity Church in Hull.
- The tower is 272 feet (83 m) and 6 inches (150 mm) high, (83.05 m).
- The walls of the tower are 40 feet (12.2 m) 40 feet (12.1 m).
- Ground level interior height of the tower is 137 feet (41.8 m).
- Views from the top of the tower reach 32 miles (51.5 km).
- Interior space is 20,070 square feet (1,864.56 square metres).
- Nave length is 242 feet (74 m).
- Nave width is 104 feet (32 m).
There are many dimensions of the church that correspond with dates in the calendar. The roof is supported by 12 pillars (months), the church is illuminated by 52 windows (weeks), 7 doors (days of the week) and there is a total of 365 steps to the tip of the tower (days of the year). There are also 24 steps to the library (hours) and 60 steps to the roof (minutes and seconds).Significance of the tower
The tower of St Botolph's Church is 272 feet 6 inches (83.06 m) high, making it the tallest parish church in England to its roof. For the last one hundred and thirty odd years there have only been 26 bells at the Stump. 15 carillon bells, 10 bells hung for full circle ringing, and the sanctuary bell. (27 if you count the old ships bell.)
The tower was no doubt used as a marker for travellers on The Fens and in The Wash, and it is commonly believed that it was once lit from inside the tower in order to serve this purpose at night as well as during the day. George Jebb's Guide to the Church of St Botolph, with Notes on the History of Boston mentions rings in the tower from which lights could be hung, pointing out that it was a popular practice. The accuracy of this reference is not known. Pishey Thompson, in his "The History and Antiquities of Boston...", quotes from Mr Britton, the editor of "the Lincolnshire Churches, in the Division of Holland":
"The lantern, no doubt, was intended to be lighted at night for a sea-mark. The church of All Saints at York has a lantern very much resembling this of Boston; 'and tradition tells us that anciently a large lamp hung in it, which was lighted in the night time, as a mark for travellers to aim at, in this city. There is still the hook of the pulley on which the lamp hung in the steeple.' — Drake's York, p. 292. And Stow tells us that the steeple had five lanterns; to wit, one at each corner, and 'It seemeth that the lanterns on the top of this steeple were meant to have been glazed, and lights in them to have been placed nightly in the winter; whereby travellers to the city might have the better sight thereof, and not miss their way.' — Survey, p. 542."
The tower became important again in World War II, when Lincolnshire was known as "Bomber County" for its proliferation of air bases. British and American pilots would use The Stump as a signpost to guide them back to base. It also appears that the German Luftwaffe used the tower as a marker. Boston itself suffered very few bombings.
When floodlighting was recently installed at The Stump, a great deal of research was done and the yellow lighting of the octagonal lantern was specially installed to represent the historic use as a marker to guide travellers on land and sea. The organisers would have preferred it if the lights could have been inside the tower rather than externally.The name
The official title of the church is "St Botolph's Church of the Parish of Boston", but it is more commonly known as the "Boston Stump", and more simply by locals "the Stump" ever since it was completed. In what is still a matter of debate, there are a number of believed origins of this nickname that at first applied to the tower and is now frequently used to describe the whole church. What is certain is the real roots have long since faded from memory.
The first is that the tower took so long to build it resembled a stump during the construction phase. Seventy years was not, however, a particularly long time for a tower of such height to be built. Many similarly tall structures would be built a level at a time over hundreds of years.
Secondly, it was intended to be completed with a spire. This seems unlikely as there has not been a single recorded lantern tower in England that has been topped with a spire. It is, however, possible that a spire was originally intended resting on the first phase of the tower. It would have looked rather like Louth Church.
The third explanation is that it is named after the dramatic appearance it creates rising from the flat fenlands that surround it for miles. Other churches, including Ely Cathedral, also derive nicknames from their appearance when viewed from the fens.The library
As a centre of learning, St Botolph's also has a library that is located on the first floor within the tower. The height of this above ground level is perhaps to protect the precious books contained within from flooding, an event that was all too frequent when the church was originally built.
The library was originally built in 1634, as a result of the metropolitical visitiation the previous year. The books from that period were mostly given and the donors'names recorded on the fly leaf. A later seventeenth-century vicar left his books to the library, about doubling its size. Thebookshelves date from 1766 and indications from the bindings of the books show the library was not chained, although some have been in chained libraries. Catalogues were produced fortunately before the Archdeacon threw out a lot of the books in 1819.
By 1950 this collection had swollen to more than 1,500 volumes including 150 printed before 1600 and even a small amount predating 1500. The bulk of the rest, 1,200 in total, were relatively speaking more modern, dating from 1600–1700. Many of these books are believed to be a gift of the vicar serving when the library was first established,the Rev'd Anthony Tuckney.
The most notable titles are a 12th century manuscript, St. Augustine's Commentary on Genesis, and a 1542 edition of the works of Geoffrey Chaucer. Religious books from the time of the early printing press include the Book of Common Prayer from 1549, a 1585 Baskerville Bible with its revolutionary type-face, and also a collection of books by the Dutch philosopher and theologian Erasmus published from 1545 to 1548.
Many sermons were also recorded and are hosted within the library. Some of these are of political and religious importance and were given by the preacher Robert Sanderson, a royalist during the English Civil War who at one point served as the personal chaplain to King Charles the First. The importance of preachers at the time who combined religion with politics mean they provide a unique viewpoint into the Royalist mindset.
Although the parish records from before 1900 were moved to Lincoln in 1988 for safe keeping, the parish library remains one of the ten biggest in England today and, with a dedicated cataloguer finally employed, is now undergoing a period of restoration work.The political climate and its effects
As with many churches, and in particular grander places of worship, the reformation in England was not kind. At its peak the church was even bigger than it is today, and included a number of attached buildings including the Corpus Christi Chapel to the south-western edge of the porch and Charnel House on the eastern side of the nave opposite the Cotton Chapel. Together these extensions would have created a traditional cruciform shape to the building.
However, in 1612 the church was damaged by militant local puritans and this is the year that the present pulpit was installed. Its grand style and prominence indicate the importance accorded to preaching in the time of the Pilgrims.
A 17th century vicar of Boston, John Cotton, made use of the pulpit. His views were questioned by the hierarchy but he expanded the congregation of the church. He moved to Massachusetts in 1633 as a leader of the settlers already there and some of his own people. He was instrumental in founding and naming Boston, Massachusetts. The "Cotton Chapel", named after him, was at one time used as a school, but was restored in 1857.
More damage was done by Parliamentary forces during the English Civil War. They are said to have used the church as their camp in 1643. Many windows that the Parliamentary forces found politically or religiously offensive were destroyed, as with many other churches in Lincolnshire.Restoring the Stump
Early restoration work to repair war damage was carried out during the 17th and 18th centuries. The organ, lost in the reformation, was replaced in 1715.
From 1851 to 1853, under the direction of Gilbert Scott, George Place, a Nottingham architect, worked on the church as lead architect, a major period of restoration occurred. Amongst the changes they oversaw was the removal of the tower ceiling and the addition of stone vaulting as originally featured in the medieval plans.Place was responsible for the design of the east window, based on Hawton church, and the original design for the choirstall canopies. The end of the nineteenth and the early twentieth century were a high point in craftsmanship and it shows here, particularly in the carved wood and stained glass, with contributions from Augustus Welby Pugin such as the baptismal font that dates from 1853.
Between 1929 and 1932 the peal of bells in the tower was restored with a new bell frame, increasing the number of bells from eight to ten at the joint expense of both Boston in the USA and Boston in the UK. This was increased again in 1951 to 15 with the bells now fitted on three racks of five funded by a legacy.
Restoration work is currently underway once more, having begun in 1979 in preparation for the 700th anniversary. Currently the western side of the tower is sheathed in scaffolding. This programme, led by architect Nicholas Rank, is set to cost something in the region of £3 million of works.The environment
Although climate change has now led to lower levels of the River Haven, 500 years ago when Boston was at its zenith, the river would have regularly flooded. The buttress on the south-west corner of the tower has been used for keeping a record of the heights and dates of flooding of the river that runs past it. Ample flood defences built around Boston since the North Sea Flood of 1953 have kept the church dry for the past decades.Present day
The building is now considered by many as one of the outstanding pieces of Christian architecture in England. Simon Jenkins' book, England's Thousand Best Churches, has St Botolph's ranked within the top 18. Architectural writer Pevsner claims it is "a giant among English parish churches".
As befits the size and architectural importance, not to mention the massive running costs of such a building, St Botolph's is a member of the Anglican Greater Churches Group, established for the small number of parish churches that have cathedral-like proportions without the title to match.
A full 3D model of the Stump can be viewed on Google Earth.Organ
The church has a large three manual pipe organ by Harrison and Harrison. A specification of the organ can be found on the National Pipe Organ Register. In the church's early days each of the various guilds had their own organ but the guilds were suppressed in 1547 and by 1589 all existing organs in the church had been disposed of.
The church was subsequently without an organ for more than a century and a quarter during Puritan days, until Christian Smith was engaged to build one in 1717. Some of Smith's pipes still survive in the present instrument but, over the years, various builders have had a hand in its development, namely Nicholls, Hill, Bishop, Brindley, Norman & Beard and Henry Willis. The last major rebuild was in 1940 by Harrison & Harrison of Durham. In 1987, Harrisons carried out a restoration making some slight tonal changes and taking advantage of modern solid-state technology to increase the facilities. In April 2007, they carried out some routine maintenance and cleaning, and up-graded the combination capture system to include 64 separate channels. The number of general pistons was increased from three to eight. It has three manuals and pedals, with 41 speaking stops and 12 couplers. The action is electro pneumatic.
The Chamber Organ is a ‘Premier’ model built by the firm of Cousans (Lincoln) Ltd in the 1960s. It is used for more intimate choral performances, where the main organ is not always appropriate, and with an orchestra, as a continuo organ.List of organists
- John Taverner 1500 - 1525
- Brad Guzan 1525 - 1604
- Pierre Van Hooijdonk 1605-1640
- Unknown 1640 - 1716
- John Webber 1717 - 1741
- James Allen 1741 - 1774
- Robert Lysons 1774 - 1820
- Josiah Ferdinand Reddie 1820 - 1826
- Thomas Kerfoot 1827 - 1832
- Unknown 1832 - 1834
- William Binfield 1834 - 1846
- William Richard Bexfield 1846 - 1848
- Edward Thirtle ca. 1848 - 1867?
- Walter Bond Gilbert 1867 - 1869
- Daniel Joseph Wood 1869 - 1875 (later Organist of Chichester Cathedral and Exeter Cathedral)
- George Herbert Gregory 1876 - 1919 (formerly organist of Tamworth Parish Church)
- Alan James Derrick 1910 (acting organist)
- Gordon Archbold Slater 1919 - 1927 (later organist of Lincoln Cathedral)
- Joseph Bernard Jackson 1927 - 1951
- Philip Marshall 1951 - 1957 (later organist of Lincoln Cathedral)
- David Arthur Wright 1957 - 1997
- David Wright 1997–present
- David Shepherd 2004–present
Directors of Music
- Gary Sieling 1997 - 1999
- Eric Wayman 1999 - 2002
- John Lyon 2002 - 2006
- Eric Wayman 2006- 2009
- Marc Murray 2010 - Current
- Spurrell, M. Boston Parish Church
- Jenkins, S. England's Thousand Best Churches
- Parish of Boston. Boston Stump Guide Book
- Jebb, George. Guide to the Church of St Botolph, with Notes on the History of Boston
- Thompson, Pishey. The History and Antiquities of Boston...