A prevailing story regarding Boston Castle is that it was ‘erected in 1775 by the Earl of Effingham to celebrate the Boston Tea Party’ but was Boston Castle built with this intention? As is often the case, the facts tell a different story.
William Mason (1725–97), Rector from 1754 of Aston seven miles south of Rotherham, was one of Horace Walpole’s intimate circle, and frequent correspondent. One of his letters, written in the summer of 1775, implies that the building was started before the calamitous event of 16 December 1773 at Boston:
A room which he built about two years ago on a fine brow of a hill between this place [Aston] and Rotherham, which commands much the best prospect in this country. He christened it Boston Castle because no tea was ever to be drank in it. The statute is religiously observed.
Somewhat remarkably, virtually all the bills for the building of Boston Castle have survived. The work of ‘Ridding Leveling Digging foundation’ actually started on 2 December 1773 – some 2 weeks before the infamous ‘Boston Tea Party’ incident. But even before this began, the Earl was planning some type of celebration, for the bills show the expense of ‘a frame makeing to fix a Cannon upon’, ’17 Rokit sticks at 2d each’, ‘a standard for the soldiers’, and ‘a Board with Letters on for the fire Works’. Possibly this festivity was for the forthcoming building, but I am more inclined to think that it was related to his military activities, and why 17 rockets?
Whilst the unrest in the colonies had been going on for some time, and which to some may have augured worse was to come, news of the ‘Boston Tea Party’ had to travel across the Atlantic, and it didn’t reach the public until the story appeared in the London papers of 21 January 1774:
The letters brought by the New York mail, which arrived yesterday, contain very interesting news respecting the conduct of the Americans, about the teas sent by the East-India Company. The accounts mention Gov. Hutchinson’s having issued a proclamation forbidding the assembly of the people, which had been treated with great contempt; that a watch of 24 to 30 men had been appointed by the people, who did duty night and day; and the Boston Evening Post, of December 20, mentions, that there had been several meetings of the people of Boston, and that previous to the dissolution of the last, a number of persons supposed to be the Aboriginal Natives from their complexions, approaching near the door of the Assembly, gave the war-whoop, which was answered by a few in the galleries of the house where the Assembly was convened; silence was commanded and a prudent and peaceable deportment again enjoined. The savages repaired to the ships which entertained the pestilential teas, and had begun their ravage previous to the dissolution of the meeting—they applied themselves to the destruction of this commodity in earnest, and in the space of about two hours broke up 342 chests, and discharged their contents into the sea. A watch was stationed to prevent embezzlement, and not a single ounce of tea was suffered to be purloined by the populace.
For the first half of 1774, the majority of the relevant aforementioned bills refer to Boston Castle as ‘the House upon the Common’, or ‘the new Building on Rotherham Common’, and which was for the most part complete by that summer.
The earliest definitive use of ‘Boston Castle’ as the permanent name of the building is on a receipt dated 29 July 1774, clearly displaying the Earl’s sentiments towards the situation in America. So what was the building’s original purpose? Ebenezer Rhodes, in his book of 1826, was ‘old enough to remember the time when it was built’, and that the Castle’s real function was that of a ‘shooting-box’. But to provide a constant and further reminder of the Boston event, the Earl went one better:
When it was first erected, many pleasant parties partook of the hospitality of the noble owner. They were plenteously regaled with wine and punch; but tea, the obnoxious beverage tea! Was anathematized and forbidden; even ladies were not permitted to taste it, and, during the residence of the Earl of Effingham at Holmes’ Hall, Boston Castle was never defiled by its introduction.
Such bibulous entertainments, but ne’er a cup a tea!
Whilst it is not practical to go through each and every bill in detail, it is possible to follow the building’s construction, and generate a picture of the work going on. The following are select entries.
On 23 February, the pudlocks [putlocks, or putlogs] were cut for rafters or beams, and on the 7th of the following month, the scaffold poles were set up. The entry for ‘sawing the Lathe for the Slater’ indicates that there was some form of roof on the building at one time, with access via a ‘Door at the top of the Roof’ by a ‘Step Ladder’, presumably one of the ‘2 Step Ladders with Hand Rails’ that cost 7s. The fitting of ‘Snecks’ and locks to the doors in the middle of June secured the building.
Building of the outer walls must have been essentially complete in May, for although the building retains its castellated, 4 pinnacles made a brief appearance, which clearly didn’t meet with the Earl’s favour, and were taken down on 7 July. Three days later there is a bill for pipes and 1lb of tobacco being sent to Boston Castle, one would imagine as a gesture from the Earl to the workmen. By this time the building had been painted – 3 times over – in ‘Oak & Stone Colours’. The fact that two principal bills carry the same date of 29 June 1774, suggests that [Thomas] John Foljambe, Effingham’s agent, probably requested a breakdown of ‘final’ expenses. One of these provides further details of the building’s interior, work undertaken by John and James Bagshaw:
The other bill is that of John Ashley. As well providing occasional labour, he was clearly the site carpenter, and supplied the flooring, ceiling joists, boarding, doors and door cases, sashes and window shutters, ‘1 light window’ (presumably some type of skylight), plinths, wainscoting, lintels, ‘arcatrives’, ‘ovalos’, and:
Account books of the time tended to give cursory summaries and totals: with the actual bills, each item of work is meticulously detailed, although occasionally miscalculated.
At the beginning of July (2nd), Robert Hunt supplied ‘a Rainge for the great Room at Comon’. Work for the rest of that year, and the first half of 1775 focused on making window shutters, repairs at the Castle (so soon!) ‘Repairing the walls Round the quarrel hills At Boston Castle’ and erecting ‘fence walls’. The final bill of note was for ‘a Sett of Fire Irons’ (15 December 1775, from Samuel Walker for 4s). The building cost at least £200 (excluding bricks), although it not possible to give an exact figure as various bills which may well be for work on Boston Castle simply aren’t annotated as such.
So Boston Castle was not built to commemorate the ‘Tea Party’ of 16 December 1773, nor was it built following the Earl’s resignation in 1775; it simply acquired the name (in 1774) during the course of its completion.