BOSTON BOOK LAUNCH

The entire history of Boston, Lincolnshire – from salt-making during the Roman occupation to the current flood barrier construction – is laid out in a new book that I was fortunate enough to participate in.

BOSTON – THE SMALL TOWN WITH A BIG STORY, is now available online from the Shodfriars Hall website or in Boston, Lincolnshire at Shodfriars’ Cafe, Blackfriars Arts Centre, Boston Guildhall or Fydell House.

The book is the brainchild of Boston Borough Councillor, Richard Austin, who felt there had never been a book published which dealt with the entirety of the town’s history. As a result, Richard assembled a team of writers to tackle 55 topics covering almost 2,000 years of history up to the modern-day.

Richard Austin

“I didn’t want it to be an academic tome, but a book which anyone could access, dip in and out of and learn more about Boston beyond what is readily known. Boston has a rich heritage, but only a small bit is understood by the majority of people. This book is an easy read, with plenty of illustrations and it’s my hope that it will whet the appetite for people to want to find out more.”

The book was launched at a full-day sell-out conference – An Untold Story: From the Stump to the Statue – at Boston’s Blackfriars Arts Centre on Saturday.

Saturday’s conference was chaired by TV historian Jonathan Foyle, who has appeared on Time Team, Meet the Ancestors and Climbing Great Buildings.

The American guest speaker, Barry Cotton, explained the untold story of how ten men from Boston, Lincolnshire, in 1630 were central figures in the founding of Boston, Massachusetts, and the USA. Eve LaPlante, from the Partnership of the Historic Bostons in America, then eloquently explained how Anne Hutchinson, from Alford, at the same time, laid the foundations of women’s rights at the beginnings of the United States of America. These Lincolnshire men and women helped establish the USA we know today. 

Contributors to the book

Local historian Neil Wright described the situation in Boston in 1630 that encouraged the large emigration to America from Lincolnshire at that time.

The day was supported by the Boston Heritage Forum to highlight the “rich and diverse” history of the Borough of Boston and the Forum wants it to be used to promote the area as a good place to live, work and visit.

Once again, the book is now available online from the Shodfriars Hall website or in Boston, Lincolnshire at Shodfriars’ Cafe, Blackfriars Arts Centre, Boston Guildhall or Fydell House. 

AN UNTOLD STORY

From the Stump to the Statue

reported by Neil Wright on September 9th 2019

A symposium was held in Boston, Lincolnshire at the Blackfriars Theatre and Arts Centre on Saturday, September 7th to address the role of Boston (Lincs) in the foundation of the USA, and in particular the role of people from Boston, and elsewhere in Lincolnshire, in the founding of Boston (Mass) and the colony of Massachusetts Bay in New England in the 1630s.   The inspiration for the symposium and much of the organisation of the event was by Richard Austin, BEM, a former Mayor of Boston (Lincs), who was assisted by many other people.

The Symposium Chairman was Dr. Jonathan Foyle, an author of seven books on historic architecture, presenter of several series on BBC television, and a former Chief Executive of the British office of the World Monuments Fund.

There were three speakers, of whom two came from the USA.

Barry Arthur Cotton is the 7th great-grandson of the Rev. John Cotton, the Puritan Patriarch of New England.   Barry has served as National Chairman and President of the Winthrop Society is a Trustee of the Partnership of the Historic Bostons and has authored articles for the Winthrop Journal and the Mayflower Quarterly.

Eve LaPlante is a direct descendant of Anne Hutchinson and John Cotton with degrees from Princeton and Harvard.   She has published articles, essays, and five non-fiction books, including American Jezebel, the story of the colonial heretic and founding mother Anne Hutchinson.   LaPlante’s second ancestor biography, Salem Witch Judge, won the 2008 Massachusetts Book Award for Nonfiction.

Neil Richard Wright has been researching and writing books and articles on the history of Boston (Lincs) since the 1960s.   He has published 17 books, many about the history of Boston, and over 50 articles.   He is a past Chairman of the Society for Lincolnshire History and Archaeology and a Trustee of the Partnership of the Historic Bostons.   He has visited Boston (Mass) several times in recent years and has given talks at some Charter Day events (which mark the foundation of Boston (Mass) in 1630).

The Symposium was a sell-out success with all 224 seats in the theatre being taken.   The theatre was built in the 1960s and the front of house facilities are located in the remains of part of the Dominican Friary which was built in the 13th century, hence the name of the theatre.   Blackfriars went through a difficult patch about ten years ago but is now flourishing.

The Symposium began about 10 am with a welcome and introduction by Jonathan Foyle.

The first contribution was an illustrated presentation by Neil Wright, describing the natural, architectural and cultural environment of Boston (Lincs) in the 1630s and comparing and contrasting that with the situation in Massachusetts when the immigrants from England arrived there.   In referring to the Puritan culture of old Boston at that time he described how that had arisen, and referred to some of the people involved in both Bostons.

Barry Cotton then spoke on “Leading Men of the two Puritan Bostons”, describing their role in the companies created to facilitate immigration to the New World, and the involvement of other prominent figures including the Earls of Warwick and Lincoln, the Dowager Countess of Lincoln, John Winthrop, and Ferdinando Gorges.   He indicated the origins of some of the 166 people who went from the wider Boston area to New England in the Great Migration of the 1630s and ‘40s, and showed the dominance that the men from old Boston had in the new Boston for the first 60 or so years.   Barry enjoys sharing his information and I hope much will appear in his forthcoming books on John Cotton and the Boston Men.

Before the lunch break, Jonathan Foyle officially launched a new book on the history of Boston (Lincs), entitled “Boston – The small town with a big story”.   It contains fifty-five contributions from numerous authors, including Eve LaPlante, Barry Cotton, and Neil Wright, dealing with aspects of Boston’s history from 1066 to the 21st century.   It is well illustrated with many pictures of Boston past and present.   The numerous authors appeared on stage for a group photograph and many signed copies of the books that were for sale during the day.

The lunch arrangements ran very smoothly.   The attendees went from the theatre through the garden of Fydell House (1726) into the side entrance of the Guildhall (c.1390) where they each picked up a box filled with selected delicious items, and could also get a drink.   They then demonstrated their ingenuity in finding places to sit and eat their lunch in the garden or the Guildhall.   We were very lucky to have good weather, sunny and not too cold.

After lunch, everyone returned to the theatre for the final talk, an inspiring address by Eve LaPlante on her ancestor Anne Hutchinson.   Hutchinson came from Alford in Lincolnshire, and many times made the long journey on horseback with some of her family to hear John Cotton preach in Boston (Lincs).   She then followed him to America and her knowledge and ability as a midwife made her a respected member of society.   Hutchinson’s ability to interpret the sermons she heard and to discuss them with the women of the new colony, and later with many men, made her a controversial figure, a heretic, and she was eventually driven out of Massachusetts.   She then co-founded the colony of Rhode Island which adopted a more tolerant approach to freedom of religion, as later reflected in the US Constitution’s Bill of Rights.

Jonathan Foyle questions Neil Wright, Barry Cotton & Eve LaPlante

There then followed a Question Time session, chaired by Jonathan Foyle, when the three speakers responded to questions from the audience.   The first question was, “how should Boston prepare to commemorate the migration of 1630 in 2030?”   Several ideas were suggested, including some from the audience.   It is not too soon to start to prepare for that event, and perhaps a few people with a particular interest could take a lead in preparing for it in the original Boston.   The creation of a Heritage Centre, and perhaps a genealogy centre, were possibilities.   It would be necessary to try to make young people aware of this important period in the history of both Bostons’.   Young people are concerned about global warming and the environment, so they might respond to the matter of how settlers reacted to the new environment they encountered in the New World.

The Symposium finished at  3pm, and attendees then had the chance to join one of three tours.   One group went to visit the original building of Boston Grammar School (1567), which inspired John Cotton to found the Boston Latin School (which still flourishes) in the new Boston in the 1630s.   A small group went to look at Shodfriars, a 15th-century half-timbered building with an 1877 addition, which it is hoped will be restored in the near future and made available for public use, such as, perhaps, a visitor centre or cultural centre.   The third option was a guided tour of historic sites within Boston.

The Symposium and the new book are both intended to make old Boston’s history better known, and thereby to attract more tourists to the area.   They should also help to inspire people to start to prepare for the events in 2030 to commemorate the foundation of the new Boston.  It had been commented that the information on display at Tattershall Castle, run by the National Trust, suggested that nothing important had happened there in the 17th century.   As that was the home of the Earl of Lincoln, who was actively involved and whose sister Arbella gave her name to the flagship of the Winthrop fleet, we need to try to persuade the National Trust that it needs to remedy that omission in its literature and to prepare for the Castle to become involved in the 2030 celebrations.

Representatives of the Boston Borough Council and the Board of Blackfriars

On the evening of 7th September, a Symposium dinner was held at the Boston and County Club, located just off Wide Bargate.   About one hundred people attended, including His Worship Councillor Anton Dani, Mayor of Boston, and Councillor Tony Bridges, Chairman of Lincolnshire County Council.   An excellent meal was served, and many toasts were made and drunk before Jonathan Foyle gave an excellent impromptu after-dinner talk.   Neil Wright attended as his alter ego, Sandra Lezinsky, in a strappy, glittery, yellow full-length dress, and had conversations with many people who said how excellent the whole day had been.   I hope that this enthusiasm will lead to attendees spreading the word of the umbilical connection between the two Bostons, and help to prepare for 2030.

DISCOVERING W.S. MERWIN

A young W.S. Merwin
(Credit: Estate of W.S. Merwin)

I met W.S. Merwin forty-three years ago at the Koko-an Zen Center in lower Manoa on the island of Oahu. Other than his beautiful Hawaiian girlfriend, there was nothing that really distinguished him from others at Koko-an. Back then, I didn’t even know his name. We didn’t talk much. We both were there to practice Zen. We often sat in silent meditation for long periods. During week-long retreats, we worked silently together cleaning the grounds, chopping fruit or washing pots and pans. One evening, we went to a free movie at the University of Hawaii. Even then, we spoke little.

At the time, I had no idea I was in the presence of a Pulitzer Prize winning poet.

Thirty-three years later I discovered W.S. Merwin.

In 2009, his photo appeared in a magazine announcing that, for a second time, he had been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Turning to Google, I learned that Merwin met Dana Naone in 1975 while on a reading tour in Hawaii. Later that year, Merwin and Naone went to study Buddhism at the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado where Alan Ginsberg ran the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. An incident involving the two at Naropa was featured in a 1995 New York Times article by Dinitia Smith titled A Poet of Their Own. The article is excerpted below.

W.S. Merwin and Dana Naone

“Naropa was presided over by a Tibetan guru, Chogyam Trungpa, a tireless drunk and womanizer. At a Halloween party, while Ginsberg was away, Trungpa ordered everyone to undress. Merwin and Naone refused. Trungpa’s bodyguards tried to batter down the door to their room. “I was not going to go peacefully,” Merwin recalls. “I started hitting people with beer bottles. It was a very violent scene.” Trungpa’s bodyguards stripped them, and the two figures cowered together before the guru like a chastened Adam and Eve.

“The incident came to be mythologized as “The Great Naropa Poetry Wars.” Naropa became an epitaph for an era, a paradigm of the difference between two kinds of poetry — between Ginsberg’s passionate, declamatory style and Merwin’s restrained, Western formalism.

“After Naropa, Merwin moved to Hawaii for good. He built his house with an inheritance from his mother. Later, he bought additional land with money left to him by George Kirstein, former publisher of The Nation. Eventually, he broke up with Dana Naone.

“Despite what happened at Naropa, Merwin is still a Buddhist. He likes to quote the 13th-century Buddhist teacher Dogen, a contemporary of Dante’s: ” ‘You must let the body and mind fall away.’ ” In his house, Merwin has a zazen (meditation) room, a sparse place with four pillows, where he meditates — 45 minutes before breakfast, and again before dinner.”

In Buddhism, periodic rites are observed after a person dies; one occurs on the 49th day. In homage, I note that today marks the 49th day since W.S. Merwin passed away in his sleep at the age of 91 at home on the island of Maui.

Living with the news by W.S. Merwin

Can I get used to it day after day
a little at a time while the tide keeps
coming in faster the waves get bigger
building on each other breaking records
this is not the world that I remember
then comes the day when I open the box

that I remember packing with such care
and there is the face that I had known well
in little pieces staring up at me
it is not mentioned on the front pages
but somewhere far back near the real estate
among the things that happen every day
to someone who now happens to be me
and what can I do and who can tell me
then there is what the doctor comes to say
endless patience will never be enough
the only hope is to be the daylight

published in The New Yorker, July 20, 2014

The Buddha said:

Life is a journey.
Death is a return to earth.
The universe is like an inn.
The passing years are like dust.

Regard this phantom world
As a star at dawn, a bubble in a stream,
A flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
A flickering lamp – a phantom – and a dream.

INTIMACY & PEACE

Yamada-koun Roshi

I first practiced Zen meditation in 1973 when I returned to Japan for university. Over the next four years, I practiced at the Jesuit Zen Retreat founded by Father Enomiya Lasalle. Later, I was introduced to the Japanese Zen Master that Father Lasalle studied under, Yamada-Koun Roshi. Yamada Roshi had a number of westerners practicing at the zen center attached to his house in Kamakura and there were many Protestant and Catholic priests and nuns that studied there.

During an open Question and Answer Session, I recall that an Anglican Priest asked Yamada Roshi, “In short, what is Zen?” Yamada Roshi replied, “It is becoming intimate with something.” The point was then made that in the West, the focus is on “the something“- that is naming it- God, Jehovah or Allah. Whereas in the East, the focus is on “becoming intimate“.

Having practiced Zen now for over 45 years, I have to say that I have never found a feeling of peace as profound as that of having a baby sleep on my chest. It was not until I became a grandfather in 2014 that I discovered this. The peace I found when my grandson, Max, slept on my chest was born out by physical measurement. I wear a device on my wrist that monitors my heart beat and tracks sleep at night. Not long after I began helping take care of Max during the work week, I noticed that my sleep monitor was showing me sleeping during the day. What was happening was that while Max slept on my chest, my respiration and heartbeat slowed down and blood pressure fell to the point where my sleep monitor thought that I was sleeping.

I am sure that this is nothing new to you mothers out there. But to a man in his 70s, it came as a blessing.