A brief history of Fydell House

In 1935, the fate of Fydell House in South Street was in the balance. A Birmingham consortium were planning to demolish it in favour of a housing development. The loss of the ‘grandest house in town’ so alarmed the Vicar of Boston, Canon A.M. Cook and other concerned activists, that they launched an appeal to buy it. The outcome not only resulted in the house being saved, but in the creation of the Boston Preservation Trust, a limited company, whose aim to save other historic buildings in the town and bring them back into meaningful use continues to this day.

From research into the house’s origins by A.A. Garner, it has been established that it was probably built around 1700 for the Jackson family, who had bought the land behind the site of the house for £20 from Boston Corporation.  This land had been owned by the Corporation since 1554 and had been horticultural land attached to St Mary’s Guildhall.   

The Jacksons were Mercers: dealers in textiles, silks, velvets and other expensive cloths. Prominent in Boston, one of the family, Edmund, had been mayor of Boston in 1668 and 1678 but the decline of the cloth trade eventually led to the house being sold. The House then passed to Joseph Fydell.   The ownership of such a fine house immediately raised his social standing although ultimately it proved to be an expensive investment.

Fydell House was thus given its name by Joseph Fydell (1687-1731),  a merchant who could trace his associations with Boston back to William Fydell, an apprentice to Alderman Thomas Marcall back in 1676. Joseph began to establish himself as one of Boston’s more successful merchants around 1717 when he added to his warehouses a yard in Spain Lane. In 1726.  when the house owned by Samuel Jackson became available, Joseph quickly made the purchase, and in work carried out following his acquisition had the date and his initials embossed on the lead work. The Fydells were granted a coat of arms in the same year.  This used a pun on the surname “Esto Fidelis usque ad finem” (always be faithful and just).

Joseph Fydell only survived until 1731 and was buried at Freiston.  He never married.  Financial troubles had caught up with him and his executor John Browne had to pay off debts, probably with money from Robert Fydell, to whom with his son Richard the property was transferred in 1733.

The House then passed on through several generations, including Robert who almost lost it when he was declared bankrupt in 1738 and his son Richard, a wine merchant (1710-1780), who served as Boston’s MP and three times mayor of Boston from 1734-54. He was educated at Charterhouse and Trinity College Cambridge.  After Richard died, his widow Elizabeth (nee Hall), to whom he was married in 1740,   lived on in the house until 1783, after which the eldest son, Thomas (1740-1812), was increasingly in residence though he also had many other interests in Chepstow and Gloucestershire.  

His businesses expanded to include banking, property and livestock. Gysor’s hall, opposite Fydell House, was leased first by Richard Fydell and later bought from the corporation by his son Thomas for wine storage etc.  Eventually Thomas demolished and rebuilt Gysor’s Hall re-using some of the stone which can still be seen.  Richard also owned nearby various stables, granary, outhouses, counting-house, vaults, a scalding yard and coopery.

At about the time of Joseph’s acquisition in 1726, the garden was walled along the Beadsman’s lane boundary.  This lane, which runs between Fydell House and the Guildhall, has at different times been called Townshall or Beadman’s Lane and Guildhall Lane.   

To the rear, part of the garden and pasture were once owned by the Greyfriars Monastery, extending to the Maud Foster drain and including a ropewalk and fishponds.

It was here that plain Mr Joseph Banks visited Richard Fydell when they were involved in the Witham drainage scheme and with the plans for the Grand Sluice, and the proposals for the fen enclosure.  When Sir Joseph later became recorder of Boston in 1809, Thomas Junior, son of Thomas senior became his deputy.

Fydell House remained the family home until 1816 when it was leased to tenants. These included Henry Rogers, a solicitor and Lord of the Manor of Freiston and Butterwick.  In 1831 a mob broke some windows in Fydell house while rioting over the Reform Act.  Francis Yeatman was a wine merchant  whose skill as a gardener meant that the garden at the rear of the house was acclaimed to be ’the finest garden in the borough’.  He lived in the house from 1844-66.  His widow, Caroline continued as a tenant from 1866-75 with 8 children and 5 servants.

She was followed by Mrs Jane Collins, widow of the vicar of Freiston, from 1875-85.   Then Samuel Waddington from 1890-1905.  He was a trader, president of the Liberal Club, Alderman and Mayor.   Tom Kitwood followed from 1906-23, then Fred Miller, Customs Officer and artist who lived there from 1926-35.

Since its purchase from the Fydell-Rowley family in 1935 for £1600 by the Boston Preservation Trust, Fydell house has served a number of uses, including being the base for the WVS during WW2.  Stencilled messages for bomb raid assembly in the cellars can still be found today.  The roof and second floor were extensively damaged by a fire bomb in April 1941, but no-one was hurt.  Miss Phoebe Rennell was the resident caretaker at that time.

Fydell House has also helped strengthen Boston’s connection with the United States on a number of occasions, most notably with US ambassador Joseph Kennedy, father of President JF Kennedy, whose visit to Boston in 1938 included Fydell House where he dedicated the American Room.

From 1946 to 2003, the House and some of the buildings in Spain Court were occupied as an outpost of Nottingham University providing adult education alongside the Workers’ Education Association.  The residential flat on the second floor was, throughout this period, occupied by successive Wardens of Pilgrim College, as it was known.

Close to Fydell House are smaller noteworthy grade 2 listed buildings which provide income for the Trust.   The membership, volunteers and trustees have recently set themselves afresh to providing a well maintained, beautiful and relevant building which can be used as a community asset and as a place for lectures and events or for interest groups to meet.  A place where Boston’s history can be displayed and explained.  And with a tranquil walled garden of outstanding merit which can be shared with others as a place for enjoyment and celebrations.

Sir Nikolas Pevsner commented that “few buildings in the area show the ‘swagger’ of Fydell House in Boston”

(many details from Brenda Lane and others)