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Boston Big Dig

Initiated and run by

The Boston Big Dig was initiated by Lincolnshire County Council, and run by Lincolnshire County Council and Heritage Trust Lincolnshire, in partnership with Boston Borough Council. The excavation and activities were run by Network Archaeology Ltd.

Funding sources

  • Your Heritage, Heritage Lottery Fund - £43,000
  • Economic Regeneration and Historic Environment Team, Lincolnshire County Council - £25,000


  • To give all members of the local community in Boston the opportunity to learn more about the history of their nationally important medieval town and port. Whilst including all community members in this, Eastern European groups and young people were specifically targeted.
  • To preserve by record for future generations the remains discovered during the archaeological excavation, and to disseminate that information by various means.
  • To directly involve local people in learning about, interpreting and celebrating their heritage (whatever, or from wherever, that heritage happens to be) through a wide range of activities. Volunteers will be encouraged to develop and implement ideas for this interpretation.

Work done and results

Boston Big Dig excavation

Lincolnshire County Council is leading a £2m refurbishment of Boston Market Place, and it was felt that this was a rare opportunity in archaeologically investigate the Market Place.

Four trenches were excavated targeting structures know to have existed on a map of 1741. 100 local volunteers (aged from eight to eighty), mostly with no archaeological experience, were recruited to help with the excavation. As this was a live construction site this presented some interesting Health and Safety considerations, but in the end everything went smoothly.

It was anticipated that remains of the structures indicated on the eighteenth century map would be encountered. In the end this was only true of one the trenches. It seems that these remains in three of the trenches had been completely removed due to later resurfacing and remodelling of the Market Place. In these three trenches late Medieval market layers were encountered, where organic preservation was excellent. There were numerous leather finds, including shoes and scabbards, and a wooden patten and nit comb were also recovered.

The ‘Big Dig’ maintained a website with pictures streamed live from the trenches via a web cam. Social networking sites Facebook and Flickr were updated with text and pictures as discoveries were made. The excavation staff also produced a daily blog on Twitter.

Interaction between the excavators and the public was encouraged and staff members were always on hand to offer information. Visitors to the trenches numbered in the hundreds each day, as the project quickly caught the imagination of the local community, helped by three public open days a week. Medieval and Tudor re-enactors, musicians, children’s activities, school visits and guided historical walks were all included in the open days. Finds from the excavations were washed and sorted on site by anyone who wanted to volunteer, in marquees erected in the lovely setting of the old churchyard of St Botolph’s Church, famous for its iconic tower, the Boston ‘Stump’.

It is hoped that the most interesting finds will be retuned to the Guildhall in Boston for permanent display.

Boston Big Dig find

There are now three groups of volunteers working on interpretation of the work and what was found: there are to be two interpretation panels in the Market Place, a leaflet, and a portable display for St Botolph’s Church.

Schools have been invited to take part in the project by coming along to music workshops, where, with the support of a local folk musician, they will write their own traditional-style songs.

There is to be a Celebration Day on 20th May 2012 where the songs written by local school children will be performed by the folk musician. There will be a Medieval market and re-enactors.

The project has been really well received in Boston, and has won the Boston Business Award for Best Contribution to Boston 2011.

Lessons learned from the project

Anyone who runs a project like this one should be prepared to be flexible and adaptable, as the project is certain to change as it develops.

It is advisable to allow as much contingency as possible.

Further information

Boston Big Dig logos

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