Boston, but not in Massachusetts

THE NAME BOSTON is often associated with a revolutionary tea party in a former British possession. Some might also associate it with a town in Lincolnshire. And Londoners might connect it with a tube station on the Piccadilly Line of the London Underground. The station, which is a stop on the line to Heathrow Airport is Boston Manor, a place which I first visited in April of this year (2021).

In the case of Boston Manor, the name Boston is derived from an older name ‘Bordeston’, which comes from the word ‘borde’, meaning ‘boundary’. Another etymology of the name, which is unrelated to that of the Boston in Lincolnshire, is that it derives from the name of a Saxon farmer named ‘Bord’. Whatever the origin of the name, Boston Manor, the house and its lovely gardens, stand on the border between Hanwell and Brentford.

Until the Priory of St Helens in Bishopsgate was suppressed in 1538 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Helen%27s_Church,_Bishopsgate), the Manor of Bordeston was owned by it. King Edward VI granted it to Edward, Duke of Somerset (1500-1552), Lord Protector of England during the earlier part of Edward VI’s reign, and later it reverted to the Crown. In 1552, Queen Elizabeth I gave the manor to the Earl of Leicester, who immediately sold it to the merchant and financier Sir Thomas Gresham (c1519-1579). After several changes of ownership, the property was sold in 1670 to the City merchant James Clitherow (1618-1681; www.bhsproject.co.uk/families_clitherow.shtml). James demolished the existing manor house. He modified and enlarged Boston House, originally built by Lady Reade in 1622 in the Jacobean style. This house with three gables still stands but is closed as it is undergoing extensive repairs. It looks out onto grounds planted with fine trees, many of them cedars of Lebanon. The grounds that include a small lake slope down towards the River Brent.  The house and grounds, Boston Manor Park, remained in the possession on of the Clitherow family until 1923, when Colonel John Bourchier Stracey-Clitherow (1853-1931) sold the house and what was left of the estate (after some of it had been sold to property developers) to the then local authority, Brentford Urban District Council. During his military career, this gentleman was taken prisoner during the ill-fated Jameson Raid in South Africa, a prelude to the Second Anglo-Boer War.

Before the Clitherows began selling off their land at Boston manor, there was a house in the grounds called ‘Little Boston’. It stood until the early 1920s when it was sold to a developer named Jackman, who demolished it to build houses now standing on Windmill Road (https://littleealinghistory.org.uk/node/6). John Quincy Adams (1767-1848), who became the sixth president of the USA in 1825, resided in Little Boston house between 1815 and 1817 whilst he was American minister to Britain during that period. Adams was born in Massachusetts. So, it seems fitting that he lived in a house and an estate both bearing the name of an important city in that American state.

On our way to see our friend who took us to see Boston Manor House and Park, we drove along a road named in memory of the Clitherow family. Sadly, what with the building works and covid19 restrictions, we were unable to view the fine interior of Boston Manor House. However, the garden and its lake, where we spotted its resident tortoise sunning itself on a log, proved to be a lovely surprise, well worth visiting … and you need not cross the Atlantic to get there from London.

New York! New York!

IN THE SUMMER OF 1992, I began planning a trip to the USA. It was going to be the first trip that I had made to that country since 1963, when our family lived in Chicago for the last three months of that year. While we were in Chicago, President JF Kennedy was assassinated. Most of my 1992 trip was to stay with friends who lived in Manhattan. I was also going to stay in Boston with some other friends. When my cousin Anthea heard that I was going to be in New England, she suggested that I looked up some cousins of my father, who lived in Providence, Rhode Island.

NY 1 Near 42nd Street_ (2) BLOG SIZE

I was keen not to waste a moment in Manhattan. So, unusually for me, I spent many hours of my spare time at home reading numerous guidebooks to New York. Each of these detailed tomes contained a section on keeping safe in New York. Each one of these explained what to do WHEN you get mugged rather than IF you get mugged. It seemed to me that getting mugged in New York was an inevitable experience for tourists in the city. The more I read, the more anxious I became. As the date of departure drew closer, my inclination to cancel my trip increased steadily. However, my desire to visit New York was greater than my fear of the dangers described in my guidebooks. I decided that should I get mugged, as seemed inevitable, I did not want all my money to be taken. I wanted to be left with some so that I could make my way back to where I was staying after the robbery had taken place. I decided that a safe place to hide my ‘emergency’ cash would be inside my sock beneath the sole of a foot. This is what I did every day in Manhattan, but, fortunately, the guidebooks were not entirely accurate: I was not mugged.

Plenty of beggars tried to entice me to put money into the paper cups they held out hopefully. Once, I succumbed and threw a coin into one of these cups, and its owner shouted:

“Is that all? I was hoping for a hundred Dollars,” adding a few seconds later, “well, it’s a start.”

I loved Manhattan. I loved the quick wittedness of almost everyone I met. I felt as if I was taking part in a Woody Allen comedy, but the things said by New Yorkers were often far cleverer and funnier than any of Woody’s lines.

One purchase I wanted to make in New York was a padded winter jacket. When I entered one shop, I explained what I wanted. When I told the salesman that I wanted both outside and inside pockets, he exclaimed:

“Hey, what are ya? Some kind of secret agent?”

He sold me a superb jacket, which I used until a couple of years ago.

My father had told me to look up one of his first cousins, who lived in Manhattan. She lived high up in an apartment on Fifth Avenue. Its windows overlooked The Metropolitan Museum and Central Park. After dinner, I announced that I would walk the few blocks to where I was staying. She was dead against this and insisted I went by taxi. As she and her husband were seeing me off, she said:

“Press the elevator button marked ‘taxi’.”

I boarded the lift, found the button, and pressed it. The lift descended and when the doors opened on the ground floor, I could see a taxi waiting just outside the doors to the apartment block. I was amazed. I had never encountered such a thing before. I felt like a country bumpkin marvelling over the wonders of the big city. This button that summoned taxis seemed to me an example of what made ‘America great’.

It was fun visiting my friends in Boston back in 1992. However, after the excitement and uniqueness of Manhattan, I was not as trilled by the city as many other visitors are.

I took a train from Boston to Providence. It was the time of the famous ‘Fall’ colours. The journey afforded me with a great opportunity to view the outstanding display of autumn leaf colours, which far exceeded my expectations. I had no idea about what sort of time I would be spending with my newly discovered cousins in Providence. My main worry was that they would not take me sightseeing. So, I told them that I would be arriving on a train that reached Providence in the late afternoon but boarded one which arrived in the middle of the day. That allowed me a few hours to look around before I met them.

After spending a few hours on my own in Providence, I returned to the station platform, and then walked up the stairs to the waiting area where I had planned to meet my relatives. I had no idea what any of them looked like. They had no idea about my appearance. I entered the waiting area and found that a lot of people were seated there. I scanned the faces and spotted an elderly lady sitting with two young boys. I fancied that the face of one of these looked like I did when I was only a few years old. Then, I thought that I was being silly, but I was right. I approached the elderly lady, the grandmother of the two boys and introduced myself. Greta, widow of one of my father’s cousins, said she had noticed me and thought that I had a family resemblance to her late husband. She drove us to her daughter’s home in a large American saloon car, swinging the steering wheel with gusto whenever a change of direction was required. My cousin’s family did take me sightseeing. I particularly remember the roads in an Italian neighbourhood. The median road markings were in the three colours of the Italian flag.

I enjoyed my trip to the USA in 1992. My next visit to Manhattan was in 2007. Things had changed a lot since 1992. The city seemed to have lost its edgy, almost electric feel. Gone were the men on the pavements with their paper cups and witty comments. Also missing, were the endless stream of dubious characters walking, often menacingly, along the corridors of the Subway trains. Although Manhattan had probably become a safer place for its inhabitants, I felt that it had become almost twee in comparison to what I had found so exciting in 1992.

Sadly, now in April 2020 as I write this piece, New York City is facing one of its greatest, if not greatest, crises: a viral epidemic that is trying to outdo the Spanish Flu that occurred at the end of WW1. May it return to normal as soon as possible.