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East Midlands Lincoln - Part 1 Some history and the Lower Town

Lincoln is an important regional centre which is popular with locals but has yet to be discovered by the tourists. It is dominated by the cathedral, set on top of the hill, which is a prominent landmark for miles across the flat Lincolnshire landscape.

The name Lincoln probably comes from the pre-Roman iron age settlement of Lindon (Lin means pool and don means the foot of the hill) which was around what is now Brayford Pool.

The town first came to prominence in Roman times. The 9th legion settled here after Claudius invaded Britain and built a legionary fortress on the top of the hill. The name was Latinised to Lindum. Retired soldiers settled here and it became a Colonia. By the C4th it was one of the four major cities of England. A lake was formed by widening the River Witham (now Brayford Pool) and Lindum became a major port with links to the sea at the Wash. The Foss Dyke was built to link it to the River Trent and, via that, to the Humber estuary.

A bishopric was established here by Constantine the Great in 313/4AD, spreading from the Thames to the Humber.

After the Romans left, the area was largely unpopulated until the arrival of the Vikings in the C9th. Many of the ‘gate’ street names, date from this time – Danesgate, Bailgate, Clasketgate, Westgate.

There was an Anglo-Saxon cathedral at the top of the hill, probably on the site of the present building. A graveyard has been discovered during archaeological work in the grounds of the castle.

After the Norman Conquest, William built one of his first castles here. By 1068, Lincoln was the second wealthiest city in England, with its wealth coming from wool. It was a major international port trading with the Mediterranean and Baltic.

Work started on a stone cathedral in 1072. This was damaged by fire in 1141 and by an earthquake in 1185. The present building dates from the C13th. The Shrine of St Hugh was a major pilgrim centre, bringing pilgrims and wealth to the city. In more recent times, Lincoln Cathedral stood in for Westminster Abbey in the film “The Da Vinci Code”, when the cathedral bell had to be silenced.

A reflection of the importance of the city is the fact that a copy of the Magna Carta was presented to the cathedral in 1215.

From the late Middle Ages, the town slowly began to decline as it faced increasing competition from Hull and Boston. By the C18th it was a small market town. The decline was halted in the mid C19th when Lincoln became a centre for heavy engineering and the railway arrived. The population grew rapidly and like other industrial centres, Lincoln became dirty, overcrowded and unsanitary.

Heavy industry declined after the Second World War when many firms were taken over and closed. Now it is dependent on the service industry and tourism. In 1996, the University of Lincolnshire and Humberside opened adjacent to Brayford Pool as part of a regeneration project for the area. This became the University of Lincoln in 2001 and has grown in size and reputation, injecting more than £250 million a year into the local economy.

At the start of the C21st, Lincoln is again a thriving, busy city, It is popular with locals but has yet to be discovered by foreign visitors. This is a shame as it does have a wealth of history and a lot to offer the visitor. It hasn’t got the walls and appeal of nearby York, but it doesn’t have the crowds either...

It probably isn’t the place for the shopaholic visitor. I’ve never really rated Lincoln as a shopping mecca although it does have the Waterside Centre and St Marks Retail Park at the bottom end of the town. Most of the shops are based along High Street with a few spreading onto neighbouring streets. Many are small and all the chains have a presence.

There is a lot to see and do in Lincoln so I’ve divided this into two parts. This covers the bottom end of the city from High Street to Steep Hill. The ‘Cathedral Quarter’ at the top of the town forms Part 2.

At the southern end of High Street, is St Peter of Gowt’s Church which has a Norman tower and Norman font. During the Middle Ages, this was an area of high status housing and many of Lincoln’s leading citizens lived here.
St Peter of Gowt’s Church.jpg

Close by is St Mary’s Guildhall, an impressive stone building with a Norman doorway, which may have been a royal palace of Henry II, before being sold to the Guild of St Mary of Lincoln.
St Mary’s Guildhall.jpg

Further up the road is the site of the old St Mark’s Railway Station with its grand portico. The station was closed in 1985 when services were rerouted through Lincoln Central Station. This had the advantage of closing one of the level crossings across High Street. One remains and regularly brings traffic to a stop as the line is busy with freight and passenger services.

Lincoln’s newly opened bus station is opposite Central station, making this an important transport hub for those using public transport. There is also a large multistorey car park next to the bus station.

Near by is the splendid St Mary Wigford Church, with its square Norman tower, and is one of the oldest churches in Lincoln. In front of it is St Mary’s Conduit which supplied water to local inhabitants from the mid 16thC until 1906. The ornate structure was built from stone fragments from the Whitefriars/Carmelte Friary nearby.
St Mary Wigford Church.jpg

A bit further down, set back on the opposite side of the road is St Benedict’s Church which is open on Thursday, Friday and Saturdays, serving the cheapest tea and biscuits in Lincoln.
St Benedict’s Church.jpg

The River Wytham flows under High Bridge with the splendid black and white timber frame Stokes High Bridge Street Cafe, a popular spot for morning coffee, lunches (the two course special is excellent value) and afternoon teas.
River Witham and Stokes Cafe.png

Follow the river beneath Stokes to reach Brayford Pool, the oldest inland harbour in England. Lincoln was a major port until the railways arrived in the mid C19th. In the mid C20th, the pool was turned into a marina and later, the University of Lincoln was built next to it. The resident swans now share it with cafes, pubs and entertainment. You can even go for a cruise.

Returning to High Street, a bit further along is the splendid stone Stonebow with its royal coat of arms above the archway across the road.

The Guildhall occupies the whole of the second floor and council meetings have been held here since 1520. These can be seen by guided tour.

It is worth having a look at the splendid ornate ceilings inside the HSBC and Nat West banks on either side of the Stonebow.

Beyond the road begins to climb, gently at first past the old fashioned House of Fraser department store to the start of Steep Hill.

Off on the right is Danes Terrace which leads to The Collection in a modern, purpose built building below the cathedral. This houses the Archaeology Museum covering the history of Lincolnshire from the Stone Age to Medieval times.
The Collection .jpg

The Collection.jpg

Adjacent is the Usher Gallery, an elegant brick and stone building built in 1927 to house the collection of James Ward Usher, who owned a Jewellers and Watchmakers on High Street and was an enthusiastic collector of fine clocks, watches, porcelain and paintings. It also hosts a programme of exhibitions or modern and contemporary artwork.
Usher Gallery.jpg

Usher Gallery.jpg

Steep Hill is aptly named and seems to get steeper towards the top. This is built on the line of the Roman north/south route through the city and was originally known as Mickelgate. It is lined with some interesting houses and speciality shops, a good excuse for a stop to get the breath back.
Steep Hill.jpg

In Medieval times, markets were held on Steep Hill. Fish was sold at the top, meat and corn lower down. Now it has eateries, small boutique shops as well as an old fashioned sweet shop, children’s toy shop and a wine shop.

The Jews House (now a restaurant) dates from about 1150 and is the oldest house in Lincoln. It still has the remains of Norman arches over the windows and door. Originally it had a commercial frontage with living quarters above. The Jews were important money lenders in the city. Next to it is the later Jews Court, now a second hand bookshop.
Jew's Housw.jpg

Further up on the opposite side of the road is the Norman House dating from 1170-90. This still has an original Norman window with central pillar and carved capitals and also a Norman doorway. This is now Imperial Tea and Coffee with walls lined with tins of tea and coffee.
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