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Short History of Lincoln​

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. Steep Hill is built on the line of Ermine Street, the Roman Road from the south. Newport Arch at the top of Bailgate was the north gate of the Roman city. It is still in use.

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The west gate into Lincoln Castle was built over a C2nd gate and city wall.

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The remains of the east gate can be seen in front of the Eastgate Hotel.


( Priory Gate on Pottersgate by the Cathedral is NOT Roman, but a Victorian replacement for the medieval gateway into the Cathedral Close.)

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. It is now displayed in a special vault in the castle.

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.

AND FINALLY, if visiting Lincoln, don’t forget the Lincolnshire Vintage Vehicle Society, on the south western side of Lincoln. This has a good display of buses, cars and commercial vehicles. They also have running days at Easter and the first Sunday in November when they have their buses and cars providing rides. These are popular events with all ages.

Bus Museum.jpg

There is a lot to see and do in Lincoln and the following pages list some of these. For convenience, I've divided it into Lower town #2 (from the bottom of High Street to the Stonebow), Steep Hill #4 and the Upper Town #5 (which covers the Cathedral quarter).

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The Lower Town

At the southern end of High Street, is St Peter of Gowt’s Church which has a Saxo-Norman tower and font. The rather unusual name comes from the Great Gowt, a drainage ditch to the south of the Church.


During the Middle Ages this was an area of high status houses and many of Lincoln’s leading citizens lived here. During the C19th the railway arrived and the population increased rapidly. Streets of terraced houses were built and many of the properties along High Street had been turned into shops or inns.

This was one of the oldest churches in the city although was enlarged in the C13th and C14th and underwent a major restoration in the C19th. Tha arch from the porch into the church is early C11th.


The font may have been made from a recycled Roman pillar as High Street is on the line of the Roman Fosse Way. The base is modern.


The church has a splendid wooden ceiling. The rood cross was the work of Temple Moore.



The church is usually kept locked although a key may be available from St Peter at Gowts Primary School, a short walk away on Pennell Street.

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. The Guild was dissolved by Henry VIII during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The buildings were then leased to a series of owners who sublet them. By the 1930s, the buildings had become very run down and were taken over by Lincoln City Council and are now run by Lincoln City Trust.

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 bus station is now opposite Central station, making this an important transport hub for those using public transport. There is also a large multi storey car park next to the bus station.

Near by is the splendid St Mary Wigford Church, one of the oldest churches in Lincoln with its square Saxon tower and doorway. In front of it is St Mary’s Conduit which supplied water to local inhabitants from the mid C16thC until 1906. The ornate structure was built from stone fragments from the Whitefriars/Carmelite Friary nearby.



At the back of the church is a Saxon doorway leading into the base of the tower. Another leads into the vestry.



A lovely wrought iron screen separates the chancel from the Lady Chapel



On the north wall of the Lady Chapel is the tomb of Lady de Kyme, whose husband was a benefactor of the church.


Just inside the door is the now very battered tomb of Sit Thomas Grantham (d1618) and his wife.


A bit further down, set back on the opposite side of the road is St Benedict’s Church, which is no longer used. There has been a church on the site since 1107, although only the chancel, north aisle and tower survive. The church was badly damaged in the Civil War and the nave was pulled down. The short stumpy tower is the oldest surviving part of the church.



On the south wall is a memorial brass to John Becke an alderman of the City of Lincoln and twice mayor. He died in 1620. He is shown kneeling with his seven sons. Facing them is his wife Mary who died in 1617 and their three daughters. Two of the children are holding skulls showing they died young.


The Church is now the home of Unicorn Tree Books.


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The Lower Town cont...

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 and afternoon teas.

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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. straddling High Street marking the boundary between the upper and lower town. It is worth having a look at the splendid ornate ceilings inside the HSBC and Nat West banks on either side of the Stonebow.


The building is on the site of the Roman south gate into the city. In the C13th the gateway had become very unsafe and was in danger of collapse. Richard II ordered the city to build a new gateway. Money was embezzled and it wasn’t finished until 1520.

The Guildhall above the arch has been the seat of the City Council since 1500. It is still used for council meetings every eight weeks to ratify council decisions.

It is an impressive building, especially seen from the south where the royal coat of arms of James I and VI looks down from above the main archway. On either side are statues of the the Virgin Mary, the patron saint of Lincoln and Archangel Gabriel. On top of the roof is the Meeting Bell dating from 1371 and still rung to summon the City Fathers to council meetings.


The Guildhall occupies the whole of the second floor and can be seen by guided tour. Tours take about 45 minutes and are well worth doing.

The Council Chamber is an impressive room with a huge wooden table put here in 1724 to stop councillors stabbing each other with their swords when debates got a bit too heated. The Aldermen would have sat at the raised dais at one end. This now seats the mayor, leader of the council and the ‘portfolio holders’. Above is the royal coat of arms of George II which meant the room could also be used as a court of law. The rest of the councillors sit round the table.


Beyond the Council Chamber is a room used for entertaining important visitors. On the opposite side of the Council Chamber is the Robing Room with the Mayor’s Parlour beyond.

On the floor below is the charter chest used to store royal charters relating to the powers of the city council. The city’s oldest charter dates back to 1157 delivering the city to the citizens, allowing them to collect their own rents and taxes and for them to continue to have Merchant Guilds.

A locked iron door leads into the Insignia Room which used to be the debtor’s prison and still has iron bars on the windows.


This is a wonderful display of civic pomp as well as gold and silver items depicting links to local events and industry.



Richard II visited Lincoln in 1387 rallying support in his struggle against Bolingbroke and his Lancastrian forces. He presented his sword and scabbard with its insignia of the white hart to the city of Lincoln. This is still used on ceremonial occasions when the monarch visits.

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Steep Hill and The Collection

Beyond the Stonebow, is the now pedestrianised High Street, which climbs gently at first before becoming the really narrow The Strait, lined with small speciality shops.

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Beyond is Steep Hill, very 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.

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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 Jew's House (now a restaurant) at the bottom of Steep Hill, 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, traditionally thought to be on the site of a Medieval Synagogue. It is now home to the Society for Lincolnshire History and Archaeology, the meeting place for the Lincoln Jewish Community and is also a second hand bookshop.


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. It is now Imperial Tea and Coffee and independent business selling a wide range of speciality teas and coffees.



Near the top other other old houses.



The Collection and Usher Gallery

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. Allow plenty of time for a visit as there is a lot to see and plenty of information to read.


Small statues of Minerva and Mercury


Anglo Saxon cremation urns


Anglo Saxon broaches


Viking needles and loom weights

Adjacent to The Collection, 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 has an impressive collection of statues .



The Charles Norman collection is described as the finest collection in the world of C18th painted Derby porcelain, representing the golden age of Derby. This is one of the highlights of the visit.




There are also displays of silver gilt and glassware, along with several rooms displaying modern art.




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The Upper Town

The Cathedral Quarter is at the top of the town. The energetic can walk up Steep Hill otherwise there is a shuttle bus that runs a 20 minute shuttle service from a bus stop on Silver Street just down from the Stonebow to the cathedral and castle.

At the top of Steep hill is a square with the splendid timber frame Tourist Information Centre.


The square is used for the very popular and busy Christmas Market as well as other events during the year. The Lincoln Ghost Walks start from here.

Across the road is a small, simple rectangular church with a very long name; St Mary Magdalene with St Paul in the Bail and St Michael on the Mount which was beautifully restored by GF Bodley in the late C19th.




Just beyond it is the Exchequer Gate where church tenants came to pay their rents.


It guards the entry to the Georgian Cathedral Close lined with lovely old houses.



Lincoln is the third largest medieval cathedral in England. The nave can be admired from the back of the cathedral, but there is a charge to view the rest of the cathedral.



The ruins of the Medieval Bishop’s Palace are to the south of the Cathedral. The adjacent Georgian and Victorian Bishop’s Palace is now a hotel.


To the right of Tourist Information is the entrance to Lincoln Castle Grounds. Entry to the grounds is free but there is a charge to visit the prison, walk along the walls and view Magna Carta.


Beyond Tourist Information is Bailgate, with the White Hart Hotel, originally a C15th coaching inn. Bailgate is an attractive street of small family shops. This is the place to come for ‘proper’ shopping.


At the far end is the Newport Arch, the only Roman gate still open to traffic.


When built this was connected to the town walls and had a central arch for wheeled traffic, with smaller pedestrrian arches on either side. It was nearly demolished by a lorry in the 1960s and had to be rebuilt.

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The Upper Town cont...

Westgate runs round the north ramparts and wall of the castle and past the huge Westgate Water Tower which dominates the skyline of Lincoln along with the cathedral. It was built in response to a Typhoid epidemic which devastated the city in 1904/5. Over one thousand people were affected and over one hundred died. It was one of Lincoln’s biggest peacetime disasters.


The walls are over 4’ thick and support the massive water tank at the top of the tower. The water is pumped to the top of the tower. Originally this was done using two stationary steam engines but one blew up in 1974 and demolished the building housing it. They are now replaced with an electric pump.

When completed in 1911, the tank held enough water to supply the needs of the city for one day. Now the supply would only last two hours during peak demand.



Turn left onto Union Street for Castle Gate, the C12th entrance to the castle.

Across the road is The Lawn, a remarkable early C19th Greek revival building that was built as a lunatic asylum, pioneering revolutionary treatment which did not use restraints. The hospital closed in 1985 and has recently been redeveloped as a business centre with a cafe.

In the opposite direction on Burton Road, is the Museum of Lincolnshire Life in the former barracks of the North Lincoln Militia.

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It covers the history of the Royal Lincolnshire Regiment and Lincolnshire Yeomanry, with details of the battles they fought in from the C17th as well as a reconstruction of a World War One trench complete with sound effects.

One room is dedicated to the Beechey Boys and the letters they wrote to their mother. Eight brothers fought in WW1 but only three came home. There are pictures of the brothers and the cemeteries where they are buried. The most interesting bit were the letters sent home by them. As well as information about their life in the trenches there is a touching description about receiving a splendid parcel. “The pork pie was as fresh and unbroken as if it had just been bought… “ Another one has a short PS saying “gloves and handkerchiefs had just arrived…”

The rest of the museum is a social history museum covering the life of the people of Lincolnshire since 1750. There are reconstructed rooms and shops. The most unusual exhibit was the bank barrow from 1930 which was used by the National Provincial Bank to transport money between branch and the general post office. It was pushed and escorted by male bank staff who had rubber truncheons p their sleeves. It was in use until the 1960s when security companies took over this job.

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Behind the museum is Ellis Mill, one of the nine windmills that originally stood on the western slope of Lincoln. Now carefully restored, it still grinds flour. It is open a few days a year.




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