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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.

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.

The Lower Town​

There is a lot to see and do in Lincoln so I’ve divided this into two sections. The Lower Town covers the bottom end of the city from High Street to Steep Hill. The ‘Cathedral Quarter’ at the top of the town forms the Upper Town (next section).

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/Carmelite 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 (1).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.

The Upper Town

The ‘Cathedral Quarter’ at the top of the town forms 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.

St Mary Magdalene.jpg

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

Exchequer Gate.jpg

It guards the entry to the Georgian Cathedral Close and the Cathedral, 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 which includes a free floor tour. Tower or roof tours are extra. Numbers are restricted on these although places can be reserved in advance.

Lincoln Cathedral .jpg




Famous for the Lincoln Imp, there are also the tombs of Hugh of Lincoln, Eleanor of Castile and Katherine Swynford. Eleanor, wife of Edward I, died near Lincoln. Her body was embalmed and her entrails buried in a splendid tomb in the cathedral. Her body was then taken to Westminster Abbey for burial. Edward built a memorial cross at each place the body rested for the night during this journey. Part of the cross can still be seen in the grounds of Lincoln Castle.

Katherine, made famous in the novel by Anya Seyton, was the third wife of John of Gaunt. She lived in the brick house with the oriel window to the east of the Cathedral.

The ruins of the medieval Bishop’s Palace are to the south of the Cathedral. The Romans grew vines here and the vineyard has been replanted, one of the most northerly in England. The adjacent Georgian and Victorian Bishop’s Palace is now a hotel.

Bishop's Palace.jpg

Bishop's Palace .jpg

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.

Lincoln Castle.jpg

The castle was built on the site of the Roman fortress and is surrounded by a wall with a massive gatehouse. Inside, on top of a mound, is the C12th Lucy Tower, the original keep and a feature on the Lincoln skyline when seen from the south. This now houses the prison cemetery. Inside the grounds are the Georgian and Victorian prisons as well as the Victorian prison chapel, with prisoners kept in wooden box like ‘cells’ so they were unable to see or communicate with other prisoners. The Lincoln copy of the Magna Carta is kept in a special vault in the castle.

Lincoln Castle prison.jpg

Lincoln Castle prison chapel .jpg

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. Don’t miss the traditional butcher’s shop with a display of different eggs in the window, from quail to ostrich egg. A bit further on is the Whisky Shop with the most amazing selection of malt whiskies, many I’ve never heard of. At the far end is the Newport Arch, the only Roman gate still open to traffic.

To the left, Westgate which runs round the north ramparts and wall of the castle and past the huge water tower which dominates the skyline of Lincoln along with the cathedral.

Westgate Water Tower.jpg

Turn left onto Union Street for Castle Gate, the C12th entrance to the castle. The road goes uphill to the gateway as it was built over the line of the Roman wall and gateway. Patches of C11th herringbone masonry can be seen in the castle walls near here.

Castle Gate.jpg

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. As well as covering the history of the Royal Lincolnshire Regiment, it is also a social history museum, covering the life of the people of Lincolnshire since 1750.

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.

Ellis Mill .jpg

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.

Lincolnshire Vintage Vehicle Society .png
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