A Visit to Medieval Lincoln, England
England has many towns that boast of medieval architecture and heritage, but few are as well preserved as Lincoln’s Castle Square, in the northern county of Lincolnshire. On one side of Castle Square, Lincoln Castle’s formidable honey colored, turreted stone walls disappear into the distance along the hillside like a long, scaled dragon. I start my medieval tour here.
Built by William the Conqueror in 1068, only two years after he conquered King Harold’s forces at Hastings, as part of his network of royal castles. But the locals can’t have been too pleased—William had 166 Saxon houses demolished and their occupants turned out on the street to build his precious castle. In addition to a garrison of soldiers under the constable, and his household, the castle bustled with servants, guests, and the sheriff of Lincolnshire’s Court. Walking along the perfectly preserved castle wall it’s easy to see why this is one of the finest remaining Norman Castles in England.
I learn that Robin Hood may have had more to do with Lincoln than with Nottingham. Sherwood Forest came to within 6 miles of the Cathedral, and the famous outlaw was more likely to have robbed Lincoln’s rich, as it was the closest city of any wealth. And the color of Robin Hood’s clothes was “Lincoln Green”.
I look down over the gray, two storey Crown Court, almost completely covered in a thick wreath of green climbing ivy. It’s a somber looking place prisoners have been held in Lincoln Castle since 1199, and they only had about two hundred yards to walk from the court to their prison, after sentencing. And many prisoners were hung on the gallows right outside the prison. One stop shopping for those poor wretches.
I tour the prison, grimacing at the tiny, miserable cells, and the only remaining “separate system” chapel, where prisoners were locked inside a tiny cubicle, with side screens to prevent them from seeing each other. Outside the cells, the prisoners wore leather masks. An interesting museum in the three storey red brick victorian Prison Building displays one of the four remaining Magna Carta and Charter of the Forest documents. This was the earliest charter of English freedoms, drawn up by rebel English barons in 1215, to limit the very nasty King John. How ironic, I think, that it’s displayed in a former prison!
But, far off over the castle walls, I see the stunning Gothic Lincoln Cathedral towering over the township, looking like an ancient King’s crown, with three massive square towers rising up. It dominates the skyline from as far as 30 miles away, its 271-foot high central tower still the second tallest in England. It’s time to continue my medieval odyssey.
Hobbling through the historic cobblestone Castle Square past a huge oak shade tree, I feel like I’m in a backdrop for a movie set in the Middle Ages. This square has been untouched for hundreds of years. It’s lined with black timber-framed Tudor buildings on one side and a three storey red brick building opposite, with little store front shops on their lower levels.
Then, I walk through the Exchequer Gate arch, and emerge on another square in front of Lincoln Cathedral. I come to a dead stop. This massive Minster is a Gothic masterpiece—acclaimed as one of the finest Gothic buildings in Europe. It’s the third largest cathedral in England. Multiple layers of intricate stone arches adorn its Romanesque Front. Built in 1072, and destroyed in an earthquake in 1185, the rebuilt Cathedral has been a place of worship for nearly 900 years.
It’s just as impressive inside. The Nave is 470 feet long, with elaborately carved stone columns and a typical Gothic arched ceiling, fading off to the high altar in the distance. Scenes from the Da Vinci Code were filmed in the atmospheric Lincoln Cathedrals cloisters in 2005. The circular Chapter House, adjoining the cloister, with its superb multi-colored stain glass windows is well worth visiting.
Next to the cathedral, the Medieval Bishop’s Palace, now an English heritage building, gives a taste of the medieval high life. Its immense entertaining halls, now in ruins, and formal gardens and vaulted undercroft provide a glimpse of how the high and mighty suffered through each day.
There are plenty of other fascinating medieval sights in Lincoln: the Bailgate and Steep Hill; the Lincoln Ghost Walk where you hear stories about headless knights and other strange happenings; the Lincolnshire Life Museum, packed with artifacts from the area’s history; the beautiful Parish Church built in 1280 on Castle Square; the Guildhall, the site of the original Roman Gateway to the town, and the home of the Right Worshipful mayor of Lincoln, to name a few.
Written by and photos by Roy Stevenson for EuropeUpClose.com