A day out in Lincoln

When I was little I lived in Lincolnshire and remember going to Lincoln several times with my parents and sister, and also with school to visit the museum of Lincolnshire Life and the Cathedral. I still have a poem I wrote about the Lincoln Imp - but more on him later. When I was little Lincoln seemed so huge, I remember looking up the High Street and seeing huge crowds of people. It came as quite a surprise to me when I returned as an adult to find it is actually a very small city, albeit one with a very striking Steep hill in the middle of it! I recently had the opportunity to go to Lincoln again for Julia's birthday, along with Amy and Jen (who kindly drove us there and back!), and we had a great day investigating the medieval remains of the city, mingling with the tourists, drinking tea and sampling cake. Annoyingly the museums all closed early and so we missed a trip to those, but generally we were pretty much 'heritaged' out anyway by the time we had looked at the Cathedral, the Castle, been down and up Steep Hill, and tried to avoid all the bicycles. For some reason someone thought it a good idea to end a cycle race right in the middle of town slap bang in front of the Cathedral.

Speaking of the Cathedral, it was located in a very stunning location on top of the only hill in Lincolnshire (possibly), a very flat county that is only out-flattened by Belgium (where I also lived). Around the Cathedral are eighteenth and nineteenth century buildings, very Desirable Residences.

The Cathedral itself is a Gothic masterpiece, rebuilt in the 12th century following an earthquake. Saint Hugh was the leader of the building project, and a fine job he did (although of course there have been renovations since, including the loss of a spire in the 16th century that was never replaced).

The array of fine carvings on the front of the building are currently being restored; those which have been cleaned of centuries of pollution include this louche row of kings.

They don't build them like they used to...

Inside the Cathedral is a cornucopia of Medieval carving and grotesquery, which I found interesting for the link to how people dressed, including this interesting wimple combination.

This highly decorated tomb decorated with rows and rows of mourners or possibly family members of the deceased provided another link to the past. Amongst those buried in the Cathedral is Katherine Swynford, mistress and later wife of John of Gaunt, famous Uncle of Richard II and brother of Edward III, whose illegitimate issue made legitimate caused the later confusion that allowed the traitor Henry VII to assume the throne.

I think this is the tombstone of Saint Hugh, sadly his face has been damaged but the intricate carving of the tomb is still evident.

If you look very carefully you can see the Lincoln Imp in the next picture - he is sat jauntily on the top of the V formed by the two arches meeting. The legend is that the Imp was blown into Lincoln Cathedral where he made mischief in the Angel Choir until one angel got so annoyed that he turned the Imp to stone, where he remains to this day, peeping down from his lofty perch. I was pleased to see that the ragged postcard I have about the Lincoln Imp is still available from the gift shop over 20 years later.

At one point in History there was a fashion for tombstones that had the representation of the living on the top, and underneath a representation of the corpse, either in a winding cloth or in skeletal form. Lincoln has a particularly fine example.

Lincoln Cathedral stands on the top of Steep Hill, one of the most aptly named streets in Britain. Trudging down and up again is a must for visitors to Lincoln, so of course we joined in. Steep Hill was the site of a battle in the 13th century after the death of King John and the anarchy started by his barons degenerated into warfare, culminating in the French prince being invited over by some barons to become King. The French were defeated at Lincoln, apparently because a cow blocked the bottom streets of Steep Hill, meaning that the English could capture them, or something like that. Also associated with King John is the infamous Magna Carta (which, unlike all the propaganda surrounding it, was not a democratic document but the claims of an elite group against another elite, conveniently drawing on the myth of English rights granted by the Norman kings) kept in Lincoln Castle, a pilgrimage for many tourists who come to see a rather brown stained document which has lost its original seal.

Somehow Lincoln miraculously escaped the attentions of 1960s and 1970s town planners and so retains many of its beautiful Medieval buildings.

This includes the 12th century buildings known as the House of Aaron and the Jew's House. It seems to me to be amazing that these are actual Medieval houses, when usually it is castles or fortified manor houses that have (just about) survived, but you can almost imagine an 'ordinary' Medieval family inhabiting these.

Despite alterations over the years, the fine tracery of the door and windows can still be seen on both buildings. Both are still in use too which seems to be pretty remarkable to me!

Across the street from the Cathedral, flanking the left hand side of Steep Hill, is Lincoln Castle. I loved this castle when I was little, although I was too scared to go down into the dungeons because they were reached via a steep ladder. The castle has not changed much since I visited then, although I have now been in the dungeons!

I remember my children's guidebook to the castle remarked on the herringbone pattern of the stones in some parts of the walls - so here is a gratuitous picture of said stones.

From the top of the castle walls you get an amazing perspective over Lincoln, showing how the Cathedral really dominates the city. Steep Hill is to the right of the picture.

The former Keep of the castle juts oddly outside the walls, which doesn't seem to be a very good defensive position.

Proof that I made it down the steep ladder into the dungeons. A ring set into the wall which was presumably used to tie prisoners to.

A reminder that the Castle has until quite recently been the site of a 19th century courthouse and prison; tombstones of prisoners are arranged poignantly in the old Keep.

A glimpse inside one of the more modern cells in the Castle, which seems only slightly more luxurious than the Medieval version.

Another view of the 19th century part of the prison.

The most eerie aspect is the Chapel in the prison which was designed so that prisoners could not see or speak to each other; they sat in isolated booths with their eyes fixed on the chaplain at the front. The atmosphere is not helped by the strange, hooded mannequins that have been sat in the pews. It is easy enough to sit in a pew and experience the isolation for yourself without this detail, which I find more than a little bit creepy.

No castle is complete without a stuffed dog!


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