Tuesday, June 23rd 2015
The above picture shows a panorama of Lincoln Central Station taken from the platform where we had just arrived from London. This Grade II listed complex, reminiscent of a Tudor era castle, was completed in 1848 and was possibly designed by Joseph Cubitt or John Henry Taylor, both of London. It had been preceded by St Mark’s Station but that closed in 1985 and has been absorbed into a shopping centre. (The black areas at top left and right of the photo are artifacts of the stitching process, not real objects.)
We intended to go up to Castle Hill but the question was how to get there. Was there a bus or would it be better to take a taxi? While we were thinking about it, we had a look at the Church of St Mary le Wigford.
English Heritage dates the church originally to the 11th century, though it has been altered, added to and refurbished many times since then. The tower and other parts are in Anglo-Saxon style and an inscription ascribing the church’s foundation to a certain Ertig, is said by some to date to the preceding century.
In the churchyard stands this imposing structure. It would be an exceedingly elaborate tomb if tomb it were. It is not a tomb, however. It is actually a water conduit that was built in 1540 using recycled stone from Whitefriars Priory. The style of work on the stones is consistent with the 15th century (the monk’s who commissioned it being blissfully unaware that a certain Henry VIII would dispossess them of the priory a scant century later). This curious piece of work has a Grade II* listing whereas the church only manages a Grade I.
It is a bit of a climb to Castle Hill, as its name suggests, so in the end we decided to take a cab. We thus arrived at the square pictured above which is, strictly speaking, the junction of Drury Lane and Steep Hill. The towers belong to Lincoln Cathedral and…
…the Norman castle is behind us. (We didn’t visit either of these on this visit – another time, perhaps.)
When in a strange town, it’s always worth popping into the local tourist information. This one is called the Lincoln Visitor Information Centre and is sited in rather splendid accommodations, as you can see.
When looking at half-timbered buildings, one must always exercise caution. It may look authentic but may not be. A lot are ‘Tudorbethan’ (a term coined by poet John Betjeman), dating only from the 20th century when there was a vogue for this style. This one, however, is the genuine article. Though much restored and added to, it remains largely faithful to its construction date of 1543 when it was built as the home of a wealthy merchant. Yes, of course: it has a Grade II* listing. From 1899 to 1979, it served as a bank and was then given to the city of Lincoln by the then chairman of the National Westminster Bank, Sir Robin Leigh-Pemberton, hence its name.
In this, the older part of town, the streets tend to be narrow. This one is called Bailgate. In this part of the world streets are often called ‘gates’, a word that derives from the Norse word ‘gata’, meaning a street. In these streets we find buildings of different ages crammed amicably together.
For example, at 76 Bailgate, we find the County Assembly Rooms. This small neat façade is like the tip of the iceberg because there is much more behind it not visible from the street. It was built in 1744 and financed, according to the attached plaque, by public subscription. The front entrance and vestibule, though, were added in 1908. Today it hosts ‘events’, conferences, weddings, etc. but has also always been associated with the Freemasons who still maintain a presence in the building.
Or in Steep Hill, as the street is called (for very good reasons!), is this delightful structure, usually called the Norman House. Though it now contains two shops on the ground floor, it was originally a private dwelling and has been confidently dated to 1170, though there have inevitably been alterations in the succeeding centuries.
In the Strait (which seems to be regarded as part of Steep Hill, so that buildings here have two numbers, one for the Strait and one for Steep Hill), resides this handsome pair (both Grade I listed). On the left is the Jew’s House and, on the right, Jews’ Court. These were built in the same period as the Norman House (1170) and have been used for different purposes at different times. Currently they house a restaurant (Jew’s House) and a bookshop (Jews’ Court) and possibly other businesses and/or apartments. There is some indication that Jews’ Court once served as a synagogue. Lincoln once possessed one of England’s most important Jewish communities up until the Edict of Expulsion in 1290.
This section of Steep Hill is pedestrian-only, no doubt for very good reasons. Here we are looking down it and…
…here we are looking back up. The slope and the presence of the bicycle reminded me of the famous Hovis advertisement of the bread delivery boy, filmed on Gold Hill in Shaftesbury, Dorset.
Our destination was here, the Usher Gallery. This fine art gallery seems to have been somewhat upstaged from 2005 by its amalgamation with the City and County Museum into a new entity called by the somewhat dull name The Collection. It is therefore difficult to find out anything about it, which is a pity. Two sources of information are here and here.
I have to make a confession at this point. It was only after leaving the gallery that I realized that the camera had been stuck on an inappropriate setting. I should have realized this but I was perhaps too taken up by the artworks. The result is that my pictures of the exhibits didn’t turn out too well, so I will show you just a few. Above is an unmistakeable Lowry. It is entitled simply Lincoln, though I don’t know when it was painted.
These two sculptures are both by John Gibson R.A. (1790-1866), nice Classical subjects typical of the era. We had already seen the one on the right in Norwich’s Castle Museum and Art Gallery where it is known as Meleager the Hunter (see Viewing Manet at Narch or preview here). This implies that at least one sculpture is a copy. But which is the copy: this one or the Meleager in Norwich? Or are both sculptures copies, perhaps of an original bronze? So far I haven’t managed to find out. If ever I do, I will post an update here.
My attention was also caught by this lively depiction of a man (hunter?) with a dog. Unfortunately, I failed to note the details and therefore cannot say who the artist was, or the subject or even what the object is. If I manage to find out any more, I will post an update on that also.
We walked back down to the lower part of town and here encountered this magnificent old gate, part of the onetime fortifications of the town. However, it not only serves as a gate but also as the Guildhall whose meetings took place on the upper level.
Stonebow is said to derive from stennibogi, a Norse word meaning ‘stone arch’. This must have seemed the ideal place for a defensive gate because the Romans already built one here. It continued in use after the departure of the legions but eventually became unstable. By then, the Guildhall had become established here and it also served as a courthouse and a prison.
A new gate was ordered by Richard II in 1390 but, owing to financial skulduggery, it is claimed, rebuilding was postponed 130 years and it was only in 1520 that the new gate and Guildhall came to be built. You will find an interesting article about the history of the Stonebow here.
On the wall of the gate appears this carved face. I am told that gargoyles and other ugly and frightening faces on old buildings were put there to scare away evil spirits. This one seems to be a chimera combining feline and human features. I find it rather endearing.
In the High Street, this half-timbered building catches the eye. Is it genuine Tudor or modern imitation? Might it be mid-20th-century Tudorbethan? Actually, it’s Victorian and was built in 1896-7 as Peacock & Wilson’s Bank. It suffered some alteration but was restored to its original form in 1992. Nonetheless, English Heritage likes it well enough to give it a Grade II listing.
All good cities should have a river and Lincoln certainly has one. It is called the Witham and is navigable. The name is ancient but no one seems to know where it came from or what it might mean.
Needless to say, this visit only dipped here and there into what Lincoln has on offer for the interested and curious visitor. There remains plenty to discover on future visits.