The History of Lincoln
History tends to portray Lincoln as having entirely Roman origins. After the Romans subdued the local tribe, the Coritani, in 48 AD they built a fort on top of a prominent hill near a pool. The pool, now called the Brayford Pool, was fed by the waters of the River Witham and there is plenty of evidence to suggest the entire area was
inhabited long before the Romans set up a city there. Archeological finds including evidence of wooden buildings around the Brayford and the finding of the famous Witham Shield lends weight to this view. This extremely well-preserved Iron Age decorative shield was found in the River Witham, just a few miles from Lincoln, and dates back to 400-300 BC.
The Romans were the first to build in stone upon the top of the prominent limestone ridge that is now known as the ‘Uphill’ area of modern Lincoln. The Romans named the new city Lindum Colonia. The word Lindum derives from the Celtic for Lin, which means lake or pool. The fort first established there by the Romans became a city or ‘colonia’, a place where retired soldiers were given land and property and
encouraged to settle. Stone walls and gates were erected and the city soon boasted an impressive forum and public baths. However, after the Romans left the city went into decline.
The Romans left Britain in 407 AD and the city was slowly abandoned as the locals returned to their rural ways. When the Danes conquered the east of England, including the area that now forms Lincolnshire, a town was re-established within the old city walls. Within a hundred years the area was back in the hands of the English but the growing town continued to flourish and even had its own coin mint, a sign of
the status Lincoln had achieved by the time of the Norman conquest in 1066.
The Normans began to fortify and expand Lincoln almost immediately. They built a wooden castle and a city wall there in 1068. This said, “we are here and we’re in charge” especially as 166 houses were destroyed in the process. The castle and walls were rebuilt in stone in the 12th century. Work also began on the cathedral after the Bishop moved his seat there in 1072. The first cathedral, much smaller than
the present incarnation, was completed in 1092 only to burn down in 1123. The cathedral suffered another catastrophe in 1185 when the cathedral was partially destroyed in an earthquake. Meanwhile, in 1147, Lincoln was given a charter granting it the power to elect a council of 24 men to rule the now independent town.
The cathedral was rebuilt again and work was completed sometime after 1192. This work proved once again short lived and the central tower collapsed in 1237. A new tower, complete with a spire was up by 1311. The town suffered a fire in 1123 and was ransacked during civil unrest in 1141 and again in 1216. Despite the setbacks Lincoln continued to flourish. Much of the wealth was being generated by the production and trade in wool and cloth. By the 13th century, the town was one of the ‘staples’ a port allowed to export wool. The granting of the right to hold first one, and then two annual fairs did much to increase the town’s importance and wealth.
The town declined after the Middle Ages, partly as a result of the growing dominance of the west coast ports that faced the new world over the old east facing ports. In 1538 Henry VIII closed the various friaries in Lincoln, and now only a small ruined chapel remains of an abbey that once stood to the east of the city walls. The cathedral itself survived Henry’s attentions although it was extensively looted
by his men. The cathedral once boasted three spires which reputedly made the structure higher than even the three great pyramids of Egypt. In 1549 the central spire suffered damage in a storm and collapsed, subsequently all three spires were removed completely.
Lincoln changed hands several times during the Civil War . The city itself was firmly on the side of the parliamentarians and was back in their hands when the war ended in 1646. However, civil unrest came again to Lincoln in 1648 when a Scottish army invaded England in an attempt to restore Charles I to the throne. Fighting between troops loyal to the Parliament and those seeking a return of the Royalists
ended up with the Bishop’s Palace on fire.
After being one of the wealthiest towns in England by 1150, the town then spent the times after the Middle Ages largely in the economic doldrums. By the start of the the 19th century the town was barely larger than it had been during its peak in the Middle Ages. Lincoln grew rapidly in the next 100 years and the population shot up from a
count of 7,000 at the first census, taken in 1801, to 50,000 by 1900. This meteoric expansion was fuelled by the Industrial Revolution and especially the mechanisation of farming. The process began in the Georgian era with the reopening of the Fossdyke canal. This vital transportation link allowed coal and other raw materials and much easier route into Lincoln than could ever be achieved overland by horse and cart.
Manufacturing plants soon grew up around the banks of the river and the Brayford was once again a thriving port area. In 1846 the railway reached Lincoln further improving the its communications with the rest of Britain. It was during the Victorian era that Lincolnshire boomed. Manufacturing of agricultural machinery soon diversified to other areas including defence. By the middle of the 1800s several large
industrial concerns, like the firm of Clayton and Shuttleworth had large, dirty factories in the Stamp End area, huddled around the railway yard and the river. Proper sewers, a new water supply and a massive increase in housing stock accompanied this industrial growth. By the end of the Victorian era, Lincoln was a prosperous and well established city.
In the 20th century Lincoln joined in the war effort as the fields around the city were turned into airfields, mainly for bomber squadrons. Meanwhile the big factories in the east of the city turned their attention to producing armaments and the first ever battle tank, ‘little Willie’, was built there. Since the war Lincoln has once again declined, only to spring back with real vigour in recent years - partly due to the establishment of a University in the city - and is now once again a thriving city. Farming, and the support of agriculture, is still important to the city which sits like an island among hundreds of square miles of farmland. The factories that once
drove Lincoln’s expansion are all but gone, leaving lighter industry and commerce in its place. The cathedral still stands in all its glory and is no doubt the thing most people associate with Lincoln, especially after it appeared in the film The Da Vinci Code as a stand in for Westminster Abbey.