Lincoln Castle

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View over of Lincoln Castle from the cathedral to the east

Lincoln Castle is a major castle constructed in Lincoln, England during the late 11th century by William the Conqueror on the site of a pre-existing Roman fortress. The castle is unusual in that it has two mottes.[1] It is only one of two such castles in the country, the other being at Lewes in Sussex. Lincoln Castle remained in use as a prison and law court into modern times, and is one of the better preserved castles in England; the Crown Courts continue to this day. It is open to the public as a museum. Lincoln Castle remains one of the most impressive Norman castles in the United Kingdom. It is still possible to walk around the immense Norman walls which provide a magnificent view of the castle complex, together with panoramic views of the cathedral, the city, and the surrounding countryside.

Medieval history

The exterior of the east gate
The exterior of the west gate, which was rebuilt in the 1230s. Blocked for centuries, it was re-opened as recently as 1992
The Lucy Tower in 2013, at which point the castle was undergoing a programme of renovation.

After William the Conqueror defeated Harold Godwinson and the English at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066, he continued to face resistance to his rule in the north of England. For a number of years, William's position was very insecure. In order to project his influence northwards to control the people of the Danelaw (an area that had for a time been under the control of Scandinavian settlers), he constructed a number of major castles in the North and Midlands of England: including those at Warwick, Nottingham and York. After gaining control of York, the Conqueror turned southwards and arrived at the Roman and Viking city of Lincoln.

When William reached Lincoln (one of the country's major settlements), he found a Viking commercial and trading centre with a population of 6,000 to 8,000. The remains of the old Roman walled fortress, located 60 metres (200 ft) above the countryside to the south and west, proved an ideal strategic position to construct a new castle. Lincoln was also a vital strategic crossroads of the following routes (largely the same routes which influenced the siting of the Roman fort):

  • Ermine Street - a major Roman road and England's main north-south route, connecting London and York.
  • Fosse Way - another important Roman route connecting Lincoln with the city of Leicester and the south-west of England.
  • The valley of the River Trent (to the west and southwest) - a major river affording access to the River Ouse, and thus the major city of York.
  • The River Witham - a waterway connected to the River Trent (via the Fossdyke Roman canal at Torksey) and to the North Sea via The Wash.
  • The Lincolnshire Wolds - an upland area to the northeast of Lincoln, which overlooks the Lincolnshire Marsh beyond.

A castle here could guard several of the main strategic routes and form part of a network of strongholds of the Norman kingdom, in the former Danish Mercia, roughly the area today referred to as the East Midlands, to control the country internally. Also it was a centre from which troops could be sent to repel Scandinavian landings anywhere on the coast from the Trent to the Welland, to a large extent, by using the roads which the Romans had constructed for the same purpose.

The Domesday Survey of 1086 directly records 48 castles in England, with two in Lincolnshire including one in Lincoln. Building a castle within an existing settlement sometimes meant existing structures had to be removed: of the castles noted in the Domesday Book, thirteen included references to property being destroyed to make way for the castle. In Lincoln's case 166 "unoccupied residences" were pulled down to clear the area on which the castle would be built.[2]

Work on the new fortification was completed in 1068. Probably at first a wooden keep was constructed, which was later replaced with a much stronger stone one. Lincoln Castle is very unusual in having two mottes, the only other surviving example of such a design being at Lewes. To the south, where the Roman wall stands on the edge of a steep slope, it was retained partially as a curtain wall and partially as a revetment retaining the mottes. In the west, where the ground is more level, the Roman wall was buried within an earth rampart and extended upward to form the Norman castle wall. The Roman west gate (on the same site as the castle's west gate) was excavated in the 19th century but began to collapse on exposure, and so was re-buried.

The castle was the focus of attention during the First Battle of Lincoln on 2 February 1141, during the struggle between King Stephen and Empress Matilda over who should be monarch in England.[3] It was held[according to whom?] but damaged, and a new tower, called the Lucy Tower, was built.[1][4][5]

Lincoln Castle (left), shown during the Second Battle of Lincoln

Lincoln Castle was again besieged before the Second Battle of Lincoln, on 20 May 1217, during the reign of King John during the course of the First Barons' War[citation needed][must have been before 1215]. This was the period of political struggle which led to the sealing of Magna Carta on 15 June 1215. After this, a new barbican was built onto the west and east gates.[4][6]

Other defences

Other medieval defensive works in Lincoln have been recorded, but are no longer extant.

  • A set of earth banks, associated with one or other of the sieges, once stood where the Lawns stand, to the west of the castle.[7]
  • Thorngate Castle once stood near the river, forming the South-East corner of the city walls. It existed in 1141 but was demolished in 1151.[8][9][10]


As in Norwich and other places, the castle was used as a secure site in which to establish a gaol (prison; jail). At Lincoln, the gaol was built in 1787 and extended in 1847. Imprisoned debtors were allowed some social contact, but the regime for criminals was designed to be one of isolation, according to the separate system. Consequently, the seating in the prison chapel is designed to enclose each prisoner individually so that the preacher could see everyone but each could see only him. By 1878 the system was discredited and the inmates were transferred to the new gaol in the eastern outskirts of Lincoln.[11][12] The prison in the castle was left without a use until the Lincolnshire Archives were housed in its cells.

William Marwood, the 19th century hangman, carried out his first execution at Lincoln. He used the long drop, designed to break the victim's neck rather than to strangle him, to execute Fred Horry in 1872. Until 1868, prisoners were publicly hanged on the mural tower at the north-east corner of the curtain wall, overlooking the upper town.

Present day

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Oriel window in gatehouse, moved from John of Gaunt’s Palace, Lincoln in 1849

The castle is now owned by Lincolnshire County Council and is a scheduled ancient monument.[13] In 2012, a three-year programme of renovation began at the castle. Work involves creating a new exhibition centre in which to display Magna Carta, building visitor facilities, and opening sections of the prison within the castle to the public. The scheme is to be completed in April 2015[out of date] to coincide with the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta.[14] The Lincoln Castle Magna Carta is one of the four surviving originals, sealed by King John after his meeting with the Barons at Runnymede in 1215, and is accompanied by an exhibition explaining the origin of the Magna Carta and its far reaching effects.

Parts of the prison are open as a museum, including the 19th-century chapel, the only one remaining in the world designed for the separate system (each seat enclosed). The women's wing of the prison opened to visitors in 2005. The castle grounds are used for music concerts and other public entertainment. A wall-walk along the top of the outer walls was opened in 2015.[citation needed]

Layout and architecture

Lincoln Castle is bounded by a stone curtain wall, with ditches on all sides except the south. From an early stage, the outer walls which enclose the site were built in stone and they date from before 1115. On the south side the walls are interrupted by two earthen mounds called mottes. One is in the south-east corner, and was probably an original feature of William's the Conqueror's castle, while the other occupies the south-west corner. A square tower, the Observatory Tower, stands on top of the first mound, standing above the outer walls to dominate the city of Lincoln. The second mound is crowned by the 'Lucy Tower', which was probably built in the 12th century and was named after Lucy of Bolingbroke, the Countess of Chester until 1138.[15]

In the castle grounds are the graves of those executed here for various crimes. They have simple markers featuring only the initials of the condemned and the date of death. William Frederick Horry is buried in the Lucy Tower, along with many other criminals' graves.

The grounds also contain remains of Lincoln's Eleanor cross,[16] an oriel window moved from Sutton Hall and incorporated into the main gate, and the Bust of George III.[17]

At the western end of the castle is an ivy-clad building built in 1826 as the Assize courts. This is still used today as Lincoln's Crown Courts.[18][19]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Historic England. "Lincoln castle (326536)". PastScape. Retrieved 3 May 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Harfield, C. G. (1991), "A Hand-list of Castles Recorded in the Domesday Book", English Historical Review, 106: 373, 380, 384, doi:10.1093/ehr/CVI.CCCCXIX.371, JSTOR 573107<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Bradbury, Jim (1985). The medieval archer. Boydell & Brewer. p. 53. ISBN 0-85115-194-9.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 Jaques, Tony (2007). Dictionary of Battles and Sieges. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 588. ISBN 978-031333-538-9.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Historic England. "Earthwork, 1144 (326634)". PastScape. Retrieved 3 May 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Historic England. "Battle of Lincoln 1217 (1393578)". PastScape. Retrieved 3 May 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Historic England. "Medieval Fortifications (326634)". PastScape. Retrieved 15 May 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Historic England. "Thorngate Castle (1391209)". PastScape. Retrieved 15 May 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Santos, Cory (26 February 2013). "Searching for Lincoln's second castle". The Lincolnite. Retrieved 10 May 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Painter, Sydney (November 1949). "Review of books". The Journal of Economic History. 9 (2): 235–236. doi:10.1017/S0022050700063300. Retrieved 15 May 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> (reviewing Hill, J.W.F. (1948). Medieval Lincoln. Cambridge University Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>)
  11. Allen, Thomas (1833). The history of the county of Lincoln. London & Lincoln: John Saunders, Jr. p. 199.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Historic England. "Prison (1128351)". PastScape. Retrieved 3 May 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Historic England. "Lincoln Castle  (Grade Scheduled) (1005049)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 3 May 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. "Lincoln Castle to get £19m improvement". BBC News. 29 March 2012. Retrieved 5 June 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Colvin, H. M.; Brown, R. Allen; Taylor, A. J. (1963), The history of the King's Works Vol. 2: the Middle Ages, Her Majesty's Stationery Office, p. 704<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Historic England. "Eleanor cross fragment (326269)". PastScape. Retrieved 3 May 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. "Lincoln Castle's History Discover Lincoln Castle's history". Retrieved 9 July 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. Lincoln Castle
  19. Historic England. "Assize courts (1371045)". PastScape. Retrieved 3 May 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Knight, C. (1839). Penny cyclopaedia. The Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. p. 15.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Sewell, Richard Clarke (1846). Gesta Stephani. London: Sumptibus Societatis. pp. 70, 71.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further Reading

  • Lindley P. (ed.) (2004), The Early History of Lincoln Castle, Occasional Papers in Lincolnshire History and Archaeology, No. 12.

External links

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