Lincoln Castle: Medieval Wall Walk

Lincoln has a magnificent cathedral, but practically opposite there is the castle. Not any old ruin, but a grand Norman castle with two keeps and a complete curtain wall. Its highly strategic position has given it continuing historical importance – the site of many battles, sieges, medieval wheeling and dealing and it houses one of the four surviving examples of that monumental document – the Magna Carta.

The castle faces the cathedral and market place in the upper town
The castle faces the cathedral and market place in the upper town

Nowadays it is a wonderful museum telling the stories of life as both Georgian and Victorian prisons, the rebellions, the Battle of Lincoln in 1141, which came about because of the struggle for the throne between Matilda, the daughter and chosen heir of Henry I and her cousin Stephen; the siege of Lincoln 1191; the Magna Carta, 1206, and the civil war siege in 1644. From 1660 it ceased to be a military stronghold and became a jail and courthouse.

Georgian and Victorian prisons
Georgian and Victorian prisons

We decided to join a free tour of the castle and grounds which was very interesting and we learned a lot about the history of the site. Afterwards we wandered around the prison cells where they have short films telling the story of individuals and why they were in prison and also went to have a look at the ‘Magna Carta’ and the ‘Charter of the Forest’. Then I left OH resting on a bench in the sunshine whilst I walked around the Medieval Wall Walk.

Cobb Hall
Cobb Hall

Cobb Hall is the latest of the three towers, estimated to have been built between 1190 and 1220. The tower defended the castle’s north-east quarter. Although flat on this side, externally it is rounded and inside the walls have been carved with graffiti by prisoners and bored guards. Between 1817 and 1859, 38 prisoners were hanged on a wooden gallows from the top of this tower.

On the wall heading to Cobb Tower
On the wall heading to Cobb Tower
Water Tower built in 1911 after a typhoid epidemic.

Although outside the castle walls you cannot avoid noticing this impressive tower. The 120-foot-tall building was constructed a result of a Typhoid epidemic in Lincoln that started in late 1904. 113 people died from the outbreak which was one of the city’s biggest peacetime disasters. The building was completed in 1911, decorated with the fleur-de-lys – the symbol of Lincoln Cathedral’s Patron Saint, Mary Mother of Jesus. It is supplied by piping water from a reservoir 22 miles away at Elkesly, Nottinghamshire.

Lincolnshire flag
The new Lincolnshire flag
And whilst we are talking about the fleur-de -lys, it is also present on the newly designed flag which was unveiled in 2005 to promote the county’s profile.

The red cross is the Saint George’s Cross representing England. Yellow represents the crops grown in the county, as well as the nickname “Yellowbellies” given to people born and bred in Lincolnshire. Blue represents both the sea of the East coast and the wide skies of Lincolnshire, and green symbolises the rich lushness of fenland fields. The fleur de lys is a recognised symbol of the City of Lincoln.

The East Gate
The East Gate
The Lucy Tower

The Lucy Tower is named after one of the formidable women linked to the castle. It was built on top of its Norman mound and is a polygonal shell keep, the internal space was kept open.

Observatory Tower
Observatory Tower

The wall walk continues around the back of the Victorian prison to the Observatory tower which was built on the smaller of the two mounds that join the south curtain wall. The additional tower was added in early †19C by prison governor John Merryweather who was a keen amateur astronomer.

The Observatory Tower
The Observatory Tower


Lincoln Cathedral: Stained Glass

There’s a lot of stained-glass in Lincoln cathedral. Many different dates and styles from medieval (†13C) to the mid-nineteenth century. The nave is lit by intense colours from the mainly mid-nineteenth century windows such as these memorial windows.


Several different studios made the windows on the south side of the nave, which explains the variations in style. The windows in the Chapter House were all by one studio, Clayton & Bell, to give a more cohesive look.

Memorial to Lincoln mathematician Dr George Boole
Memorial to Lincoln mathematician Dr George Boole: Jesus conversing in the Temple (Ward & Hughes after 1864)

Boole is a name that I am very familiar with and not in a good way! It was George Boole who devised the Boolean Logic system, based on the idea that a thing cannot simultaneously have a set of properties and not have them. The power in an electronic circuit is either on or off. Sounds pretty simple. Boole converted this concept into abstract symbols to help solve complex problems. In the Boolean system ‘true’ or ‘on’ is represented by 1 and ‘false’ or ‘off is 0. Known as Boolean Gates. His ideas laid the foundation of mathematical logic and provided the theoretical underpinning for all modern computer logic.

So why do I dislike Boole? Because part of my computer degree was in mathematics, more precisely, Boolean Algebra. Not only did I find it impossible to understand, it almost caused me to fail my first year math’s exam! But I did seek out his memorial window.

Boole Memorial window

At the crossing you find the Dean’s Eye to the north which contains some original pieces depicting the Last Judgment. This window survives from the time of Hugh of Avalon’s re-building between 1192 and 1235.


To the south is the Bishop’s Eye filled with a kaleidoscope of ancient glass.  It was most likely rebuilt circa 1325–1350 after the completion of the Minster and shows the beginning of the decorated style with the flowing tracery representing leaves – a unique pattern.

The Bishop's Eye
The Bishop’s Eye

The impressive West Window is from 1859 and contains Old Testament kings and prophets. (Augustus and Frederick Sutton)


The Great East Window was only the second nineteenth century window to be installed in the cathedral and subject of a great debate. Such is its size that it is not possible to photograph it without tilting the camera upwards – hence the peculiar angle.


The nearby Service Chapels allow a contrasting glimpse of modernism on stained glass in the twentieth century.

And in the Chapter House an oculus showing ‘The Council at Jerusalem, surrounded by various other scenes from The Acts of the Apostles’. In memory of Jacob Clements, (1820-98) sometime SubDean at the Cathedral. (Clayton & Bell).


And another window in the Chapter House depicts the 12th century cathedral burning (Clayton & Bell 1874)



So many scenes catch my eye, and the colours are incredible.


Below, Dean Kaye escorts John Wesley on his last visit to Lincoln Cathedral in 1799 (Clayton & Bell 1909) in the Chapter House.


Familiar Old Testament and New Testament scenes are depicted. My eyes are drawn to the different styles, the stylised flowers, the geometric shapes and patterns.

And finally I have a question for you, the viewer. I’m not entirely happy with showing the full length of the windows, because they are narrow and not very easy to see, which is why I select portions to enlarge. However I do realise that it is nice to see the whole window as then you get a sense of the patterns and tone. So I would be grateful for any feedback you can give me on this subject. In future should I just select samples of the windows so you get a better view, or not?

Thanks 🙂

Lincoln Cathedral: Choir Screen

The †13C limestone choir screen is a marvellous example of decorated Gothic architecture with pinnacles and arches with tiny carved animal heads.



The walls of the screen are covered with carvings of leaves and flowers. Traces of red and blue paint can still be seen on them.

Carved head of a tongue-puller journeyman in his leather cap.




I only wish I lived closer as I could spend many an hour focussing on the details of this screen.

Lincoln Cathedral: Cloisters

As I mentioned previously the cloisters in this cathedral are quite small. The interesting and unusual feature is the wooden vault.

Wooden vault
Wooden vault

And the wooden bosses. Of the original one hundred roof bosses, one in each of its bays, there are now just sixty remaining.  These bosses fall into five categories: religious and secular figures, heads, animals and foliage.

An arcaded passageway leads to the chapter house. This has darker columns with carved capitals of foliage set under pointed arches (as in the first image and below).


On the other passage there are some odd stone grotesques hidden next to the foliage – possibly stonemasons’ identification? I haven’t been able to find out much about these, but tongue-pullers are thought to a sign of a journeyman mason as St Blaise, who is the saint associated with diseases of the throat and mouth, is also the patron saint of masons. Hair-pullers like the bearded man, serpents and monsters are most likely there to frighten worshippers and remind them that the world is a sinful place. These over-imaginative human and animal forms often distort the natural into ugliness or a caricature.

The cloisters also provide a quiet space for a rest (and get a phone signal perhaps!)


And the stone carvings are magnificent in their detail. As always you have to look up and pause to admire the beauty of this historic craftsmanship.

Lincoln Cathedral: Interior

“I have always held and proposed against all comers to maintain that the Cathedral of Lincoln is out and out the most precious piece of architecture in the British Isles” – John Ruskin.

After circumnavigating the cathedral at least twice by day and night, it was time to venture inside. Unlike Norwich it is not free to enter, but you can buy a combination ticket with the castle and the admission includes a floor tour. Originally built by the Normans after the defeat in 1066, Lincoln cathedral was consecrated in 1092. The diocese stretched from the Humber in the north to the Thames in the south, and after an earthquake in 1185 only the west front remains from the Norman period.

Inside, it is filled with light from the many stained-glass windows. (You guessed it, a separate post will follow)

Nave with the impressive choir screen and Willis organ in the background

Depressingly filled with light-sucking dark plastic chairs. Originally the space would have been empty and the spaces used for markets. When people gathered for services they would have stood.


A pilgrimage is a special kind of a journey

The font is made of a black carboniferous limestone from France, waxed and polished to resemble marble. Its sides are carved with mythical beasts of good and evil fighting.

West face of the font
West face of the font

To your left is the art work of William Fairbank, “The Forest Stations” which show Jesus’s journey to the Crucifixion and Resurrection, carved from many different types of wood.

At the crossing you can see that the church was built in the shape of a cross. Huge rose windows face each other from the north and south transepts.

I’ll go into more detail about the windows in a separate post. In the north transept you find the Service Chapels – for remembering soldiers, sailors and airmen. Lincoln cathedral is especially connected with those who served in the Bomber Command during WWII.


As usual in English cathedrals, the full vista of the nave is blocked, and the choir – in this case St Hugh’s Choir which is almost a church within a church – is hidden from view. However, in this case the screen is exquisitely beautiful. Carved in stone and originally painted in bright colours, some of which can be still seen in faded glory, it was built in 1330 to separate the clergy, their assistants and the choir from the congregation.

The Choir Screen
The Choir Screen

I was so taken by the carvings on this screen that I will make a separate post showing the details.

North Transept

At the far end of the nave is the Angel Choir where you will find several tombs and the infamous Lincoln Imp, if you look closely enough. Legend has it that he caused so much chaos one of the angels turned him to stone.

Eleanor of Castile (1241 – 1290) was the Queen Consort of Edward I. Her entrails were buried in a visceral tomb to avoid the unpleasant smells of moving her body to Westminster Abbey. When she died, near Lincoln, her husband famously ordered a stone cross to be erected at each stopping-place on the journey to London, ending at Charing Cross. (The Eleanor Crosses)

Tomb details
Tomb details

As usual I was particularly interested in the choir area. Lincoln has some delightful misericords, unfortunately all the seats were down ready for Evensong when we entered, and on gently raising one to see what lay beneath I was verbally assaulted by one of the clergymen. Despite the fact that the seats are raised daily and sat upon he proceeded to lecture me loudly and publicly about the damage I could cause to the medieval hinges (?) – I politely pointed out that there is no notice or ropes to indicate that one should not look at the seats, but he was not in any mood to listen. A nearby fellow photographer hastily withdrew from the choir, and my OH was almost shaking with anger.  The altercation did somewhat sour our visit and I was saddened not to have at least seen the carvings in person.

St Hugh's Choir
St Hugh’s Choir

However, do not let my mishap deter you from visiting the Choir as it is very beautiful and is where the Bishop’s throne – cathedra – is located.

The South Transept entrance

Lincoln cathedral does have a cloister, but much smaller than that of Norwich, built around 1296 and unusually on the north side.

p9120193The cloisters are reached down the north east transept (Slype corridor) and through a heavy wooden door.


Three sides are †13c. They have a wooden ceiling with carved bosses and Gothic arches.

Wooden vault
Wooden vault

We’ll have a look at the carvings in the next post.