For generations Lincoln Cathedral was the tallest building in the mediaeval world! And if the Spires & Steeples walk had existed two centuries ago, it would have begun in the shadow of two mighty spires on the cathedral’s twin west towers. They were removed in 1807, a storm having already destroyed one of the central towers in 1548. Even so without the spires the towers stand at 82.8 metres high – the spires added almost another 100 metres – the west front remains splendidly impressive. The first cathedral was built by Bishop Remigius, who was appointed by William the Conqueror, but that was largely destroyed by fire in 1141 and rebuilt only to be levelled in 1185 by an earthquake. Bishop Hugh’s subsequent rebuilding in the Early English style remains largely what we see today.
The Spires & Steeples trail begins through the nearby Exchequer Gate (circa 1320). The houses on the right within Minster Yard are known as the ‘Number Houses’ for they were the first in the city to have street numbers. Immediately through the gate is our first church and its dedication, ‘St Mary Magdalene with St Paul in the Bail and St Michael on the Mount’. This must surely be the longest in the land. St Mary’s original site is probably under the cathedral and the first church here dated from the late C13th but was virtually destroyed in the Civil War; it was restored in 1693 and again by the Victorians.
Lincoln Castle, The Magna Carta and Castle Hill
We are now on Castle Hill (actually a square), with Lincoln Castle dominating the far end and although occupying a Roman site it mostly dates from 1068. However, the Victorian prison inside has an extraordinary and unique chapel and an exhibition and interpretive display contains an original copy of the 1215 Magna Carta.
Jews Court and The Collection
Descending Steep Hill, we pass first the Norman House on the left (often, as a plaque reminds us, wrongly referred to as Aaron the Jews house) which dates from circa 1170 and lower down still is the Jews Court; again early mediaeval and formerly a synagogue or schoolroom. The walk then passes The Collection, Lincoln’s history museum and art gallery, opened in 2005 (entry is free).
The Drill Hall and St Swithin’s Artwork
Further down on Free School Lane, we pass the Drill Hall (1890), now a thriving performance venue with a large metal sculpture over the entrance, based on a Commedia dell’arte mask by Rick Kirby. At the bottom of Free School Lane is St Swithin’s, (our first spire) the winning design by Louth architect James Fowler in an 1868 competition; all grandiose Victorian Neo-Gothic it took eighteen years (1869 to 1887) to build.
City Square, the River Witham and Stamp End Lock
Next comes City Square and the River Witham, where arching over the water is the gleaming millennium sculpture ‘Empowerment’ by Stephen Broadbent. We then begin to head out of the city past Stamp End Lock, built in the 1770s at the point where formerly tolls had been collected at a chain strung across the river. The original lock was renewed in 1812. Stamp End once contained boat-building yards, but from the 1840s, it rapidly developed as the nucleus of Lincoln’s world renowned engineering industry. Clayton and Shuttleworth, perhaps Lincoln’s most successful engineering company, opened their Titanic Iron Works here in 1842 and their business rivals were such household names as Robeys and Rustons, who also had factories close to the river and the newly arrived railways. Many of these old factories are now demolished, but it is still possible to see the architectural evidence of Lincoln’s former engineering might.
The Water Rail Way
From Stamp End, the route follows the Water Rail Way (WRW), the new long distance cycle and walkway to Boston. Where this starts is the ‘Lincoln Stump’ a creative observation platform, and a partner piece to Boston Stump also by Paul Robbrecht at the other end of the WRW, and worth climbing for the river views. The WRW has found a new use for a former railway known as the ‘Lincolnshire Loop Line’ opened by the Great Northern railway in 1848 as part of their main line from London to the north. However, its status was short lived for in 1852 the present main line, the ‘Towns Line’ via Grantham, was opened. Near Washingborough the Lincoln to Sleaford railway, which we shall see again several times during the walk is visible on our right. This was opened by the Great Northern & Great Eastern Joint Railway Company in 1882; also just before Washingborough station is the massive, derelict bridge of the Lincoln ‘avoiding’ line (also 1882). In July 1940, Washingborough was the first ‘Loop Line’ station to close. Prior to the railway there had been a pier here for river packet steamers and a working ferry survived until about 1960.
Washingborough Village Trail Artwork
Before leaving the river spend a moment on the riverbank looking back towards Lincoln for the distant city and cathedral form the view immortalised by the famous C19th landscape artist Peter de Wint. As you enter Chapel Park, look out for the cast metal panels, part of Washingborough’s own village trail and the carved owl on the wall of the old chapel, a partner piece to the large bench further down the road by Jason Thompson.
Washingborough Church and the Domesday Book
Washingborough appears as ‘Wassynburge’; the fortified place of (the) Wassynga’s in the Domesday Book. The church is dedicated to St John the Evangelist and has an Early English tower and nave of about 1190 plus a Decorated chancel. It was restored between 1859 and 1862 by Sir George Gilbert Scott. There is a peal of eight bells, the earliest being dated 1587 and the latest 1898. The ‘Zeppelin’ windows in the clerestory are a curiosity commemorating 23rd September 1916 when a Zeppelin bombed the village in mistake for Lincoln.
In View Artwork
Walkers with a copy of North Kesteven District Council’s ‘In View’ arts booklet will be able to locate several outdoor art installations in the village. There are cast relief panels at the four entrance roads by Sheila Jessop and we have already seen the carved owl by Jason Thompson at Chapel Park. A short walk from outside the church will enable you to visit the others.