What to see
You’ll find accounts of Lincoln’s tourist attractions, information, shopping, eating out etc at Visit Lincoln.
Links to the city’s attractions include:
Towns of Two Halves
It’s not quite the Aurora Borealis, but something magical happens in Lincoln Cathedral on a bright, sharp December afternoon.
The low winter sun streams in through the windows of the south transept and projects stained-glass colours on to the opposite wall of the nave. Grey masonry becomes lilac, pink, and cowslip yellow. Austere waves of moulding gain crisply contrasting lines and deep shadows. Illuminated like a manuscript, the recesses along the north wall take on the gentle aqua tints that children’s colouring books – ‘Just add water’ – used to have. The dramatic wooden stations of the cross, the Forest Stations by William Fairbank, glow and shimmer in fields of gold.
This will happen on any sunny afternoon between November and February, I suppose. But I was in Lincoln for just half a day and perhaps once only. It was as if the Northern Lights had drifted south, just for my benefit.
The cathedral itself was quiet. Fantasising over the light, I went through what I could remember of the Amazing Blondel’s 1971 album Fantasia Lindum in my head. Lindum was the Roman name of Lincoln. The Amazing Blondel performed in an era before videos, when coloured lights were the most elaborate distraction you could expect at a concert.
If the sun isn’t shining Lincoln Cathedral still has plenty to offer: so many different styles, of worship as much as of architecture. From Romanesque to modern, not many intervening periods are overlooked. Over the left-hand door of the Norman west front of the cathedral there’s much early-church weirdness: writhing carved figures warn those of us found wanting on the Day of Judgement what we can expect.
The Cathedral’s monuments include the shrine of St Hugh and the tombs of Eleanor of Castile, wife of Edward I, and Katherine Swynford, third wife of John of Gaunt. In the Treasury you’ll find treasures going back to the early Christian era and, if your timing is good, a lovely volunteer whose knowledge of the extent of the See of Lincoln is humbling. There’s a display of William Morris stained glass and an imposing statue of the Virgin Mary.
You could easily spend quite a lot of time in Lincoln Cathedral. You could equally easily spend quite a lot of money. It was £6.40 to get in, late in 2017, and collecting boxes for the Repair Fund, the Music Fund, the Fabric Fund and the Flower Fund punctuate your circuit of the building. Then, of course, there’s the shop.
Around the corner you might spend a further £6.10 on the medieval Bishops Palace, which is said to be valued by English Heritage members for its peace. Perhaps the price puts people off. French autoroutes used to be quiet for much the same reason.
Through the market and across the way is Lincoln Castle, where tickets to the three attractions – Wall Walk, Victorian Prison and Magna Carta Gallery – are £13.40. The Magna Carta not being on display, I confined myself to the wall walk for £6. The full circumference is about a third of a mile, with comprehensive information boards along the way telling of battles, a siege, public executions and burials and the general bloody history of the city. Mostly, though, the walk is for the views: eastward to the Cathedral, south over the city and, no less dramatic, westward to Cottam power station.
Being free, the Museum of Lincolnshire Life is undeniably good value. Laid out around a central courtyard with children’s play area, it’s a series of galleries (stables?) in which cameos of life are presented. The right-hand side is domestic, mainly, and the left commercial. At the top are larger spaces for transport, industry and agriculture, dominated by machinery and vehicles.
Some of the highlights are military. The Royal Lincolnshire Regimental Galleries have a particularly effective recreation of trench warfare. And not far away you’ll find a World War I tank.
The Lincoln engineering firm of William Foster & Co was responsible for the first military tanks. Their prototype, called Little Willie, went from design to trials in just 45 days; its more successful successor, Big Willie, took 141 days and changed the nature of warfare. They first went into action at the Battle of the Somme in September 1916.
The tank on display is appropriately mud-coloured and is called Daphne. Its armaments mark it out as a ‘female’ tank. As for the name, a tag relates that from July 1917 tanks were named according to their battalion letter. Not all sounded as friendly as Daphne: A was for Aggressive, B for Bellicose and G for Germicide, for example. But Daphne, understandably dirty and decayed and generally difficult to recognise when found in a breaker’s yard, was originally thought to be an F for Flirt.
These vehicles and their fearsome successors came to be called ‘tanks’ by accident. When HG Wells wrote about tanks in 1903, neither the word nor the military vehicle existed and he called them ‘land iron-clads’. Thirteen years on, in Lincoln, the early machines were referred to obliquely to keep their purpose a secret. The Lincoln prototypes were called ‘water carriers’ and were supposedly destined for service in Mesopotamia; workers referred to them as ‘water tanks’ and, later, simply ‘tanks’.
The rest of the Museum of Lincolnshire Life (identified on some signposts as ‘Moll’ – don’t be misled) provides a solid supporting cast for Daphne, a genuine star. Even the small upstairs section, which feels like something of an afterthought, is worth a few minutes of your time. The Gatehouse Gallery was empty on the day I visited, and the display entitled ‘Village Green’ seemed half-hearted. But the Victorian schoolroom was good and a room devoted to nonconformism in Lincoln, especially John Wesley’s brand, was informative. Apparently Wesley commented in 1761: “I find the work of God increases on every side; but particularly in Lincolnshire.” Wesley was born about 25 miles north of Lincoln.
And the Hossack Collection was extraordinary. Ron Hossack seems to have been a man of infinite curiosity who never threw anything away. His collection, donated to the county, includes jet jewellery, a midget Bible and a stuffed lizard among many other truly odd things.
On a warmer day in Lincoln, you might head for the Brayford Pool area in the lower part of town, or Lincoln Arboretum, a short distance east of the city centre. If you were looking for art there are galleries at the magnificent Usher Gallery (part of the Collection Museum, which also houses archaeology), St Martins and Harding House. Or you might just wander around, enjoying the feel of the place.
The football club left me with mixed feelings. The people I spoke to could not have been more pleasant. On the other hand, it was the most one-eyed, aggressive and annoying crowd I’ve sat in for a long time.
When a Lincoln player went down under a challenge, the cry of “Off, off, off!” arose automatically from the stands, directed at the Accrington tackler; when an Accrington player went down, it was “Cheat, cheat, cheat!” That was above the almost continuous monotone thudding of a drum and, at home-team corners, an air-raid siren – this is Bomber County, after all.
Lincoln City 2 Accrington Stanley 0
Sincil Bank, 16 December 2017
This is the Lincoln chapter of Towns of Two Halves, published in 2018. To buy a copy, email firstname.lastname@example.org.