I visited the nearby city of Lincoln twice while I was living in Nottingham. The first was on a bright clear summer day – a lucky break in a summer full of rainy days. I left relatively early in the morning and since Lincoln is only an hour or so away by train I spent eight or so hours wandering around. Lincoln isn’t a very big city but its full of history and was quite an important city during the Medieval period. It was one of the wealthiest cities in England – once the third largest city in the country due to the the weavers guild which gained a great deal of prominence and brought wealth to the city.
The cathedral in Lincoln is magnificent. When the cathedral towers were completed it was considered to be the tallest man-made structure in the world – surpassing the pyramids at Giza – and its builder was canonized as St Hugh of Lincoln. Lincoln also held the seat of the local diocese including the ruins of a once lavish bishop’s palace (also built by St Hugh) that was an incredibly important building, both for its architecture and its guests. Lincolnshire had one of the highest concentrations of monasteries in the country and the diocese was very wealthy. Several of the Bishops of Lincoln have places in popular history, one being Hugh of Wells who, as the bishop, witnessed the signing of the Magna Carta. Lincoln Castle preserves one of the four remaining original copies of the document – its quite the sight and an incredibly important document.
Lincoln’s decline began with a series of plagues in the 14th century and continued in the 16th century with the dissolution of the monasteries which greatly affected the wealth of the diocese as well as the city’s political power. Then the Civil War came and Lincoln was unfortunately situated on the border between Royalist and Parliamentary forces and thus the city was sacked during the fighting. The damage was incredible and included the ruin of the bishop’s palace and the destruction of its industry. The city didn’t fully recover until the Industrial Revolution and has since become a tourist city – especially during the Christmas market – the longest running in the UK.
Folklore from the medieval period also tells of one very interesting (and tragic) tale from Lincoln. The story of Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln was very popular during this period (and continued to be so for several centuries). The story itself stems from an incident in 1255 in which a young Christian boy disappeared and was later discovered murdered at the bottom of a well. The Jewish community in Lincoln was well-established and one of the most important in Europe, but antisemitism had resulted in the destruction of a great deal of property. After the murder a local Jewish man admitted to the murder under torture and was executed but due to political circumstances almost one hundred other members of the community were arrested and taken to London to stand trial for the ‘ritual murder’ of the boy. This was a common charge during the Medieval period in Europe and led to the arrest, torture and execution of many innocent members of the Jewish communities. In the case of Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln almost twenty of those arrested were immediately executed for refusing to participate in the politically based sham of a trial. The remainder were freed after the intervention of the King’s brother but the Jewish community in Lincoln never recovered and the Jewish population was expelled en masse in the late 13th century.
During my first visit I explored the castle (including the very creepy Victorian jail and Magna Carta exhibit), the Cathedral with the cloister and beautiful library and the ruins of the Bishop’s palace thoroughly. I also did a bit of shopping on Steep Hill – the most famous shopping district in the city – and had afternoon tea at a lovely traditional teashop.
My second visit was to visit my Great-aunt Micky, the wife of my late great-uncle, who I hadn’t even realized lived in the city during my first trip! I visited close to Christmas and was pleased to be able to go over some old family photos and relics as well as to hear some of the family stories and anecdotes from Mick! I was so pleased to spend time with family I’ve never met before and I found some lovely photos of my grandmother as a young girl during her Cambridge days!