I’d like to begin by saying a big thank you to everyone who buys National Lottery tickets. Since 1994 every time you’ve popped into a newsagent to pick up your daily paper and a couple of lucky dips on the side, you have contributed to a whole host of good causes. Our heritage is being regularly supported by the fund.
A few months ago I visited Lincoln Castle which has recently undergone a £22m restoration. £12m came from the Heritage Lottery Fund; the rest from private donations, the David Ross Foundation, Lincolnshire County Council and the European Regional Development Fund. If you haven’t visited since the renovations, it’s definitely worth a trip. The castle is a fantastic day out for all ages. Built by William the Conqueror in 1068 to control the rebellious north of the kingdom (we northerners have always been trouble!) it has been the scene of many a battle and siege and still stands proudly today.
Medieval Wall Walk
One of the main structural improvements to the castle is the stone curtain wall which, at a length of a third of a mile, can now be walked around in full. For the first time, visitors are able to look over to the magnificent Lincoln Cathedral from the castle’s east wall battlements. Included in the ticket price is an audio guide which, in hindsight, I wish we had chosen to take along with us. There are a number of plaques positioned on the route but the information is not as detailed. However I did learn a lot about the history of the castle including the grisly public hangings at Cobb Hall. Anyone who was anyone visited Lincoln Castle in its heyday, including Henry VIII and Catherine Howard in 1541. We climbed to the highest point of the Observatory Tower and took advantage of a perfectly clear, warm, September day to see for miles and miles…
The Victorian prison only existed for 30 years at Lincoln Castle. It used a ‘separate system’ with individual cells and a regime of keeping prisoners apart. The restoration funding has now made this a fascinating place to visit and it’s even been used as a film location for Downton Abbey and Call The Midwife. The chapel was particularly disturbing as no-one in the congregation could see anyone else apart from the chaplain. I also found the prisoners’ tales very thought-provoking. Each cell had its own audio-visual presentations telling the story of an individual who had been held here or a person who worked at the prison such as the matron or surgeon. I think the narrative which touched me most was that of Lucy Buxton who murdered her illegitimate baby. Thankfully she had her death sentence reprieved. Children as young as eight were held in Lincoln for a variety of crimes and seven murderers where hanged here: their graves can still be seen today in Lucy Tower.
Lincoln Castle is the only place in the world where you can see an original 1215 Magna Carta together with a 1217 Charter of the Forest (an updated version of Magna Carta which included many of the original clauses). In a new vault, carefully designed to protect them against further deterioration, visitors are invited to look at these 800 year old historical documents. There’s also a huge wraparound screen cinema with 3D sound, explaining the history of the charters and their significance in today’s world.
Langton’s Café and gift shop
Another super addition is a lovely café which had excellent pastries and sandwiches. There was plenty of seating, inside and out. You don’t have to buy a castle ticket to enjoy the café or sit in the grounds; ideal if you’re pushed for time or just want to have a coffee in historical surroundings. Now that we’ve realised this, we pop in for a coffee whenever we’re shopping in the city. The gift shop is also worth a look and on a visit before Christmas we picked up a few extra presents including some bottles of mead, which we were allowed to taste before buying.
If you plan to visit, there are a number of options with a 10% discount if you book online. I paid £12 for an all-inclusive castle ticket which gives access to the prison, the Medieval Wall Walk and Magna Carta. It also allows you a free return visit within six months, which I plan to do again very shortly – and this time with an audio guide.
It’s worth noting that often have special events for children in the school holidays. For example, a February half-term event: Worst jobs in Victorian Britain. From Saturday 11 to Sunday 19 February 2017, you can meet costumed characters such as a fish wife and a rat catcher and hear about their disgusting duties. Activities for children include making a furry rat or a fish print. The event is included in the main ticket price.
I was interested to read that King John spent several days in Lincoln in September 1216, shortly before he lost his jewels and baggage in the incoming tide of The Wash. Within two weeks of his visit, he died of dysentery at Newark Castle. The jewels have never been found. Now, I live in a town called Holbeach in Lincolnshire which, until the drainage systems of the 17th century were put in place, was just 2 miles from the coast at The Wash. So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m just going to fetch a spade and head out into the garden…
Lincoln Castle, Castle Hill, Lincoln. LN1 3AA Tel: 01522 782040 www.lincolncastle.com