Earliest history: Lindon
The earliest origins of Lincoln can be traced to the remains of an Iron Age settlement of round wooden dwellings (which were discovered by archaeologists in 1972) that have been dated to the 1st century BC. This settlement was built by a deep pool (the modern Brayford Pool) in the River Witham at the foot of a large hill (on which the Normans later built Lincoln Cathedral and Lincoln Castle).
The origins of the name Lincoln may come from this period, when the settlement is thought to have been named in the Brythonic language of Iron Age Britain's Celtic inhabitants as Lindon "The Pool", presumably referring to Brayford Pool (compare the etymology of the name Dublin, from the Gaelic dubh linn "black pool"). The extent of this original settlement is unknown as its remains are now buried deep beneath the later Roman and medieval ruins and modern Lincoln.
Roman history: Lindum Colonia
The Romans conquered this part of Britain in AD 48 and shortly afterwards built a legionary fortress high on a hill overlooking the natural lake formed by the widening of the River Witham (the modern day Brayford Pool) and at the northern end of the Fosse Way Roman road (A46). The Celtic name Lindon was subsequently Latinised to Lindum and given the title Colonia when it was converted into a settlement for army veterans.
The conversion to a colonia was made when the legion moved on to York (Eboracum) in AD 71. Lindum colonia or more fully, Colonia Domitiana Lindensium, after its founder Domitian, was established within the walls of the hilltop fortress with the addition of an extension of about equal area, down the hillside to the waterside below.
It became a major flourishing settlement, accessible from the sea both through the River Trent and through the River Witham. On the basis of the patently corrupt list of British bishops who attended the 314 Council of Arles, the city is now often considered to have been the capital of the province of Flavia Caesariensis which was formed during the late-3rd century Diocletian Reforms. Subsequently, however, the town and its waterways fell into decline. By the close of the 5th century the city was largely deserted, although some occupation continued under a Praefectus Civitatis, for Saint Paulinus visited a man of this office in Lincoln in AD 629.
East Gate, Lincoln Castle
During this period the Latin name Lindum Colonia was shortened in Old English to become first Lindocolina, then Lincylene.
After the first destructive Viking raids, the city once again rose to some importance, with overseas trading connections. In Viking times Lincoln was a trading centre that issued coins from its own mint, by far the most important in Lincolnshire and by the end of the 10th century, comparable in output to the mint at York. After the establishment of the Danelaw in 886, Lincoln became one of the Five Boroughs in the East Midlands. Excavations at Flaxengate reveal that this area, deserted since Roman times, received new timber-framed buildings fronting a new street system in about 900. Lincoln experienced an unprecedented explosion in its economy with the settlement of the Danes. Like York, the Upper City seems to have been given over to purely administrative functions up to 850 or so, while the Lower City, running down the hill towards the River Witham, may have been largely deserted. By 950, however, the banks of the Witham were newly developed with the Lower City being resettled and the suburb of Wigford quickly emerging as a major trading centre. In 1068, two years after the Norman conquest, William I ordered Lincoln Castle to be built on the site of the former Roman settlement, for the same strategic reasons and controlling the same road.
Construction of the first Lincoln Cathedral, within its close or walled precinct facing the castle, began when the see was removed from the quiet backwater of Dorchester-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, and was completed in 1092; it was rebuilt after a fire but was destroyed by an unusual earthquake in 1185. The rebuilt Lincoln Minster, enlarged to the east at each rebuilding, was on a magnificent scale, its crossing tower crowned by a spire reputed to have been 525 ft (160 m) high, the highest in Europe. When completed the central of the three spires is widely accepted to have succeeded the Great Pyramids of Egypt as the tallest man-made structure in the world.
The Bishops of Lincoln were among the magnates of medieval England: the Diocese of Lincoln, the largest in England, had more monasteries than the rest of England put together, and the diocese was supported by large estates.
When Magna Carta was drawn up in 1215, one of the witnesses was Hugh of Wells, Bishop of Lincoln. One of only four surviving originals of the document is preserved in Lincoln Castle.
Among the most famous bishops of Lincoln were Robert Bloet, the magnificent justiciar to Henry I, Hugh of Avalon, the cathedral builder canonised as St Hugh of Lincoln, Robert Grosseteste, the 13th century intellectual, Henry Beaufort, chancellor of Henry V and Henry VI, Thomas Rotherham, a politician deeply involved in the Wars of the Roses, Philip Repyngdon, chaplain to Henry IV and defender of Wycliffe, and Thomas Wolsey, the lord chancellor of Henry VIII. Theologian William de Montibus was the head of the cathedral school and chancellor until his death in 1213.
The administrative centre was the Bishop's Palace, the third element in the central complex. When it was built in the late 12th century, the Bishop's Palace was one of the most important buildings in England. Built by Hugh of Lincoln, its East Hall range over a vaulted under-croft is the earliest surviving example of a roofed domestic hall. The chapel range and entrance tower were built by Bishop William of Alnwick, who modernised the palace in the 1430s. Both Henry VIII and James I were guests of bishops here; the palace was sacked by royalist troops during the civil war in 1648.
Coat of arms of King James I added in 1617 when the monarch visited the city for 9 days
During the Anarchy, in 1141 Lincoln was the site of a battle between King Stephen and the forces of Empress Matilda, led by her illegitimate halfbrother Robert, 1st Earl of Gloucester. After fierce fighting in the city's streets, Stephen's forces were defeated. Stephen himself was captured and taken to Bristol.
By 1150, Lincoln was among the wealthiest towns in England. The basis of the economy was cloth and wool, exported to Flanders; Lincoln weavers had set up a guild in 1130 to produce Lincoln Cloth, especially the fine dyed 'scarlet' and 'green', the reputation of which was later enhanced by Robin Hood wearing woollens of Lincoln green. In the Guildhall that surmounts the city gate called the Stonebow, the ancient Council Chamber contains Lincoln's civic insignia, a particularly fine collection of civic regalia.
Outside the precincts of cathedral and castle, the old quarter clustered around the Bailgate, and down Steep Hill to the High Bridge, which bears half-timbered housing, with the upper storeys jutting out over the river. There are three ancient churches: St Mary le Wigford and St Peter at Gowts are both 11th century in origin and St Mary Magdalene, built in the late 13th century, is an unusual English dedication to the saint whose cult was coming greatly into vogue on the European continent at that time.
Lincoln was home to one of the five most important Jewish communities in England, well established before it was officially noted in 1154. In 1190, anti-Semitic riots that started in King's Lynn, Norfolk, spread to Lincoln; the Jewish community took refuge with royal officials, but their habitations were plundered. The so-called House of Aaron has a two-storey street frontage that is essentially 12th century and a nearby Jew's House likewise bears witness to the Jewish population. In 1255, the affair called 'The Libel of Lincoln' in which prominent Jews of Lincoln, accused of the ritual murder of a Christian boy ('Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln' in medieval folklore) were sent to the Tower of London and 18 were executed. The Jews were expelled en masse in 1290.
During the 13th century, Lincoln was the third largest city in England and was a favourite of more than one king. During the First Barons' War, it became caught up in the strife between the king and the rebel barons, who had allied with the French. It was here and at Dover that the French and Rebel army was defeated. In the aftermath of the battle, the town was pillaged for having sided with Prince Louis. In 1266, during the Second Barons' War, the disinherited rebels attacked the Jews of Lincoln, ransacked the synagogue, and burned the records which registered debts.
According to some historians, the city's fortunes began to decline during the 14th century, although this assertion has been disputed, it being argued that the city remained buoyant in both trade and communications well into the 15th century. Thus in 1409, the city was made a county in its own right known as the County of the City of Lincoln. Thereafter, various additional rights being conferred on the town by successive monarchs, including those of an assay town (which controlled metal manufacturing, for example). The oldest surviving secular drama in English, The Interlude of the Student and the Girl (c. 1300), may have originated from Lincoln.
Lincoln's coat of arms, not officially endorsed by the College of Arms, is believed to date from the 14th century. It is Argent on a cross gules a fleur-de-lis or. The cross is believed to be derived from the Diocese of Lincoln, and the fleur-de-lis is the symbol of the Virgin Mary, to whom the cathedral is dedicated. The motto is CIVITAS LINCOLNIA (Latin for City of Lincoln).
The Dissolution of the Monasteries exacerbated Lincoln's problems, cutting off its main source of diocesan income and drying up the network of patronage controlled by the bishop, with no fewer than seven monasteries closed within the city alone. A number of nearby abbeys were also closed, which led to further diminution of the region's political power. When the cathedral's great spire rotted and collapsed in 1549 and was not replaced, it was a significant symbol of Lincoln's economic and political decline. However, the comparative poverty of post-medieval Lincoln preserved pre-medieval structures that would probably have been lost under more prosperous conditions.
Between 1642 and 1651, during the English Civil War, Lincoln was on the frontier between the Royalist and Parliamentary forces and changed hands several times. Many buildings were badly damaged. Lincoln now had no major industry and no easy access to the sea and was poorly situated. Thus while the rest of the country was beginning to prosper at the beginning of the 18th century, Lincoln suffered immensely, travellers often commenting on the state of what had essentially become a one-street town.
By the Georgian era, Lincoln's fortunes began to pick up, thanks in part to the Agricultural Revolution. The re-opening of the Foss Dyke canal allowed coal and other raw materials vital to industry to be more easily brought into the city.
As well as the economic growth of Lincoln during this era, the city boundaries expanded to include the West Common. To this day, an annual Beat the Boundaries walk takes place along the perimeter of the common.
Coupled with the arrival of the railway links, Lincoln boomed again during the Industrial Revolution, and several world-famous companies arose, such as Ruston's, Clayton's, Proctor's and William Foster's. Lincoln began to excel in heavy engineering, building locomotives, steam shovels and all manner of heavy machinery.
A permanent military presence was established in the city with the completion of the "Old Barracks" (now occupied by the Museum of Lincolnshire Life) in 1857; these were replaced by the "New Barracks" (now Sobraon Barracks) in 1890. Lincoln Drill Hall in Broadgate also opened in 1890.
Lincoln was hit by a major typhoid epidemic between November 1904 and August 1905 caused by polluted drinking water from Hartsholme Lake and the River Witham. Over 1,000 people contracted the disease and fatalities totalled 131, including the man responsible for the city's water supply, Liam Kirk of Baker Crescent. Near the beginning of the epidemic, Dr. Alexander Cruickshank Houston installed a chlorine disinfection system just ahead of the poorly operating slow sand filter to kill the bacteria causing the epidemic. Chlorination of the water supply continued until 1911 when a new water supply was implemented. The Lincoln chlorination episode was one of the first uses of the chemical to disinfect a water supply. Westgate Water Tower was constructed to provide new water supplies to the city.
The first tanks were built in Lincoln
In the two world wars, Lincoln switched to war production. The first ever tanks were invented, designed and built in Lincoln by William Foster & Co. during the First World War and population growth provided more workers for even greater expansion. The tanks were tested on land now covered by Tritton Road (in the south-west suburbs of the city). During the Second World War, Lincoln produced a vast array of war goods, from tanks, aircraft, munitions and military vehicles.
Ruston & Hornsby produced diesel engines for ships and locomotives, then by teaming up with former colleagues of Frank Whittle and Power Jets Ltd, in the early 1950s, R & H (which became RGT) opened the first-ever production line to build gas turbine engines for land-based and sea-based energy production. Hugely successful, it was the largest single employer in the city, providing over 5,000 jobs in its factory and research facilities, making it a rich takeover target for industrial conglomerates. It was subsumed by English Electric in November 1966, which was then bought by GEC in 1968, with diesel engine production being transferred to the Ruston Diesels Division in Newton-le-Willows, Lancashire, at the former Vulcan Foundry, which was eventually bought by the German MAN Diesel (now MAN Diesel & Turbo) in June 2000.
It merged with Alstom of France in the late 1980s, then in 2003 was bought out by Siemens AG of Germany, now being called Siemens Industrial Turbomachinery. This also includes what is left of
Napier Turbochargers. Plans were announced early in 2008 for the construction of a new plant just outside the city boundary at
Teal Park, North Hykeham. Unfortunately Siemens made large scale redundancies and moved jobs to both Sweden and the Netherlands. The factory now employs 1300 people. R&H's former
Beevor Foundry is now owned by
Hoval Group who make industrial boilers (wood chip). The Aerospace Manufacturing Facility (AMF) at the Firth Road site was divested to ITP Engines UK, in January 2009 from Alstom Aerospace Ltd.
Lincoln's second largest private employer is James Dawson and Son, a belting and hose manufacturer founded in Lincoln in the late 19th century. It is located at two sites, both on the city's Tritton Road. The main site, next to the University of Lincoln, operated using Lincolns last coal-fired boiler, until it was replaced by a gas-powered boiler in July 2018. Dawson's became part of the Fenner group, based in Hull, in the late 1970s.
New suburbs were built in the years after 1945, but heavy industry declined towards the end of the 20th century, as it did generally in the UK economy. Nevertheless, more people in Lincoln are still employed today in building gas turbines than in any other field.