South Common

Description

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  • Overview
    This Character Area is made up almost entirely of South Common, which is a large area of common land on the southeastern boundary of the city, bridging the gap between the built-up area and agricultural fields beyond.
     
    This Character Area and West Common both play an enormous role in reinforcing the setting of Lincoln as an urban area closely linked to its rural surroundings. This is a huge swathe of natural open space that is close to the city centre but also directly adjacent to the agricultural fields that separate Lincoln from the nearby settlements of Canwick and Bracebridge Heath. The fact that this area is common land gives it an unmanaged and natural character that creates the impression of being right on the edge of the countryside.
     
    The Common has an irregular boundary marked by a mixture of Victorian iron railings, a wooden fence, and overgrown hedgerow. Within the site there are small enclosures around two ponds and several areas of plantation. Horses still graze the Common, though much less than in the past. The result is that areas of scrub are starting to encroach on what is predominantly a very large area of open grassland.
     
    The Character Area lies on the south side of the Witham Gap, a valley carved by glacial meltwaters through a Jurassic (210-140 million years B.P) limestone ridge. This created an escarpment to the south east of the north escarpment on which the Cathedral and uphill part of the City are situated, which increases in gradient as it gets further away from the city centre. From high up on this escarpment there are panoramic views across the city, extending as far as Boultham Park and the river valley in the west, and the Witham Gap in the east. From the area closer to South Park there are views directly on to the Victorian houses that were built to look out onto the Common. This part of the Common is more urban in character due to the iron railings and remnants of formal sports pitches that are more familiar in formal urban parks.
     
    The topography has also been heavily influenced by a succession of uses on the site. From the 12th century pasture may have been improved by the digging of a number of field drains, some of which survive as shallow earthworks running down slope perpendicular to the contours. Quarries and their associated waste are visible in the form of undulating earthworks, former quarry faces, and linear scarps over much of the Common and a number of large earthworks in the upper part of the Common, which are similar in appearance to these former quarry sites, are the locations of former shooting butts which were first established in the Early Industrial Period.
     
    The earliest definitive evidence for activity in the Character Area consists of the former route of Ermine Street, a Roman road dating to the Roman Military Era, observable in the form of a low-lying linear earthwork and line of quarries running almost due north from the southern corner of the Common. Lincoln’s expansion during the High Medieval Era will have necessitated the extraction of natural resources for use in buildings, industries, and city infrastructure. Quarrying probably ceased in the Early Industrial Period when much of the land surrounding the Character Area was enclosed by Act of Parliament. In so doing, the 1757 Act defined the modern boundaries of South Common. The Post-Railway Expansion [1846-1868 AD] and Late Victorian/Edwardian [1868-1919 AD] Periods saw the Common adopt a more recreational role in the city’s townscape. In 1844 a rural walk was created along a section of the upper north escarpment, and around the same time the Common was enclosed by iron railings. During the First World War the area was used as a testing ground for ‘Little Willie’, the prototype of the first military tank.
     
    The Common now comprises a large area of coarse grassland scattered with planted trees such as lime, beech, ash and sycamore, including several veteran beech and ash trees, and one large elm. The grassland is predominantly of low botanical value but there are some areas of richer, acidic sward and some damper areas. In addition to the scattered trees there are also several strips of plantation along the boundary with the Viking Way and areas of naturally occurring woodland. The other major habitat in this Character Area is fresh water. There are three ponds, two of which are formal ponds surrounded by mown damp, neutral grassland and a variety of trees and shrubs that were fenced off from the rest of the site when the Common was given a more recreational focus.

    This Character Area is now mainly used for informal recreation. There are no longer any formal sports pitches on the Common but people still use it for walking and for informal play.

  • Historical Development
    The current character of South Common is a result of its continued use from the Roman Military [60-90 AD] Era, if not before, up to the present day. The complex arrangements of earthworks that characterise the whole of the north-facing escarpment are a product of the continued use and exploitation of land during this period.
     
    During the Prehistoric Era [10,000-60 AD] the north escarpment, including land within the Character Area, may have been a focus for Prehistoric settlement or activity. The course of the Jurassic Way is thought to cross the northern half of the Common, although no conclusive evidence exists to support the theory. Springs located on the upper slopes, many of which still arise today, may have had ritual significance during the Prehistoric and later Roman Eras.
     
    The earliest definitive evidence for activity in the Character Area consists of the former route of Ermine Street, a Roman road dating to the Roman Military Era, observable in the form of a low lying linear earthwork and line of quarries running almost due north from the southern tip of the Common. Although evidence for other Roman activity in the Character area is limited, quarrying was almost certainly undertaken during the Roman Colonia [90-410 AD] Era, if not before. The original site of an early Roman fort, erected upon the arrival of the Ninth Legion, may have been in this general area.
     
    Evidence for activity in the Early Medieval [410-850 AD] Era is very scant, partly as a result of a general decline in prosperity of the city subsequent to the fall of the Roman Empire, but also due to later groundwork, which has overwritten much of the evidence for early activity on the Common.
     
    During the High Medieval Era [850-1350 AD] Lincoln experienced rapid growth and prosperity. The period of expansion included the creation of the Hospital of the Holy Innocents or Malandry (a chapel and hospital complex to house lepers), the southern and eastern boundaries of which are marked by the allotments immediately west of the footbridge over the railway. Around the same time St. Catherine’s Priory was established to the north-west of the Common. A series of small hollow ways along the far south-west and south-east edges of the Character Area are probably contemporary in date and may have provided access to the Priory and southern part of the City. Both the Priory and Malandry claimed rights of Common over land within the Character Area, and documentary evidence suggests that St. Catherine’s Priory channelled water from one of the springs on the upper escarpment. The small pond in the north east of the area, and the series of linear earthworks running west from it, may be a candidate for an early cistern and drain (which is originally recorded as being underground) belonging to the Priory.
     
    Rights of common were extended to local inhabitants of Lincoln and Canwick, and the area would have been grazed in common by their flocks and herds alongside the substantial numbers of livestock associated with the Malandry and St. Catherine’s Priory. In addition to grazing, parts of the Common were cultivated during the High Medieval and Early Modern Eras, illustrated by ridge and furrow earthworks in the far east of the Character Area. From the 12th century pasture may have been improved by the digging of a number of field drains, some of which survive as shallow earthworks running down the slope.
     
    The orientation of South Park and Canwick Road which form part of the northern and eastern boundaries of the Character Area were probably established during the High Medieval Era. The roads, which would have originally taken the form of track ways, connected outlying villages, such as Canwick and Branston, with the south of the city, and would have been important in Lincoln’s development as a market centre.
     Earthworks, probably associated with former quarrying works, on the upper slopes of South Common
    Figure 1 Earthworks, probably associated with former quarrying works, on the upper slopes of South Common
     
    As in the Roman Era, Lincoln’s expansion during the High Medieval Era would have necessitated the extraction of natural resources for use in buildings, industries, and city infrastructure. Lincolnshire limestone, Northamptonshire ironstone and clays were all extracted from the Character Area between the Roman Military and Early Industrial [1750-1845 AD] Periods. As stated before, early evidence for quarrying is limited, being overwritten by later extraction during the High Medieval and Early Modern Eras. Quarries and their associated waste are visible in the form of undulating earthworks, former quarry faces, and linear scarps over much of South Common, particularly towards the upper escarpment. The extraction of materials in the Character Area may have been restricted to citizens with common rights on South Common, and as a result, the array of earthworks may represent small-scale private diggings as opposed to any large-scale industrial enterprise. Stone extracted from the quarries is likely to have been used in many buildings around the city, particularly those near to the Common, such as the Malandry and St. Catherine’s. Stonemasonry may have occurred alongside quarrying in the Character Area.
     
    From at least the High Medieval Era onwards, quarried clay from the Character Area would have supported many of Lincoln’s industries, in particular those associated with the manufacture of bricks and tiles. Two lakes located in the centre south of the Character Area were landscaped out of a large quarry or clay pit. During the High Medieval and Early Modern Eras clay from South Common almost definitely supplied the large tile works located to the north of the Character Area around Spencer Street. During the mid-18th century the City Council tried to encourage clay diggings to be opened on South Common, and two Early Industrial brick works at Cross O’Cliff Hill and South Cliffe, may have used clay from the Character Area.
     
    Quarrying probably ceased in the Early Industrial Period when much of the land surrounding the Character Area was enclosed by Act of Parliament. In so doing, the 1757 Act defined the modern boundaries of South Common. However, it was only by the mid 19th century that the Character Area also assumed its modern name, having formerly being known as Canwick Common.
     Abandoned Railway Bridge, which is surrounded by greenery in the north of the Character Area
    Figure 2 Abandoned railway bridge in the north of the Character Area
     
    A number of large earthworks in the upper part of the Common, which are similar in appearance to former quarry sites, are the locations of former shooting butts which were first established in the Early Industrial Period, when an Act of Parliament was passed in 1757 to encourage local militia and volunteers to form. Despite the construction of the Great Northern Railway Honington Line in 1867, which cut across the line of fire of several of the rifle ranges, shooting appears to have continued into the early 20th century. The now abandoned railway line, which forms part of the northern boundary of the Character Area, closed in 1972. The shooting butts probably fell out of use in the 20th century, as the Common increasingly became a focus for recreation.
     
    The Post-Railway Expansion [1846-1868 AD] and Late Victorian/Edwardian [1868-1919 AD] Periods had seen the Common adopt a more recreational role in the city’s townscape. In 1844 a rural walk was created along a section of the upper south escarpment, and around the same time the Common was enclosed by iron railings, large sections of which survive today. The walk or promenade entailed the planting of trees and landscaping of former quarrying works into a terrace, parts of which still remain in the east of the Character Area. As part of the area’s conversion into a more recreational landscape, planting also occurred around newly-formed lakes in the centre of the area, which took advantage of an earlier quarry or clay extraction pit.
     Lake created from former quarry or clay extraction pits
    Figure 3 Lake created from former quarry or clay extraction pits
     
    Although grazing of the Common continued, much land was given over to football and cricket pitches, and a golf course. Traces of the golf course, which was maintained as a municipal course until recently, are still apparent in a number of flat-topped earthworks around the Character Area which mark the point of former tees. The former locations of football and cricket pitches can be seen in the levelled areas particularly along the northern edge of the Character Area.
     
    During the First World War the area was used as a testing ground for ‘Little Willie’, the prototype of the first military tank. Tanks were manufactured at the nearby Foster’s Foundry and factory on Firth Road, and were tested and stored on the undulating ground of the Character Area. Considerable damage to cricket and football pitches was incurred, requiring the re-landscaping of many of the pitches in the Post-War [1920-1945 AD] Period.
     
    In the Post-War and Modern [1968-2009 AD] Periods, South Common developed into more of a public park, and as a result, grazing of its slopes decreased. A small number of allotments were created in the southern part of the former Malandry compound. Few livestock are now grazed on the Common and former recreational features have been abandoned. As a result much of the Character Area is used as an area of informal parkland, and is covered by coarse grassland, and many trees and shrubs are overgrown.
  • Urban form
    The South Common Character Area largely follows the boundary of Lincoln’s South Common, which was formerly known as Canwick Common. It also includes a section of dismantled railway line along the northwestern boundary of the Common that used to be part of the Great Northern Railway Honington Line, built in 1867.
     
    South Common itself is an 80ha site situated on the southeastern boundary of the city that forms a swathe of natural recreational open space between residential areas in St. Catherine’s and South High Street, and agricultural land beyond the city boundary.
     
    From Cross O’ Cliff Hill, South Park Road and South Park Avenue the Common starts a gradual incline that gets steeper as it approaches the south eastern boundary of the site. A footpath now called the Viking Way follows this boundary along the highest part of the Character Area, which is the ridge of a limestone plateau. During the Jurassic Period [210–140 million BP] the limestone plateau would have been a continuation of the Lincoln Edge; however, a large river subsequently eroded a path through the ridge to create the Witham Gap. In 1844 a rural walk was created along a section of the upper north escarpment. The walk, or promenade, entailed the planting of trees and landscaping of former quarrying works into a terrace, parts of which still remain in the east of the Character Area. The Viking Way, which was established in 1976, is a long distance walking route that extends from the banks of the Humber in the north to the shores of Rutland Water in the south and incorporates the route of the former promenade as it crosses the City of Lincoln.
     View looking east along the Viking Way footpath there is a fence to the left hand side and greenery on both sides.
    Figure 4 View looking east along the Viking Way footpath
     The topography of South Common has also been affected by several of its former uses such as the digging of field drains and quarrying. A number of large earthworks in the upper part of the Common, which are similar in appearance to the former quarry sites, are the locations of former shooting butts. In contrast to these large undulating parts of the Common, levelled-off areas close to the boundary with South Park identify the location of former recreational areas such as football pitches. Levelled off areas deeper into the site are likely to mark the location of the tees on the golf course that once existed here.
     
    The Common now comprises a large area of coarse grassland that follows the contours of the numerous earthworks below the surface. The grassland is scattered with planted trees such as lime, beech, ash and sycamore, including several veteran beech and ash trees, and one large elm. The grassland is predominantly of low botanical value but there are some areas of richer, acidic sward and some damper areas. The richer areas tend to be on slopes where soil is comparatively thin and along frequently-used pathways. Grazing is critical to the quality of these grassland habitats, and the reduction in the number of horses on the Common in recent years has led to the dominance of coarser species. 
     
    In addition to the scattered trees, there are also several strips of plantation along the boundary with the Viking Way and areas of naturally occurring woodland, both of which have been fenced off to protect them from damage by horses. These areas of woodland and taller scrub create more enclosed spaces compared with areas further north and east on the Common. Naturally developing woodland can also be found in the south west. This borders a hedge that follows the boundary between South Common and Cross O’ Cliff Hill.
     View up the escarpment of South Common
    Figure 5 View up the escarpment of South Common
    There are also freshwater habitats in this Character Area. There are three ponds, two of which are formal ponds surrounded by mown damp, neutral grassland and a variety of trees and shrubs that were fenced off from the rest of the site when the Common was given a more recreational focus. These are likely to have been formed out of former quarrying or clay extraction pits. The surface of the water in the more northerly of these ponds is almost entirely covered in common duckweed, but there is also some of the much rarer greater duckweed. The more southerly pond includes both the area within the fence and an unfenced extension to the north west. Water plants include bulrush, reed canary-grass and water-plantain.
     
    There are also several damp depressions that hold standing water for part of the year and a few seasonal springs that send running water down the upper parts of the escarpment. These support a range of wetland species including silverweed, marsh-marigold and tufted hair-grass. More wetland occurs in much of the bottom of the former railway cutting on the north-western edge of the site. The range of species present, in spite of excessive shading and rubbish dumping, includes water figwort, butterbur and false fox-sedge.
     Late Victorian/Edwardian cast-iron fencing along the northern edge of South Common
    Figure 6 Late Victorian/Edwardian cast-iron fencing along the northern edge of South Common
    Finally, there is a small area of allotments in the north west of the site. Access to the Common and these allotments is via two bridges over the dismantled railway line, one made of cast iron and the other of wood. Further north there is a much more substantial brick-built bridge that used to take South Park over the railway line. The boundary treatment along the northwestern boundary with South Park is a mixture of iron railings and wooden post-and-rail fencing. There is wooden fencing along the northeastern and southeastern boundary, and iron railings again further south. In comparison a tall, thick hedge forms the boundary along Cross O’Cliff Hill in the south west and this forms much more of a physical and visual barrier to the Common. Access points from this side of the Common are much more limited. Regular stiles and gates around the perimeter of the Character Area provide access to the Common and once inside, there are a number of unmade paths that have been gradually worn away by frequent use.
  • Views
    Views from the South Common Character Area are many and varied. From the areas close to the railings on South Park there are views directly on to the Victorian houses that were built to look out over the Common, many of which have decorative features. Eastwards there are views on to open space and above the trees the steeples of churches such as St. Botolph’s can be seen. Southwards there are views up the escarpment to the woodland edge at the top.
     
    Views of the city from South Common have long been recognised and portrayed by artists and cartographers, including the engraving on the series of Padley’s maps dating to the mid to late 19th century.
     
    From higher up the escarpment there are panoramic views across the city, extending as far as Boultham Park and the river valley in the west, and the Witham Gap in the east. The Cathedral can be seen in its widest setting and there is almost a plan view of the city, with the top of the north escarpment, hillside and lower city all being visible. Other large buildings such as the football stadium and Wigford House are prominent in the lower city. As one follows the boundary of the Common further south, this vista changes, with buildings to the north dropping out of view and parts of St. Catherine’s, Swanpool and Birchwood coming into view.
     View of Northern Escarpment and Lincoln Cathedral from within Character Area
    Figure 7 Views over the city of Lincoln, including Lincoln cathedral and Sincil Bank football stadium
     
    This area further south contains a number of enclosed spaces. From here the long distance views are only available at intervals, while the majority of views are on to the overgrown shrubs and woodland that are in the immediate vicinity.
     
    The Common is so expansive that from within it sometimes all that can be seen is grassland extending to the south. Elsewhere there are views on to the various features of the Common such as the hummocks, ponds and woodland edges. The two formal ponds are surrounded by a fence and have planted trees around the water’s edge. This creates a sense of enclosure, with the views being predominantly on to the water, thus making them feel separate from the rest of the Common.
  • Condition of Buildings and Streetscape
    There are no buildings on South Common, with the exception of a few small sheds on the allotment site that are generally in a poor condition. There are three bridges over the dismantled railway line. One of these is a wooden footbridge that looks quite recent, one is a steel bridge used to take cars to the allotment site but is unsuitable for more than one vehicle at a time and the third is a much more substantial brick structure that once carried South Park over the railway line to join up with the southern end of the High Street. This bridge is now used as a cycle route and is still in fairly good condition. 
     
    The landscape is in a varying condition. The areas of developing woodland are protected from grazing by fencing but other parts of the Common would benefit from more extensive grazing. At present there are only three horses on the Common and they are unable to graze the whole area. This has resulted in areas of scrub encroachment in the south of the Character Area. 
  • Use
    This Character Area is mainly used for informal recreation. There are no longer any formal sports pitches on the Common but people still use it for walking and for informal play. The Common is still used for grazing but much less extensively than in the past. These uses are consistent with the common rights of access to common land that were granted to citizens in the High Medieval Era [850-1350 AD].
  • Relationship to City and Surrounding Areas
    This Character Area and West Common both play an enormous role in reinforcing the setting of Lincoln as an urban area closely linked to its rural surroundings. This is a huge swathe of natural open space that is close to the city centre but also directly adjacent to the agricultural fields that separate Lincoln from the nearby settlements of Canwick and Bracebridge Heath. The fact that this area is common land has resulted in an unmanaged and natural character that gives the impression of being right on the edge of the countryside. The high ridge to the east of the site helps to emphasise a sense of separation from everything beyond the Common.
     
    In contrast the north-western edge of the site is more urban in character. It is directly overlooked by the row of Victorian houses along South Park. The formal iron railings and remnants of the formal sports pitches are more characteristic of a town park, and the allotments and railway bridge are further reminders of the site’s proximity to the city. From here and from the north east the noise of traffic can be heard as a reminder of the bustling activity of the city still taking place close by.
     
    The various access points along St. Catherine’s, South Park Avenue and South Park tie this Character Area into the urban fabric effectively, though the dismantled railway line and the change from mown grassland into a more natural landscape makes the two areas feel very different in character. All these access points are low key and there is no sense of formal entrance or arrival. 
     
    The relationship between Cross O’Cliff Hill and the Common is much less strong. Access points are few and far between, the hedgerow that lines the road is overgrown, obscuring views into the Common, and behind the hedgerow is a strip of developing woodland that creates a further barrier between this Character Area and the houses up Cross O’Cliff Hill.
     
    A similar sense of ‘the same but different’ can be felt from the top of the escarpment. On the one hand, the natural landscape seems completely separate from the expanse of the built-up area that can be seen below, but at the same time, the prominence of the Cathedral on the north escarpment makes this area very much a part of the city and makes people aware of the fact that they are actually still very close to the city centre.
  • Key Townscape Characteristics
    ·          This Character Area is made up almost entirely of South Common, which is a large area of common land on the southeastern boundary of the City
    ·          This Character Area and West Common both play an enormous role in reinforcing the setting of Lincoln as an urban area closely linked to its rural surroundings. The way that the commons bridge the divide between the built up areas of the city and the countryside beyond it both to east and west is a key characteristic of Lincoln
    ·          The Common has an irregular boundary marked by a mixture of Victorian iron railings, a wooden fence, and overgrown hedgerow
    ·          Earlier landscape elements which influence the current character include:
    o         The topography of the site has been heavily influenced by a river carving out what is now called the Witham Gap through this area of Jurassic [210 - 70 million years BP] limestone
    o         A low-lying linear earthwork and line of quarries running almost due north from the southern corner of the Common are the earliest definitive evidence for activity in the Character Area. They identify the former route of Ermine Street, a Roman road dating to the Roman Military Era
    o         Shallow earthworks running down slope perpendicular to the contours may have been field drains dug to improve the pasture from the 12th century
    o         Quarries and their associated waste are visible in the form of undulating earthworks, former quarry faces, and linear scarps over much of the Common. Lincoln’s expansion during the High Medieval Era would have necessitated the extraction of natural resources for use in buildings, industries, and city infrastructure
    o         A number of large earthworks in the upper part of the Common, which are similar in appearance to these former quarry sites, are the locations of former shooting butts which were first established in the Early Industrial Period
    o         In 1844 a rural walk was created along a section of the upper north escarpment, and around the same time the Common was enclosed by iron railings. The Post-Railway Expansion [1846-1868 AD] and Late Victorian/Edwardian [1868-1919 AD] Periods saw the Common adopt a more recreational role in the city’s townscape
    o         The existing earthworks may have been used for testing the prototype of the first military tank, ‘Little Willie’ during the First World War
    ·          The Common now comprises a large area of coarse grassland scattered with planted trees such as lime, beech and ash. There are also several strips of plantation along the boundary with the Viking Way and areas of naturally occurring woodland. There are also fresh water habitats that can be found in three ponds, several damper inundations and a number of seasonal springs along the escarpment
    ·          This Character Area is now mainly used for informal recreation, such as walking, by both local residents and people from the wider city. It is also used for grazing but much less extensively than in the past. These uses are consistent with the common rights of access granted to citizens over common land
    ·          From a high position on the escarpment there are panoramic views across the city, extending as far as Boultham Park and the river valley in the west, and the Witham Gap in the east. From the area closer to South Park there are views directly on to the Victorian houses that were built to look out over the Common.